St Guilhem le Desert
Going way way back in time for this local town, how about back to 811…… the town is now part of many a pilgrimage which you will understand if you read the rest of this short text. Saint Guilhem le Desert was born in France around the middle of the 8th century. He was a cousin of Charlemagne and spent his youth in the imperial court. William was made Count of Toulouse in 790, and Charlemagne placed his young son (Louis the Pious, who was to inherit Aquitaine), in his wardship. He was the second count of Toulouse and held the title from 790 until 811. Guilhem dedicated the next thirteen years to sustaining the southern frontiers of the Frankish empire. He was renowned as one of the most valiant warriors of his time. He married twice; his second wife, the Lady of Orange was apparently the widow of a Saracen Lord that he killed and whose estates he seized. Guilhem's exploits became famous and he evolved into the hero of medieval ballads of knightly prowess and chivalry. He is the hero of the Chanson de Guillaume, an early chanson de geste, and of several later sequels. In 804 Guilhem retired to the Abbey of Aniane. (For many centuries it was regarded as entirely laudable for men to abandon their wives and families to become monks). In 806 he headed a group of monks who set off to found the Abbey of Gellone (you’ve got it this is the place known as Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert). Before his death, Charlemagne had given the young Guilhem a reliquary, which was believed to contained pieces of the True Cross. Guilhem left this to his Abbey, where it remains to this day. The jewelled reliquary is carried through the village in procession once a year on the 3rd May - St Guilhem's feast day.
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