Written and photographed by Mimi Beck Knudsen
One weekend each September, Europe celebrates Journées du Patrimoine — Heritage Days. In France, around 17,000 sites and monuments invite guests to visit, learn about and celebrate French history. Since many of these sites offer free admission, special tours or are open only during Heritage weekend, we make it a point to visit as many sites as we can. This year, we stopped by a small village and received a huge dose of history.
Our visit starts in the church, Église Saint-Martin de Cahuzac, where we meet a charming woman who tells us (in nice, slow French) a bit of Cahuzac’s history and points out what has been hidden beneath the plastered walls of the church’s interior. Amazingly well-preserved frescoes have been discovered and are being revealed bit by bit with careful chiseling. She speculates that all the walls may have these pictures behind the white plaster. It will take time — and money — to uncover all the frescoes.
Cahuzac is a tiny village just a few kilometers from our home in the Lot-et-Garonne. Just off D1 between Lauzun and Castillonnes, we’ve passed by the turnoff to the village many times but have been here only once before. There are no shops or restaurants, and the hilly route has discouraged me from biking here. However, the chance for a guided tour during Journées du Patrimoine provides a good excuse for a proper visit.
Left to right: Cahuzac in the Lot-in-Garonne is a surprisingly pretty little village, architectural gems such as this pediment can be seen in the village, vivid frescoes have been discovered on the walls of Église Saint-Martin de Cahuzac
From left to right: There may be many more frescoes such as this behind the white plaster walls of Église Saint-Martin de Cahuzac, atower stands among the remains of the chateau, L’Ancien Couvent is a chambre d’hôte housed in one of Cahuzac’s old convents.
After we explore the church, we are introduced to another guide, a Cahuzac native who now lives in Lyon. She takes us on a walk, and as she points out various flora, she shares with us the history of her hometown.
We circle around the old château that was built around 1259. The area surrounding the castle was once a hunting ground and a source of income for the distinguished families who lived in the area. The village was also notable for its farming and its fairs. On the eve of the French Revolution, a judge, a prosecutor, the castle’s captain of the guard, two notaries, a curate, a school master, a surgeon and various artisans all lived here.
During the Hundred Years War, the barons who resided in Cahuzac were on the English side, while the consuls who lived in the nearby town of Castillonnes were vassals of the King of France. Castillonnes was burned down by the English in 1346, retaken by the French in 1369, and lost again to the British soldiers mustered at Cahuzac in 1374. Some say, although it is doubtful, that tunnels linked the two villages around this time.
Cahuzac was again involved in the back and forth between two sides — this time between Catholics and Protestants — during the Wars of Religion.
Although the village is rather secluded, L’Ancien Couvent, a chambre d’hôte in one of Cahuzac’s old convents, attracts visitors and wedding parties.
Villages such as Cahuzac can be found throughout this area of France, and I am reminded that one need not wait until Journées du Patrimoine to detour from usual routes and discover these hidden gems.
An ancient toilet protrudes from a wall of the château in Cahuzac.