Templar Villages (Aveyron, France)

Templar Villages (Aveyron, France)

The Templars didn’t just build castles and churches. A Templar preceptory or commandery was often a self-contained village, with homes, farms, and other services for the many people who lived and worked there. These areas have not survived undisturbed over the last 800 years, but there are still places to catch a glimpse of what life in a medieval European Templar community was like.

Probably the best can be found in the Aveyron region in south-central France — the villages of La Couvertoirade and Sainte-Eulalie-de-Cernon. The area was part of the busy pilgrimage trail that led from Paris to the Mediterranean, and on to the Holy Land, so it made sense for the Templars to establish settlements there. The farmland was perfect for raising crops and grazing horses and sheep — all essential goods needed to support the long journey to Jerusalem. The villages developed in the classic style of the period — a castle was built for defense, and the supporting community grew up around it.

Like most of the Templar property in France, the villages were turned over to the Knights Hospitaller when the Templars were dissolved. The new landlords added to them, but the general feel and flavor remain much as they were when the Templars built them.

Nearby, the village of La Cavalerie was also a Templar town, although little remains of the Templars’ influence apart from the ruins of a Templar church. Its fortifications largely came from the Hospitallers. The other major ruins of the period are in Viala du Pas de Joux, where a tall tower built by the Hospitallers still stands. And in the village of Sainte-Eulalie-de-Cernon, on every other Sunday in July, a procession passes through the tenth-century village carrying relics from the Crusades, including one of the sacred thorns from Christ’s crucifixion crown.