Fanjeaux and Prouilhe Monastery
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Fanjeaux, Prouilhe and Montréal are three villages situated in the picturesque "Pays Lauragais", a mild hilled region that extends between the "les Corbières", Pyrenean Mountains and the Mountaine Noire in the southeast of Toulouse. The villages are historic sites closely connected to the life of Saint Dominic (or Dominique) the founder of the Catholic Dominican Order - also called the "Order of the Preachers".
Dominic de Guzman, the future saint, arrived in this region in 1206 in his way back to his native Spain but encountering the Catharism phenomenon, a heresy that was at the time on the rise in the southwest of France, decide to remain temporarily here and preach the Catholic faith.
While in Montréal no artifact remains from the times the Saint came here, Prouilhe and Fanjeaux are still featuring material items that date from the time he lived in the region, with some breaks, between 1206 and 1215.
The Prouilhe Monastery was established by Saint Dominic at the end of 1206 for several women who got converted from Catharism by his preachings. At the time Prouilhe was a poor little fortified village that got reinvigorated by the setting up of the nuns' community.
The construction of the monastery that we can see today started in 1207. In 1212 documents attest of the existence of different "buildings erected recently" in Prouilhe, modest building one supposes in keeping with the teachings of the Saint for a modest and humble life.
In eight centuries the buildings went through several reconstructions. The nowadays was built in 1886 in a Romanesque-Byzantine style.
But the most connected element with the life of Saint Dominic is the Dominican community that still exists in the Prouilhe and that numbers 28 nuns arrived here from all over the world.
Fanjeaux, some 2km from Prouilhe, is a little top hill village - population just over 800 - that from its 360 m altitude dominates surrounding area. Its "Seignadou" called view point offers a breathtaking panorama of the Corbières region and the Pyrenean Mountains chain in the south and of the rolling hills of Lauragais that slowly reach the Massif of "Montagne Noire" in the north and east. During the Roman occupation times the town's site was occupied by a temple dedicated to Jupiter, Fanum Jovis, hence its name: Fanjeaux.
In the middle ages the town was a hot bed of Catharism with many feudal barons being either converts to or sympathizers of this heresy. In political terms Fanjeaux owed allegiance during these times to two lords: Dame Cavaers and the Count of Foix.
In 1205 the sister of the count of Foix, the famous Esclarmonde - "light of the world" - de Foix, received in Fanjeaux the Cathar baptism and even the daughter of Dame Cavaers was raised as a Cathar before converting to Catholicism and becoming one of the nuns in Prouilhe monastery. Saint Dominic came to Fanjeaux for the first time in 1206 but lived in the town between 1214 and 1215 when he was in fact the local priest.
From this latest period belong the monuments and places of Fanjeaux that are material witnesses to the life and work of the Saint.
The first one is the "Saint Dominic House", situated some 50 meters behind the church. The exterior of the building was renovated several times since the 13th century but the walls and the interior of the main room, called "Saint Dominic Room" - the wooden ceiling, the candelabras, the tile floor and the fireplace -were preserved as they were during the Saint's life.
The town's church that we can see today was built, in Gothic Languedoc style, between 1278 and 1281 therefore is not contemporary with the Saint's living in Fanjeaux. However, it was built on the foundation of the previously existing church - the Saint was a priest here - from which it preserves also some walls. It also preserves a wooden beam that was saved from a former building called "Miracle Chapel" and that was the beam that was reached by the paper written by the Saint during "proof by fire" event.
The convent of the "Frères Prêcheurs" was erected one century after the Saint's death in the middle of the 14th century but it still represents a continuation of the saint's authority and influence in the region. It was built beside the "Miracle Chapel" and housed a community of Dominican monks until the French revolution. It is inhabited now by the Dominican nuns of the Saint Family.
For information related with the life of Saint Dominic in Toulouse click here