Centre d'études Visigothique

Centre d'études Visigothique

History of Narbonne Part 3 GB

Thierry and his son Guilhem
The name Guilhem of Gellone was appearing more and more in our researches.  An incredible story emerges.  
    Sigisbert IV was the Visigothic son by Giselle of the Merovingian King, Dagobert II.  Sigisbert IV became the Count of Razès and married Magdala.  They had a son called Sigisbert V, who was born around 696 and died around 766.  This 5th Sigisbert also married, and he had two children;  Théodoric, who was mostly called Thierry, and Bera III, born around 715.   Vaisette tells us Théodoric was the Duke of Toulouse.
    The boys’ grandfather, Sigisbert IV, died in 750, at Rhedae. Sigisbert IV would have known his grandchildren, Thierry and Bera.  In the same year as Charlemagne succeeded to the Merovingian throne in 771, the grandsons had the church at Rhedae built as a sepulchre to their grandfather, “on the site of a pagan temple.”  Arians were sometimes called pagan, so Clothilde’s chapel must have reverted to Arianism.  We know this to be the same spot as today’s church to Mary Magdalene.  
    Presumably the children of Thierry and Bera, as boys in a disturbed world, would have seen this sepulchre built.

The tombstone of Sigibert IV at Rennes-le-Chateau

  Thierry married Aude, who was the sister of Pepin III, usually called Pepin le Bref, so Thierry and Pepin, were brothers-in-law.  Aude was born around 725 and died in 751. Pepin le Bref was the Mayor of the Palace who became the King of the Franks in 751 and ruled until 768.  
    Who negotiated this marriage between the Visigothic Thierry and the Frankish Aude?  Did the Visigothic Counts of Razès wish for an alliance with the Franks - or vice versa?  
    Thierry and Aude had a son called Guilhem, born about 750.  However, it could have been later, for he is said to be in his 50’s when he went to lived at Gellone in 806; but obviously he couldn’t have been born after 751, the date of his mother’s death.
     Guilhem was therefore of noble birth, a nephew of the Count of Razès (Bera), and he was part Visigothic and part Merovingian.  He was also the nephew of Pepin le Bref, the Frankish king, through his mother Aude, and therefore a grandson of Charles Martel.  He shared his grandfather with Charlemagne; he was Charlemagne’s first cousin.  Quite a noble lineage!  He would have been about four years old in 752.
So how did all this affect Narbonne?
That year, 752,  Pepin le Bref tried to make alliances with local aristocrats in Narbonne and its territories, and started his siege of the town.  At the time the count was called Milon, and he was a fervent Arian and anti-French.  He had struck coins with his name on.  
    Ansemond, the Count of Nîmes, had created a sort of mini-Septimanie - independent principalities at Agde, Béziers and Maguelone, out of the ruins left by the Franks of 737.  He was married to Khauna, a daughter of the Visigothic king, Agila II, maybe a king in name only but still, legitimate royalty.  Ansemond was also supported by Agiluf, the count of Maguelone, who defended Narbonne and the army of the muslim Waîfre when the Franks threatened the gates.
      Ansemond opened negotiations with Pepin le Bref in 752.  He said he was quite prepared to recognise the sovreignity of Pepin, as long as “the Visigothic leaders conserved all their fiefs, their titles, their goods, their laws, their prerogatives and their functions.”  
    Ansemond advanced to Narbonne but was almost immediately he was assassinated by one of his own men; his wife was assassinated at Nîmes.  It seems his motives were completely misunderstood. History tells us that Ansemond and his wife Khauna were the victims of a Visigothic anti-French plot, “by those who preferred Arab chiefs to French ones.”  This sounds to us like yet more history written by the victors.
    Narbonne and Milon continued to resist the Franks for 7 years. They could not forget the atrocities committed by Charles Martel in 737, when he had savagely, brutally and wantonly ravaged the territories of Narbonne, and created a waste land.
     The Visigoths, as we have seen from those in Provence who went to defend the Narbonnais from 734 to 737, were far more inclined to make alliances with those of similar religious ideas to themselves.  We already know the Jews and the Muslims and the Arians understood each other, and we already know that many Visigoths had come to Narbonne in 732 after Charles Martel had taken Carcassonne.  Many more had come to Narbonne after towns such as Nîmes had been devastated.  The Visigothic nobility were all trying desperately to resurrect Septimanie.
