Keiran's World World by word by word

Cult of commemoration: memorials and monuments in France

St-Dominique sign Fanjeaux

Saint Dominque habita ici de 1206 a 1215

Carved into the wall beside the front door of Fanjeaux’s abbey is the announcement: St-Dominique habita ici de 1206 à 1215. Dominic (or Domenge, if you prefer the Occitan language) came to tour the region at the behest of the pope, bringing his warm and personal touch to interrogating and torturing Cathar heretics as part of the Inquisition—initiated when the military end of the Albigensian Crusade seemed to French king and RC pope to be taking too long. With the good saint’s assistance, the process quickened significantly, and the Cathars disappeared: through a combination of being forcefully converted to Rome-approved doctrine, slaughtered, burned alive at the stake, or made to take part in other block-party events arranged specially for them.

Ah, yes, the good ol’ days, when personal belief and expression were mandated by politics. (Oh, wait, that’s today, too!)

Walking up the rue du Chateau, in Foix, France

Walking up the rue du Château, Foix, France

Historically significant persons are frequently commemorated this way in France. Small signs may appear on the corners of buildings in Paris, alerting those who stop and read that such-and-such a member of the Resistance was shot by German authorities in the vicinity, or that some painterly bon vivant or other starved in the garrett there, or that a particular literary sage wrote his first poems/essays/novel at the corner table in that cafe.

Contrast those announcements with the plaque on a house on Foix’s rue du Château: Ici, Gaston Fébus n’habitait pas. Gaston Fébus did not live here.

Instead, Gaston Phoebus—or more to the point—Gaston the FABULOUS!, comte of Foix and Béarn, lived for a short time up the hill in the chateau—a curious, imposing, three-towered pile of stone looming over the town.

Foix chateau looms

It would have been difficult to escape the feeling of being watched in the town of Foix when the chateau was occupied.

The old boy had quite an opinion of himself, fancied himself a poet and musician, as well as God’s gift in the physical looks department. Think Hank VIII with fewer wives. In keeping with the commemoration theme, one would think good ol’ Gasser would have personally placed a commemorative plaque on the exterior wall of his own chateau, at the very least. But, as with so many people who have to resort to PR personnel and marketing specialists to convince the world of their superior personal qualities (something St-Dominic didn’t bother with, but then he had all of Rome, a couple of armies and – oh, yes – a few burning stakes behind him to convince the populace of his charms), Mr. FABULOUS! was a tad insecure. He may not have had Hank VIII’s marital problems, but he did have his own share of family issues. These, he resolved as Henry would do 150 years later—simply by doing away with them: brothers, sons, etc. (Alas, my love, you do me wrong…)

Mr FABULOUS! and his surviving relatives decamped from Foix, part of the kingdom of France since the Albigensian crusade, to Béarn, then still an independent state, to pretend they too were still independent of the various French kings Louis. His fancy castle on the hill became a prison at about the time of the French Revolution. This is why the buildings and towers survived, with new wall decorations in the form of graffiti, and stylish grillwork over the windows to keep the burglars out—or in, as the case may be.

Antique window grills to keep prisoners in, Foix chateau, France

The castle became a prison after the French Revolution. Security was a problem even then.

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