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Lozère (Department, France)

Last modified: 2019-05-08 by ivan sache
Keywords: lozere |
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Flag of Lozère - Image by Olivier Touzeau, 20 April 2019

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Administrative data

Code: 48
Region: Occitanie (Languedoc-Roussillon until 2014)
Traditional province: Languedoc
Bordering departments: Ardèche, Aveyron, Cantal, Gard, Haute-Loire

Area: 5,167 km2
Population (2016): 76,422 inhabitants

Préfecture: Mende
Sous-préfecture: Florac
Subdivisions: 2 arrondissements, 13 cantons, 152 municipalities.

The department is named after Mount Lozère (1,699 m asl).

Ivan Sache, 12 April 2019

History of Lozère and Gévaudan

The area covered by the department of Lozère matches nearly exactly the territory of the former County of Gévaudan.
Gévaudan got its name from the the Gabali, a Celtic tribe allied to Vercingetorix's Arverni (Auvergne's namesake). After the conquest of Gaul, the Romans maintained the capital of the Gabales, Anderitum, renamed to Gabalum (now Javols, a village of c. 300 inhabitants).

In the early Middle Ages, when the Carolingian power progressively winded up. the pagus gabalum was placed under the rule of the powerful Count of Toulouse. In 1096, the Count, leaving for the Crusade, transmitted his rights on the eastern part of Gévaudan to the Bishop of Mende, a town that had already superseded Javols as the religious and administrative capital of Gévaudan in the beginning of the 10th century. The western part of Gévaudan constituted the Viscounty of Grèzes (now a village of c. 200 inhabitants), which was placed under the rule of a relative of the Count of Toulouse. By rights of inheritance, the Count of Barcelona and finally the King of Aragon became the ruler of the Viscounty.

In the 12th century, Adalbertus, Bishop of Mende, took advantage of the lack of interest of the nominal rulers of Gévaudan to increase his personal power. He travelled to Paris and asked for the patronage of King of France Louis VII (1120-1180). The king granted him the temporal power on the area by the Golden Bull of Gévaudan, a Royal Act sealed with gold. Accordingly, Gévaudan was the first Occitan-speaking country to acknowledge the (nominal) suzerainty of the king of France. Gévaudan was divided into eight Baronies, which were in constant rebellion against the Bishop of Mende.
In 1257, following the Albigensian Crusade, the former possessions of the Count of Toulouse were incorporated to the Kingdom of France. Deprived from his power on the Viscounty of Grèzes, the Bishop of Mende started a long legal procedure against the king. The dispute was settled in 1307 when Bishop William Durand and King Philip IV the Handsome (1268-1314) signed an act of pariage, an agreement signed between a powerful lord and a weaker one, usually an ecclesiastic. The lord should protect the ecclesiastic, who in exchange should give back to the lord half of the income from the area, which remained legally undivided. The Principality of Andorra was ruled according to a similar pariage between the President of the French Republic and the Bishop of Urgell until 1993. According to the 1307 pariage, the Bishop of Mende was granted the title of Count of Gévaudan, could mint coins and exert lower justice. A Royal Bailiff was appointed to exert higher justice (he could pronounce death sentence) in the town of Marvejols, which had superseded Grèzes as the capital of the County of Gévaudan. A joint Court was appointed to solve the problems involving the eight Barons. Although being nominally part of Languedoc, Gévaudan kept its own States General until 1789. The assembly that gathered every year, alternatively in Mende and Marvejols, was presided by the Bishop of Mende, assisted by the eight Barons.