     The Roman church, as did Charles Martel, were inclined to link all “heretics” together as one, and that included the Jews.  (By this time, the case against the Jews in the crucifixion of Christ had been firmly fixed by the Romans.)  But to a certain extent, Jews were accepted.  When King Gunthram of Burgundy entered Orléans, “greetings in Hebrew and Syrian drowned out the Latin speakers”.  In the courts of the Merovingian kings, agents appointed to buy goods for the household were usually Jews and were called Negotiatores.  Solomon was one of Dagobert I’s agents, Priscus was Chilpéric’s.  Even at the strongly Christian court of Charlemagne, Syrians and Greeks worked on translating and writing the four gospels.  Charlemagne was never one to refuse talent on religious grounds.
Finally the Franks got in    
In 754, after being held back in his plans by the rebellion of Ansemond, Pepin le Bref, the Frankish son of Charles Martel, penetrated to Uzès and Nîmes, which passed finally out of the hands of the Visigoths into those of the Franks.  In 756 Pepin tried several times to take Narbonne, with its large Jewish community, but it was too well fortified.  So, in the bad-tempered habit of the Franks, he made attacks on the people of the Narbonnais, harrassing them daily.
    Thierry, Guilhem’s father from Rhedae, was in Narbonne at this time.  He was needed because all those who had followed the “traitor” Ansemond had made themselves scarce.  Thierry left his wife and children at Rhedae for safety.  
    By 759 the Visigoths and Jews were prepared to get the Saracens out of Narbonne; but there was a price that Pepin le Bref had to pay.  He promised the Narbonne people their customs would be preserved and they could have an autonomous government.  The actual words were; Tous les seigneurs goths conservassent leurs fiefs, leurs titres, leurs biens, leurs lois, leurs prérogatives et leurs fonctions. ;  exactly what Ansemond had asked for, five years previously.
    Pepin would give the Jews of Narbonne and its area an independent principality and a king of their own.  The synagogue of Narbonne says; “Narbonne was divided into three.  One part was ruled by the archbishop, another part by the Vicounts and the third part given to the Jews, with at their head a Prince of the Jews.”  
    It says in my French history of Narbonne book;  “In 759 The troops of Pepin le Bref conquered it because the Goths revolted against the Unfaithfuls and opened the gate.”  The book omits to mention the Jews took part in this as well.  
    Pepin was then acknowledged by the Visigoths and the Jews as the King of the Franks, but only in titular control. Pepin, one of the Mayors of the Palace, insisted on being acknowledged as King because he specifically wanted them to endorse his divine right to rule as defined by the Catholic church. The Mayors of the Palace were usurpers of the Merovingian Kings and had negotiated with the church that it was anointment rather than bloodline, that created a king.  Pepin also wanted a legitimate claim to any treasure; but he never found any, for the Jerusalem/Visigothic treasure wasn’t at Narbonne.
    Next Pepin le Bref promised to install a King of the Jews in Narbonne.  It was a grand title but Narbonne was grand; it ruled the whole area of Septimanie.  Pepin added Uzès, and then Toulouse was re-attached to the province of Narbonne, so it became even larger.
    In 768, the year Pepin died of congestive heart failure, his promise was ratified.  Thierry, the brother-in-law of the King of the Franks, from Rhedae and the Razès, was declared King of the Jewish Principality of Narbonne, nominally under Pepin but really independent.  Thierry’s son Guilhem, a fine young man in his twenties, must have witnessed this ceremony.
    Thierry the  King of the Jews was believed to be a Jew or of partly Jewish descent, for he was acknowledged by Pepin and the Caliph of Baghdad as “the seed of the Royal house of David.”  Why did they believe this?  Could this have been because his great-grandmother Gislica, the mother of Giselle who married Dagobert II, had Jewish blood in her veins?  For Gislica, was the sister of the Visigothic King Wamba and the daughter of the Visigothic king Tulca, and had married Bera II, the count of Razès.  Bera is a Jewish name.
    Meanwhile, the people of Narbonne set to work with a will to change their town back to its former state.  Narbonne was under a more European rule, of Visigoths, Jews and Franks.  Records of Roman bishops began again with Aribert followed by Daniel.  The basilica, part of which was the belltower that Rusticus built, was immediately restored.  The part that had become a mosque was razed to the ground, creating a courtyard which was leveled with sand from the river Aude. This is what is now the Cour Madeleine in the present-day cathedral complex.  The Saracens left no remains, no coins have been discovered during excavations.
