Belpech, a village to discover
From yesteryears to nowadays, what a history…
On the hill overlooking the village, the remains of a square keep can be seen from afar. These ruins are the last visible signs of what used to be a powerful medieval fortress, surrounded by walls almost 200 m in length. At its foot were built a chapel and, in the XVIIth century, a seminary of which a few walls can still be seen…
Built in the XIth century (~1034 – 1085) by the Fort family, this tower, known as the “Capcastel” in the XIIIth century, was protected by a fortified wall 1.70 m thick. A portico was set before the main dwelling, which was distinct from the keep.
In time, the village was built underneath the castle as the inhabitant moved from Garnac to this new, safer, location. Five streets still lead to this strategically overlooking site: they were used by villagers to reach the castle in case of an attack.
Renamed “Castelas” (a ruined Castle in Oc language), texts already mention the site as a ruin in 1540. It was probably abandoned as early as the XIVth century…
The Rosary Chapel
In 1344, a chapel consecrated to saint Marie-Magdalen was founded by Ramon Sirven de Villefort. It became a votive chapel in 1682 and was renamed Our-Lady-of-the-Rosary.
Built on the south part of the Hill, it probably measured 20 m in length and 11 m in width. Above it was a simple triangular bell-gable with three openings. Towards the choir (to the east), was the sacristy, a vaulted room with two large gothic windows. The founder and serving fathers were buried in this chapel. Today, the sacristy is the only visible remain.
On June 26 1682, Pierre de la Broue, bishop of Mirepoix, set up a seminary. The community of Belpech then gave the Our-Lady-of-the-Rosary chapel to the Oblates of Mary congregation (also known as the Bonalistes).
Priests had several missions: to form young clerics, appoint a regent for the schools, visit the sick, teach catechism, confess the faithful…
A cloister sheltering the young clerks’ cells linked the sacristy with two buildings housing the classroom, the library and the priests’ accommodations. There also was a garden, for flowers or vegetables.
In 1752, the seminary was turned to the Congregation of the Mission, also known as Vincentians or Lazarites. Master Lacroix, the last Father, died in 1773 and was buried in the chapel.
What about today?
The abandoned buildings were taken down bit by bit by locals, who used the stones for building their houses. The dismantling accelerated after the great fire that raged in the village in 1791, due to the need to rebuild as quickly as possible. Religious items from the chapel were dispersed, sold, melted… Only remains the small statue of Our-Lady-of-the-Rosary.
The Castelas is now a private site. A non-profit organization, set up in 2014, works at saving the site and showcasing it.
Photograph of the Castellas, from “La baronnie archiépiscopale de Belpech Garnaguès”
Edouard Laffont (1914)
Thanks to L. and T. Guillosson for translation
Statue of Our-Lady-of-the-Rosary
The worshipping of
In 1630, Belpech was hit by a terrible plague epidemic. A procession climbing the hillslope was dedicated to Our-Lady to pray for her protection. During the second plague outbreak, in 1654, a second procession took place, and a third in 1782 during a sweating sickness outbreak.
The cult remained despite the dismantling of the chapel. The small wood-and-stucco statue of the Virgin Mary holding baby Jesus in her arms was found in the ruins and relocated to the chapel of the Holy Sepulchre in the church. The statue was renovated first in pink gown and white mantle, and gilded over in 1930.
Nowadays called Notre-Dame-de-Beaupuy, the statue is displayed in a dedicated chapel in the church that was created in 1962 and refurbished in 2012. Numerous ex-voto, expressing gratitude for a healing, a safe return from war… attest to its popularity.
As for the lost chapel, it wasn’t totally forgotten: from 1897, the Abbot Danguien organized annual processions with oriflammes and canticles on the Castelas’ slopes. The tradition was interrupted several times, but carried on for ten years in the 1960s and again in 2011 and 2012.