I don’t know about you, but I’m suffering from Covid fatigue, i.e. cheesed off with it all. The poor old blog has suffered; never has such a long gap elapsed between posts. Thankfully, the weather has been beautiful, springlike even, for the past 10 days. So I shook myself out of my torpor this afternoon and went off to visit a château about whose existence I had forgotten, Le Château de Pervinquière (or Previnquière; or Pervinquiére: there seems to be some dispute about its spelling).
It’s not very far away, near the village of Saint-Igne, but it’s off the beaten track. I set off in bright sunshine under sapphire skies. To get there, you go down into the deep valley of La Baye and up the other side.
La Baye rises near Castanet and joins the River Aveyron after 15 km. The river is set in wild, trackless countryside and has carved out deep gorges over aeons. The area was once more densely populated, and several water mills, now mostly in ruins, existed along its lower reaches. La Baye’s flow was fast enough to make them worthwhile. There were a number of small coal mines as well, which were exploited for a time. On the hillsides, lime kilns made use of the local forests and the limestone, which is the area’s backbone.
The château de Pervinquière sits in a tiny hamlet on the plateau above La Baye and has a panoramic view of the area. It’s now in ruins, except for parts of the walls and a square tower, which has been restored. The château is privately owned, and a couple of houses next door are rented out as gîtes.
What stories does this place enfold within its crumbling walls? Who built it? Did it see military action? When did it become a ruin?
Few records of the place and its origins remain. The first documentary mention is in 1370, when the Cistercian Abbaye de Beaulieu acquired the château from two brothers named Valete from nearby Le Cuzoul. Were they ancestors of the illustrious de La Valette family, one of the most important in the district in the 15th and 16th centuries?
The Cistercians of Beaulieu bought the place as a kind of retreat and also, no doubt, because it brought farmland and other valuable possessions with it. In its heyday, the Abbaye de Beaulieu was an important landowner. A number of buildings still exist over a wide area that were once part of its assets, including a fortified farmhouse close to the abbey.
Defensive or domestic?
It’s not clear if the château was ever built as a defensive or military installation. It never had a moat or a drawbridge. An inventory carried out in 1981 suggests that its position in the middle of the plateau, rather than on a promontory overlooking a valley, was not strategic. A well in the main courtyard may explain its location. They were few and far between on the arid causse and trekking down to the Baye and back for water would have been a hardship.
However, it was clearly more than a fortified house, since it had defensive walls and battlements and at one time a chemin de ronde, or sentinel walkway. It was once an imposing building. From aerial views, it covered a fairly large area, and was enlarged at some point to include two additional square towers.
The first definite evidence of military action is during the Wars of Religion. This region was consumed by fighting in the late 16th century and then again during the Huguenot Rebellions in the 17th century. Some towns and villages were Protestant (Saint-Antonin, Montauban); others were staunchly Catholic (Caylus).
The Protestants took the Château de Pervinquière in February 1587, although this action had not been sanctioned by the Protestant consuls in Saint-Antonin. They abandoned it again a few days later, for reasons that are not clear, but perhaps its lack of strategic significance explains it.
After that, history is silent. By the time of the Revolution in 1789, the place was already in ruins, and the abbey lost it soon afterwards. It was probably confiscated as a Bien National and sold off to some local farmer.
Today, it’s not possible to go inside. The walls are secured for safety reasons. I tried to get around the back to see more but found myself splashing about in a marshy field, so I had to beat a retreat.
It’s a tranquil spot. I didn’t see a soul, except for a few sheep in a field, blankly witnessing my attempts to extricate myself from the sodden ground. The only noises were the sheep bleating and the long, plaintive call of a buzzard as it circled high above me in search of prey. A far cry from the château’s medieval zenith, perhaps, when the place would have rung with the sounds of all the trades and activities needed to keep such a community going.
Yesterday’s jaunt gave me the chance to revisit this phylloxera cross, which is right nearby. It was carved by a local maçon, Hébrard, who was noted for his decorative stonework. Our region was not spared the phylloxera bug, which devastated the French wine industry in the late 19th century. The cross, dated 1888, was a desperate attempt to invoke divine intervention against it, but the inscription concedes that its cause was no doubt divine retribution for our sins in the first place: “C’est la main de Dieu qui nous frappe.” (It’s the hand of God that strikes us.)
Apologies for my car, which I could have moved, and for the telephone cables, which I couldn’t.
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