My Languedoc village
St Pons de Mauchiens (34230)
The area around St Pons de Mauchiens was inhabited from very early times. Archaeological digs at Roquemengarde have shown traces of human habitation in the late Neolithic period, around the third millennium before our era. In addition, numerous remains of pottery from the Gallo-Roman period have been unearthed.
The Middle Ages
But the first written document mentioning the village is a deed of 808, in which Louis le Débonnaire, son of the emperor Charlemagne, made a gift to the Abbey of Gellone of ‘the church of St Pargoire and of the villages of Miliac, Campagnan and Milician’. Miliac was probably today's St Pargoire, and Milician today's St Pons, because of its fortress, being the place of a militia.The fortress, of which only a few partial walls remain today, was of considerable importance. It was constructed on the top of the hill, and had a large tower with several other towers here and there. Some twenty metres from the stronghold itself, high ramparts had been constructed. These provided protection against surprise attacks. There was a path all round the ramparts with loopholes. There were two entrances, one to the North, Le Portalet, the top of which was unfortunately destroyed around 1948, and the second to the South, giving on to what is now the village square. This entrance is still well-preserved. Around the rampart were deep ditches. These were filled in much later, enabling the creation of the square, and the construction of dwellings all round.The chapel of the stronghold was also at the summit, and is at the origin of the existing church. It was originally dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and its history reflects that of the village.For people living in the surrounding countryside had gathered around the château or within the ramparts, for the sake of security. There was a village lower down near the river called St Julien de Brandaleu. Its inhabitants also made the same move.But there is a legend about this:The statuette of the Blessed Virgin Mother used to be in the church of St Julien. But it disappeared one day. They searched for it and found it in a grove near the château of St Pons. Happily, they took this treasure back to their church, and locked the doors with care. But the following day the statue was no longer there. Once again it was found on the same hill as before. This kept happening. This seemed miraculous, and the statue came to be called Notre Dame du Bosquet. The Virgin remained in the church of St Pons, and the inhabitants of St Julien, devoted to their Heavenly Mother, abandoned their village to settle within the ramparts of the stronghold.The influx of people from the surrounding area meant that the original chapel was too small. It was then enlarged, and dedicated to St Pons de Cimiez. It was consecrated by Armengaud, archbishop of Narbonne, before 900.This romanesque structure has been much modified over time. The sanctuary is certainly the most ancient part. The nave was reconstructed when the church was enlarged, and other changes occurred up to the nineteenth century. Work of restoration and repair was carried out at various times up to the beginning of the third millennium. In 977, Raynal II, the Viscount of Béziers, was the proprietor both of the château, called ‘St Pons’, and of the neighbouring village. The old name Milician underwent change. The legend goes:In distant times the lord had enormous guard dogs which were set loose at night within the ramparts. One evening, the lord returned very late. No soon had he entered than the dogs set on him with great savagery. As he was dying, the lord, all bloody, his face and chest and neck torn to pieces by the bites of the angry dogs, cried out ‘malos canes’.
Another legend about the name of the village relates to pine groves in its neighbourhood:Sometimes rotting branches from these trees emitted phosphorence during the night. These frightening lights gave rise to a superstitious belief that there were witches around, so that the village was called the place of the ‘mascos’.But Raynal II bequeathed his rights to St Pons to his son Guillaume, who in turn transmitted them to his son Pierre-Raymond. It was Pierre-Raymond's daughter Armengade who had the water-mill of Roquemengarde constructed on the banks of the river Hérault in 1068. His son, Bernard Haton, before going on the first Crusade, gave his rights to the first Abbot of St Guilhem, in 1101. At one point, St Pons was part of the fief of Raymond Béranger, Count of Barcelona, before returning to the Guilhem. In 1121, Guilhem of Aumelas was the overlord of St Pons. He married Tiburge, the daughter of the Count of Orange. In 1156, Raymond d'Orange inherited the château.So the village had links with the lords of Aumelas. But also with the Orange family. The current royal families in Holland and Britain have remote links with this family.The overlords of St Pons gave some people permission to construct châteaux and ramparts on their lands. In 1199, Guilhem VIII gave Pierre de Roquefix the ‘hill and open land in front of St Mary's Church, with permission to constructs towers and turrets’. This is the origin of what is still today called ‘la Cour’. It was an internal square. There were two entrances making it a very secluded area. The remains of these entrances were destroyed at the end of the nineteenth century. Inhabitants could struggle against the château as well as against external foes. There was a stairway giving access to the tower. Traces can be seen on the frontage of the ‘maison des Consuls’ which formed a part of thes buildings. It is unfortunate that some of these buildings have been demolished, because, judging by the remaining part, now classed as a historical monument, restored through the efforts of M Schmidt, this set of buildings must have been the rich part of the village, where the Consul and the main families lived.
to the eighteenth century
The Roquefix family was replaced by the La Jugie, and then by the Calvisson, who remained in St Pons until 1725, and also owned the domains of Lavagnac and Montmau. At this point, the lordship passed to the Polastron family, and then to the Mormans, lords of Adissan, and to the prince of Conti, who sold it in 1791 to M de Faventine. His daughter married Viscount Daudé d'Alzon, whose daughter married the Count of Puységur.
