The village of St FÃ©lix Lauragais rises 340 meters above the Lauragais plain, 10 kilometers from Revel, 17 kilometers from Castelnaudary, 37 kilometers from Castres and 52 kilometers south west of Toulouse.
Some history …
It was surely a Roman settlement during the invasion of Gaul in 120BC, due to the strategic importance as a protecting outpost of the settlement of Narbonne (Norbo Martius), due to the remains of the foundations of Gallo-Roman villas at the bottom of the hill and the numerous Roman coins of the epoch found during archaeological digs.
A skeleton was unearthed during one of the digs, which was adorned with a bronze plaque and a centurion’s belt, which adds more to the proof of Roman habitation in and around the village.
There have also been finds that prove the settlement of Visigoths in the area after their retreat after the battle of VouillÃ© near Poitiers along with camps set up on naturally fortified settlements including St FÃ©lix, Les CassÃ©s, St Julia, Puylaurens, Montjey, Montmaur, MontÃ©gut, Saint Paulet, Montferrand and Avignonet, all places that we will be visiting along the way, and all that bear witness to the passing of different peoples in the region.
The first mention of a castle at St FÃ©lix (at the time the name of the village was St FÃ©lix de Caraman or more likely St FÃ©lix de Carmaing) was in the times of Aton II, Viscount of Albi and Nimes, who died in 1030, although the village really entered the history books in 1167 with the holding of the first Cathare Synod, which decided on the split of the land into areas under archbishops and the way in which the word of the cathare religion was to be spread.
In 1205, a convent of parfaits, the Cathare religious dignitaries, set up in St FÃ©lix, which illustrates the importance of the village at that time.
The original castrum was destroyed by Simon de Montfort in 1211 during the crusades against the Albigeois and the village, as we see it today was founded in the 13th century, under the administration of the provost Eustache de Beaumarchais.
The chÃ¢teau was transformed from a stark defensive fortress to a country palace by the eldest brother of Pope John XXII and has been added to gradually up until the 18th century to become that what is visible today.
A religious Collegial was founded here on 22 January 1318 made up of 12 Canons, 24 Chaplains, 6 Tonsured Monks and 6 alter boys to spread the word through the hamlets and villages that were dependent on the church in St FÃ©lix.
There are some fantastic views from the old ramparts, across the Lauragais, to the PyrÃ©nÃ©es and La Montagne Noire – the village was renamed “Bellevue” (beautiful view) during the French Revolution as the new order attempted to eliminate names with religious connotations – quite fitting really.
The view from the old ramparts across the Lauragais & The PyrÃ©nÃ©es are fantastic and there is an orientation table for you to get your bearings.
The village underwent a siege by the protestant army in 1570 and was at least by-passed by Wellington’s troops during the war against Napoleon in 1814 – there is a graveyard to the west of the village in the plain which is named by locals “Le cimetiÃ¨reÂ des Anglais” (The English Cemetery) is one of two remaining in the region – the other being in BaziÃ¨ge, but almost unknown even by the locals.
There are no gravestones nor any other indication that it is indeed a cemetery, in fact it is on private land with a “no trespassing” sign, and only marked by a few lonely cypress trees.
The village and the surrounding area grew immensely rich in the 14th and 15th century with the growing of pastel (Isatis Tuntoria), a blue dye used in the textile industry during the middle ages, the leaves of the plant were ground in the windmills to produce conical blocks called “cocagnes” in the local dialect.
The word “Cocagne” is used to this day to describe wealth, ease and luxury – “La vie de cocagne” (The life of cocagne).
This golden age of “La cocagne” lasted 60 years before a rapid decline after the introduction of Indigo from India – the region today is mostly made of of cereal farming of Corn, sunflowers, Rapeseed and soya.
In The Village…
There is a beautiful wooden covered market hall with a vaulted roof made of oak and pine, which is quite unique in the region – another using this method can be seen at Grenade, near Toulouse.
The market hall In the village square there is an almost obligatory wrought-iron cross, which was classed as historical monument as early as 1927, but, taking a closer look at the cross, we can see it is topped by a cockerel and that the letter “N” of INRI is inversed, which for some researchers is a clue that links the village with that of the mysterious, D’aVinci codesque,Â Rennes Le ChÃ¢teau, in the Aude department.
Another coincidence, is that the chÃ¢teau of St FÃ©lix was bought by a certain, NoÃ«l Corbu after having sold the infamous “Villa BÃ©thanie” in Rennes Le ChÃ¢teau… Mysterious link or just a coincidence? A local legend states that after having taken the village in 1211, Simon de Montfort threw his sword into the deep well of the chÃ¢teau, where it remains today. The well is exactly as deep as the church spire is high – 42 meters.
If you look closely at the stones in the chÃ¢teau walls, you will find some ancient carvings, or graffiti, of crosses carved by past inhabitants, especially of crosses, exact replicas can also be found at a Knights Templar’s Chapel in Montsaunes in the Beaujolais region in the east of France.
Although the chÃ¢teau is not open to visitors, access can be had to the beautiful and peaceful gardens, where you can silently contemplate the history of the village. Some researchers believe that certain treasures or secrets, much in the ilk of those that enriched the AbbÃ© Saunier at Rennes Le ChÃ¢teau, were hidden in the ChÃ¢teau at Saint FÃ©lix – others reject this as nothing more than romantic conjecture and fantasy.
There are even stories of visitors who appear to be specialists asking where the Mona Lisa can be found in the village…
St FÃ©lix is avery quiet village, considering its violent and colourful past, most tourists tending to pass it by for reasons unknown – the plus point is that there are not the hordes of tourists that one might meet in Carcassonne cluttering the streets and it is still possible to park with ease in the village square before taking a leisurely walk around the narrow streets of the village with it’s half-timbered houses and visit the beautiful church and birthplace of DÃ©odat de SÃ©verac unhampered by queues.
The bell in the bell tower, is said to be heard from everywhere and is even able to stop the famous “vent d’Autan” the wind which blows in the region – although having lived here for nearly 10 years, we can think of nothing but the rain that stops the Autan wind.
Visitors can visit the tourist centre, have a leisurely coffee or cool drink at the two cafÃ©s in the village square or have lunch or dinner in the two restaurants.
Other visits include: La ferme de Cabrol, where visitors can taste and buy locally made cheeses, especially the goat’s cheeses such as The St FÃ©licien.
Le Lac de L’Enclas – a small lake nearby where you can walk around the lake and the tree-shaded “La Rigole de La Plaine” the waterway that runs from La Montagne Noire and feeds the Canal du Midi at Naurouze.
St FÃ©lix is a great starting place for tourism in the Lauragais, to see more photos of St FÃ©lix, see our post on Vide Greniers.