Up in the north of the Gers, some distance from Trapeharde, is the beautiful bastide village of La Romieu. Its name derives from “l’Arroumîu” signifying a pilgrim (originally one going to or from Rome, but later signifying all pilgrims). It was two German monks who were returning home from their pilgrimage to Rome in 1082, who designated the place as “une sauveté”, a zone of refuge for pilgrims. The village’s situation on the pilgrim Routes of Santiago de Compostela means that it is listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
La collégiale Saint-Pierre de La Romieu
The most notable architecture in La Romieu is the Gothic cellegiate church of St. Peter. This dates from the 14th century and unusually possesses two 33-metre towers, and some very beautiful cloisters with finely-chiseled stonework. A walk round the church’s cloisters gives splendid views of the wooden beams used in its construction. Best of all, one of the towers is open to the public: views of the timeless Gers countryside from the top are superb.
In the French Wars of Religion (1562–98), La Romieu came under attack by the Protestant (Huguenot) army of Gabriel, comte de Montgomery. Many residents and clergy lost their lives and serious damage was done to the fabric of the church. As one goes round the place, a sense of violent history is distantly palpable. Although very extensive restoration has clearly been undertaken, there are many instances where stone tracery has suffered historic damage.
For an excellent and detailed history of the church, visit http://www.la-romieu.com/visiter_collegiale_gers.htm.
Stone cats and a legend from the past
There’s a legend associated with the village which dates back to the 14th century. A forester and his wife (Vincent and Mariette) had a daughter, Angeline. Sadly, Angeline’s parents died when she was 3 years old, so she was cared for by a neighbour.
The years 1342 to 1344 were difficult for the village of La Romieu. Bad weather made it impossible to plant the crops and a great famine developed. To help feed themselves, the villagers resorted to eating cats.
Because Angeline adored cats, her adopted parents agreed that she could hide her two cats in the attic, letting them out to hunt only at night.
Unfortunately, with no cats, rats proliferated around the village. Once the crops had started to grow again, this plague of rats began to threaten the crops.
Eventually, Angeline’s two cats produced 20 kittens. When the villagers heard of this, it was decided that Angeline should release her cats and kittens into the fields. This she did.
The rats disappeared. The village was saved and the legend says that Angeline’s appearance gradually began to resemble that of a cat.
Much later, in the 20th century, hearing a woman recount this legend to her grandchildren, a sculptor, Maurice Serreau, started creating sculptures of cats which could adorn the buildings of the village.
When you visit La Romieu, see how many of these sculptures and motifs you can see!