    These archeological digs under the Madeleine courtyard revealed 3 levels of building.  First were faint remains of a Roman house, where Christian worship was secretly introduced - the original cathedral.   Narbonne people say this place first became sacred in the first and second centuries when the Christians were being persecuted in Rome.  Maybe Saint Sebastian, born in Narbonne around 250AD, came here when he was secretly converting Christians in Rome under Diocletian.     
    The second layer was the cathedral built by the beloved Rusticus, not long before the Visigoths took Narbonne in 462.  It was replaced by a Carolingian cathedral, built about 890 by Théodard.  After that, the site of the cathedral shifted slightly to the north, to its present position; building was started in 1272 and it was finished, a magnificent achievement, around 1340.
    In 768, not long after ratifying his promise over Narbonne, Pepin the Bref died.  Who would inherit Francia?  He had two sons who never agreed - Carloman the elder, and Charlemagne. The nobles were concerned about Carloman’s two sons; in case of accident, they didn’t want the kingdom split by a double inheritance.   
    In 768 Charlemagne was 26, and the Frankish nobles assembled at Corbény in the forest of Samoussy to choose him sole king of the Franks. Charlemagne was tall and fair, in his youth he was clean-shaven with a long flowing yellow moustache.  He had a look of authority and dignity and large, lively eyes. Then by chance Carloman died in 771 and left his brother Charlemagne the whole kingdom anyway.  Many expected Charlemagne to assassinate his nephews, his brother’s sons, but he never did; he locked them in a monastery.  
    Then Charlemagne was crowned king of the Franks.
Guilhem the warrior scholar
Thierry’s son Guilhem went to work for him, for the two of them had been brought up together at the court of Pepin le Bref. Charlemagne took such a shine to his young cousin Guilhem that he gave him a piece of the true cross, that he had found in Jerusalem.  Maybe Charlemagne was trying to convert him; it is unlikely Guilhem was a Christian at that time.    
    In 775 Guilhem married Cunégonde, who was Visigothic, and their son Bera inherited from his mother the title “Prince of the Goths” and the title of Count of Razès from his father.  Later he married Romelle and they founded the Abbey of Alet-les-Bains in 803.  
    Guilhem began a military career in 780, and in 789 he resolved a serious crisis in Gascony.  Charlemagne noticed his many qualities and sent him to take part in campaigns in Italy and Spain, then showered titles on him and made him a commander in the army, and a duke.
    Then Guilhem, as Charlemagne’s right-hand man and defender of the Corbières, founded various castles, fortresses or garrisons, whatever you like to call them.  One of these was the great Montségur, which was rebuilt by Raymond de Perella in the late 12th century especially as a refuge for the Cathars.  Raymond was influenced by the now-famous Cathar, Esclarmonde de Foix, who forsaw the need for somewhere impregnable.  
    Guilhem also fortified Peyrepertuse.  “We can be justified in thinking that this important fotification has Visigothic origins” says author Robert Baraybar.  The castle - the name means “pierced stone” was known in 707.  Quéribus, where later the Cathars held out until 1255, when Olivier de Termes negotiated their release, was also founded by Guilhem and, says history, Charlemagne gave him other fortresses in the Razès, in Donnezan (where is Usson) and in Roussillon.  Although thse castles were apparently gifts, their maintenance and use for defence would have put a heavy responsibility onto Guilhem, financial as well as moral.
    The official guide to the church at Rennes-le-Château tells us “The capital of the County of Razès in the 8th century, Rhedae was a fortified stronghold.  Charlemagne chose one of his loyal supporters Guilhem of Gellone to govern it.”  Hardly surprising this, as Guilhem owned it anyway!
    Around 789 Guilhem was widowed and married again, to Witburge of the Carolingian court.  He was thus fully accepted by the French nobility, a brilliant and admired leader.  He was a tutor to Charlemagne’s son, Louis, then aged 11, and presumably his own later sons were brought up at court.  He became the representative of Charlemagne in Aquitaine and was sometimes known as the Duke of Aquitaine.  The title “King of Aquitaine” had been Louis’s since he was 3 years old.  His father Charlemagne did this to protect Louis’s inheritanace in the event of his father’s death on the battlefield and eventually the boy became the King of Francia as Louis the First or Louis the Debonair, meaning pious.