Despite being subject to overlords, St Pons had its own administrative system. We can find traces of this from 1333. There were three consuls, elected for one year. At the instructions of the outgoing consuls, the political advisers and the General Council of the commune met on the 1st of November in the Town Hall. Each consul gave the names of those of his fellow citizens who seemed to him most deserving. The assembly discussed the matter and chose three names at its discretion. Upon being elected, the new consuls swore an oath to ‘perform properly the duties incumbent upon them, and to be faithful to God and the King’.Their role was to take responsibility for public works. They dealt with expenses, paying for repairs in accordance with expert evaluation and were authorized to take loans. On November the 8th they determined various employments: bell-ringing, taking care of the church lamp, laundering of the church linen. They fixed the price of meat, and arranged the letting of the communal oven. This was available to the inhabitants each week on Friday and Saturday, and also on Tuesday during the fair weather season. Families took it in turn to provide the necessary wood for one week.The consuls had various employees: the ‘valet de ville’, who was chief of police, and responsible for making public announcements; the consular bailiff (predecessor of today's ‘secrétaires de mairie’); the ‘bassiniers’ (responsible for collections), and two tax collectors controlled by regulators appointed by the General Assembly.The consuls even had public health tasks: they paid a regular sum to the doctor at Montagnac to give free health care to those who fell ill in St Pons. There was a hospital financed by voluntary contributions and bequests, and run by four ‘procureurs des pauvres’. In 1699, the Bishop of Agde suspended the church of St Pons for one year because the inhabitants had failed to pay their due to the hospital.
St Pons had a school with a headmaster and a headmistress chosen by the consuls and approved by the Bishop of Agde. But the constitution of the third year of the Republic abolished village schools to create cantonal ones. So the children had to go to Montagnac every day, and there was a high level of absenteeism. The same constitution abolished the independence of communes in favour of the canton. There were no more consuls in St Pons, nor a mayor, though there were representatives on the cantonal council. For some years the name of the village was changed to ‘Mont Ventôse’, rather as in the twentieth century ‘rue de la Chapelle’ became ‘rue de la Garenne’, and ‘rue de Notre Dame du Bosquet’ became ‘rue du Pic’.As everywhere, the Revolutionary period was marked by the confiscation of religious and aristocratic property. For instance, the house of the Astannières family. This family had emigrated, and the house is still known as ‘the house of the emigrants’.There were revolutionary incidents as well. Citizen Fournier drove his animals up to the church, and had them drink from the font. And there were rowdy characters under his lead who broke the marble altar of the church and disfigured the statue of Notre Dame du Bosquet. Around 1796, also, the château of M. de Faventine was sacked and largely demolished by people from outside the village.St Pons took part in revolutionary festivities. In 1790, the General Council of the commune organized a 14th July celebration. This celebration of the feast of liberty was to include:
(1) a Council delegation to the feast in Béziers
(2) a ban on working for any master during that day
(3) bell-ringing and gun-shots
(4) taking of civic oaths
(5) a Mass
(6) everyone to wear the patriotic rosette and the tricolor
(7) the young people to perform the dance known as the ‘roumanisque’
The latter was an entertaining local dance. Some say that it represented a celebration of the return of those who had fought in the Crusades. Others say that it was to celebrate the return of pilgrims coming back from Rome who were known as ‘lous Roumious’. The dance seems to have disappeared after 1809, and has left no trace.
Up to now
St Pons was known for its high level of religious practice, shown in numerous ways. In fact after the 1905 law concerning the separation of Church and State, efforts were made in the village to prevent its implementation. There was a trial in which a lady was found guilty of assaulting a commissaire and a gendarme with her rosary! Traces of this time can be seen today. There are plaques in the rue de la Garenne indicating the site of a chapel, and of a hospital. In 1907, the mayor of St Pons, who had been keeping a deaf ear to these provisions, received an imperative order from the Prefect to remove the crucifix from the classroom. He did this against his will, and the crucifix was then placed in the meeting room of the Municipal Council.The crest of the village provides some indication of its history and legends. The heraldic vocabulary is not included here. But the crest includes a representation of the seven ‘pioches’ or hills surrounding the village, which many left a millennium ago to take refuge in St Pons. There is also a representation of ‘la Vierge du Bosquet’. And of dogs. The text is ‘supra firmam petram’, which means ‘upon a firm rock’. This fine rock is what we still see today, and it is what explains the existence of the village from an early period.The village has a long tradition of accepting and welcoming newcomers from outside. Over time it has received people from Spain, from Morocco, from Belgium, from Scandinavia, from Eastern Europe, from Switzerland, from other parts of France, from Britain, and so on, even from Paris, whether they came as refugees, as workers, or as retired people, or just as people who loved the village.In the early 1980s, the population was about 350. Post-war it had been 800 or 900, not including the numerous horses needed for agricultural work which were usually kept in the spacious ‘magasin’ which forms the ground floor of many village houses. Today, horses have been replaced by tractors and other machinery. Now the population of the commune is over 500, and the plan is that this should not exceed about 800, partly for reasons of infrastructure.
Thanks to Tim Moore for providing this document which is based on a document prepared by the late Gabriel Pargoire, a former mayor of the village.
By kind permission of : The Friends of
St Pons de Mauchiens - 34230
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