During the same period, Gévaudan was crossed by popular pilgrimage raods. The branch of the Way of Saiont James starting from Le Puy crossed the high plateaus of Aubrac and Margeride, characterized by a very harsh climate and infested by wild animals and bandits. To protect the pilgrims, monk-soldiers established fortified towns and monasteries and provided an escort to the pilgrims. The most famous monastery was the dômerie of Aubrac, founded in 1120 by Augustinian monks commissioned by Adalred, Viscount of Flanders; its Father Superior, the Dom, was appointed directly by the Holy See. On Mount Lozère, the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem founded the Commanderies of Gap-Francès and Palhers, controlling most of the strategic roads of Gévaudan. The roads in the eastern part of Gévaudan, especially the old Via Regordana<, were controlled by the Knights of la Garde-Guérin, appointed by the Bishop of Mende. The huge income generated by the pilgrimages caused permanent disputes among the knights, the bishop and the baillif.

During the Hundred Years' War, the English could not seize Marvejols and Saint-Chély d'Apcher, while they managed to enter Châteauneuf-de-Randon (now a village of c. 500 inhabitants). After having expelled the English from Chaliers (Auvergne) on 27 June 1380, Constable Bertrand du Guesclin (1320-1380) besieged Châteauneuf. The tradition reports that the Constable drunk water from the fountain of la Clauze, which was much too cold and caused his death on 13 July 1380. Since the defenders of Châeauneuf had agreed to surrender if they had not received help, the Constable's death was kept secret. After the surrender, the keys of the town were placed on Du Guesclin's coffin.

In the beginning of the 16th century, wealthy Gévaudan was ruined by the Wars of Religion. The Protestants settled in Gévaudan around 1550. In 1586, the Royal town of Marvejols was totally looted by the German soldiers of Admiral of Joyeuse. After the proclamation of the Tolerance Edict in 1598 by King Henry IV, Marvejols, rebuilt from scratch, became a Protestant safe place. Henry IV had also to cope with a fanatic Protestant warlord, Matthieu Merle, who had seized several towns in 1579, Mende included, and finally appointed him Governor of Mende. Following the suppression of the Tolerance Edict by Louis XIV in 1685 and the repression organized against the Protestants, the Camisard guerilla took place in the Cévennes from 1702 to 1704. The repression stopped only in 1787 when Louis XVI re-established religious tolerance.

At the end of the 19th century, tourism was initiated in Lozère by Édouard Martel (1859-1938), a Parisian lawyer. Martel, recognized as the founder of spelunking, discovered several beautiful caves of the south of Lozère. Using modern means of investigation, especially the phone, Martel was assisted by local enthousiasts, the most famous of them being a locksmith, Louis Armand. On 18 September 1897, Armand told Martel he had found the most beautiful cave ever seen. Martel immediatly named the cave after his finder and advised Armand to buy the land above the cave, which is now the worldwide famous Aven Armand. Martel also designed the scenic trails of the Gorges of Tarn and Jonte. The network of metallic ladders, hooks and handrails he implemented in the most difficult places is still in use. Being not only an explorer but also a talentuous writer, Martel attracted a lot of tourists in Lozère. Before him, another talentuous traveler-writer, Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894), hiked through the Cévennes in 1879 with a jenny named Modestine and related his journey in the wonderful book "Journey through the Cévennes with a jenny". In Nasbinals (Aubrac), the bonesetter Pierre Brioude, a.k.a. Pierrounet, attracted so many patients between 1880 and 1907 that three hotels were built to house his customers.

As many other areas in France, Gévaudan was bled dry during the two World Wars. A soldier from Lozère named Auguste Joseph Trébuchon was killed near Dom-le-Mesnil, close to river Meuse, on 11 November 1918 at 10:45, that is 15 minutes before the end of the fightings. All the soldiers killed on that day were officially declared killed on 10 November, in order "not to desesperate their family". In 1943-1944, the second most important Resistance maquis was set up near Mt. Mouchet (1465 m a.s.l.) in Upper Margeride and spread over the departments of Cantal, Haute-Loire and Lozère. In May 1944, 4,000 maquisards resisted to the assault given by 8,000 German soldiers. The Germans withdrew and burned down the villages of Clavières, Lorcières and Paulhac and all the isolated farms in the area as retaliatory measures.

