Outcasts, hoods, lepers ; these are a few of the names that defined socially unacceptable people. Present throughout Gascony, they were considered to be descended from lepers and lived a marginal life in small communities in the hamlets near the villages. In Valence, the district known as Les Capots, where the outcastslived, still exists, just down the hill from place Voltaire.
Outcasts could only marry a person of their own cast and to do this, could leave their own community. The only work they were authorised to undertake was with wood, which was thought not to transmit leprosy . They became : carpenters, barrel-makers, wheelwrights, foresters, cabinet-makers. Later, in the 17th Century « carpenter » would replace « outcast » as the name for this class of person. Outcasts had their own door for entry to the church , a special font for baptisms, and they were buried in a separate cemetery.
Victims of supersticion, outcasts were said to have ears without lobes, webbed hands and feet, a pestilential odour, and to give off a remarkable heat… Bad, harmful, evil, some even thought that they were wizards : «One of them was holding a fresh apple in his hand, but it appeared as dry and wrinkled as if it had been left in the sun for a week » (Ambroise Paré)
Often subjected to aggravation, insults, violence, outcasts had to wear a red badge in the form of a duck or goose-foot stitched to the front of their clothing. In the Middle Ages, they used a clicker as a warning of their approach. Lepers weren’t welcome in bastides where sometimes they were taken into leper-hospitals. What was worse, was that Gascony law between 1290 and 1326 stated : « in bastides or new villages where there is no leper-hospital, lepers will not be able to receive alms ».
Their absence in the villagesthough, was often regretted by the Landlords who appreciated the presence of carpenters, and this was to be the way that outcasts became indispensible to the community and were progressively to lose their outcast condition and integrate into village communities. And so, towards the end of the 18th Century, this class of citizen diappeared.
In Valence, it was outcasts who repaired the church bell-tower and at Flaran, following damage caused by Montgomery’s Huguenot troops in November 1569, two outcast brothers, Jean and Menjolet Manciet, were given the task of «building a bell-tower on the church of the Abbaye de Flaran, of repairing, making good and tiling a four-slope roof». For all this hard work, they received in payment : fourteen pounds in Royal money coined in Tours, three « cartals » of wheat, two large barrels of wine.
THE BASTIDE'S SECRET
Guilhem Manciet : « We are outcasts, we live outside, we are treated as worthless, but when qualified men are needed who aren’t afraid of hard work, they know who to ask! We are carpenters, fathers and sons down the generations, and we’ve recently been asked to make wooden supports that will hold the stones used to construct vaulted roofs They wanted many of these, very narrow as if for a sort of passage, we don’t know anything more... » Word 11/11 : Voltaire.
Have you found the Valence-sur-Baïse Bastide’s Secret The search for clues begins behind the church... If you’ve made a note of all the words the various characters gave you, you’ll know where to find the answer !