The most famous inhabitant of Gévaudan is the Beast of Gé;vaudan. Between 1764 and 1767, more than 100 young people were murdered by a mysterious beast. This caused political troubles and prompted King Louis XV (1710-1774) to sent his First Harquebushier, who shot a wolf but did not stop the murders. The Bishop of Mende organized public prayers, to no avail either. In 1767, Jean Chastel, from Saint-Flour, killed a beast with consecrated bullets. The identity of the Beast, still not clearly established, is a matter o legends - even if the crimes were real and documented. One of the most probable hypotheses is the criminal association between a serial killer and a domesticated beast. Antoine Chastel, the son of the "official" Beast's killer, lived in Mt. Mouchet among a domesticated hyena and other beasts of that ilk. Antoine mysteriously "disappeared" after his father had killed the Beast. Moreover, several of the local reports mention wounds carefully made with knifes and definitively not of animal origin.

Ivan Sache, 30 July 2002

Flag of Lozère

The Departmental Council uses a green flag (photo, photo) with the logo adopted in July 2010 by the former General Council, in white.
The logo, selected among 15 proposals, was designed by the Symaps agency, based in Montpellier. The typography has been "modernized", while the graphic emblem is the symbol of infinity.
[Logo News, 24 June 2010]

Olivier Touzeau & Ivan Sache, 20 April 2019

Nouvelle Vie flag


Nouvelle Vie flag - Image by Olivier Touzeau, 20 April 2019

In 2015, when the Tour de France had a stage in Lozère, flags (photo, photo) were edited with the logotype of the communication campaign "nouvelle" (new, a kind of territorial mark sete up to promote the department.

Olivier Touzeau, 20 April 2019

Flag of the former General Council


Flag of the former General Council - Image by Olivier Touzeau, 20 April 2019

Before 2010, the General Council sometimes used a white flag with the Council's former logo.

Olivier Touzeau, 20 April 2019

Banner of arms of Lozère


Banner of arms of Lozère - Image by Ivan Sache, 30 July 2002

The banner of arms of Lozère features the arms of the former County of Gévaudan, summarizing the rather complicated history of the area.
A seal of the joint Court of Gévaudan, dated 1310, shows on its left part fleurs-de-lis and on its right part the Bishop of Mende holding a sword and a crozier, above vertical bars. The pattern of this seal is reproduced in the banner of arms of Gévaudan.

Ivan Sache, 30 July 2002

Flags on cows during transhumance in Aubrac

Aubrac is a basaltic plateau (main elevation, 1,200 m a.s.l.; highest point, 1,471 m a.s.l.) located in the center of France, in the departments of Cantal (Region Auvergne), Aveyron (Region Midi-Pyrénées), and, mostly, Lozère.

Due to its geographical isolation and very harsh winter weather, Aubrac is hardly inhabited. The traditional activity of the area is bovine rearing, most of the cows belonging to the Aubrac cattle. Aubrac breeding seems to have started in the 17th century when a Benedictine abbey was established on the plateau. In 1840, the Agricultural Society of Aveyron was created, and the Aubrac herd-book was initiated in 1892. Aubrac cattle is well adapted to harsh climatic conditions but its milk and meat production is fairly low. In 1975, Aubrac cattle was closed to extinction and a conservation program was launched. A syndicate for breeding and promotion of Aubrac cattle, called Union-Aubrac, was created in 1979.
There are now c. 68,000 Aubrac cows. Their milk is used to make the Laguiole cheese (a variety of Cantal), and their horns are used to make the handles of the famous Laguiole knives (Laguiole is locally pronounced "lyoll").

The breeding system in Aubrac is based on transhumance. From the end of May to mid-October, cows graze in the pastures of the plateau, while they spend the rest of the year in the more clement valleys. As it is the case in other parts of the world, the start of the transhumance is a big festival. In Aubrac, the festival is called fête de la montade. For their trip from the villages to the pastures, the cows bear flags, mostly the French Tricolore but also the Occitan flag (Aubrac is part of the Occitan linguistic area). These are really big flags, more or less of the same size as the head of the cow.

Ivan Sache, 16 January 2002