     Charlemagne used Guilhem a lot in his continual fight against the Saracens, even though Guilhem was said to be fluent in Arabic and Hebrew, to have the Lion of Judah as a device on his shield, and even on his campaigns he made a strict observance of Jewish sabbaths and holy days.  Was he not heir to the Jewish kingdom in Narbonne?
    When Guilhem’s father Thierry died around 790, Guilhem inherited all his titles; including King of the Jews of the Princedom of Narbonne. He ruled Narbonne like a Jew, observing the Jewish sabbaths and holy days.  Now he could make decisions about Narbonne and Rhedae, of which he was the count; he combined the two territories. The two regions become rich together, levying taxes on both land-based and maritime businesses.
     Guilhem now had the freedom to follow his heart.   He was highly educated and a scholar, fluent in both Arabic and Hebrew, as well as various native languages and Latin, which later became Occitan.  In a tiny place in a valley high up the river Hérault, he founded in 792, an academy of Judaic studies, which had a fine library, containing all the books of wisdom he had accumulated on his travels, and many scholars used to visit. Guilhem had a great interest in the history and disciplines of other religions. His study centre was called Gellone, after the minor tributary by which it was built, feeding into the River Hérault.
    Gellone was a long way from Narbonne and the Razès, three or four days journey on horseback.  Except for beside the rivers, the area was rocky, with just a fine scrub covering the bare hills, and wild.  Dolmens and menhirs dotted the countryside, all carrying pagan legends; a church council at Tours in 567 advised priests to tell their parishioners that these legends had nothing to do with the church.  
    Guilhem had the large area of the Narbonnais at his disposal to build a home or a study centre; there must have been an unusual and specific reason that he chose Gellone.  There are many theories but it could be simply that he wanted to be near his friend Benoît, and there was also a château at Gellone where he could live while he built his abbey.
  The abbey with the ruined castle behind

   This ruined castle on the crest of a mountain is immediately to the north of the abbey of St. Guilhem-le-Désert. It’s possible his unusual library was housed in this château.  This gives us a hint of why and how Guilhem chose Gellone in the first place, especially as Gellone was under the aegis of Aniane, the abbey founded by St. Benoît, and was run according to the Rule of St. Benoît.  
     To us the castle’s very position would shriek “Visigothic” and indeed, it is believed to be of Visigothic origin, even though it consists now of nothing but a few ruined walls.  You can see it from the village but are not allowed to visit as it is considered dangerous.
    In the middle ages, troubadours sang of the exploits of Guilhem when he was face to face with a terrible giant; the place of the ruined château is called the Château du Géant.  A legend tells us that when Guilhem arrived in the valley, the château was occupied by a cruel giant.  Going to the château in disguise as a humble servant, Guilhem surprised the giant in spite of a magpie that croaked; “Beware giant, it’s Guilhem come to kill you!”  After a terrible battle, the giant fell from a high rock and perished.  The magpies, accomplices of the giant, were banished forever to the valley, and even today, the birds cannot live there for longer than three days.
    Of course, this legend implies that Guilhem was already a saint, battling against pagans, which included Visigoths.  So who was the Visigothic giant who lived in the château?  How did Guilhem really get it off him?  Or could it be Guilhem himself lived there when he first arrived in the little valley of Gellone, and built his library there but built his chapel or church below, on the banks of the river?
    We think so.
But all was not yet over in the battlefield
Since the Muslims left Narbonne in 759 there had been an uneasy truce and various trading agreements.  In 777, Soloman the Arab invited Charlemagne to Spain, to help him in his war against Abd-er-Rhaman, Chalife of Cordoba.  Charlemagne crossed the Pyrenees but failed to take Saragossa.  His main army, still in the mountains, were attacked by the Basques and perished to a man - even though the legendary Roland tried to hold the pass.
    In 790 the Muslims returned to Narbonne and recommenced hostilities. A general of the Emir of Cordoba burnt the faubourgs, the suburbs outside the ramparts of Narbonne, today’s Le Bourg.  Charlemagne was away at the time, campaigning in Italy with his son Louis, then fourteen years old, but he decided he better march immediately to Narbonne.
    Meanwhile Guilhem came to the rescue, but his army was defeated by the Muslim Cordobans at the battle of Villedaigne, in spite of the valour of his fighting men.  
    Charlemagne asked his barons who would volunteer to re-take Narbonne (by which he meant Le Bourg).  They were all in haste, they said, to re-enter their home, but only one, called Aimery, volunteered.  This is the Aimery, I think, that Charlemagne made Viscount of Narbonne.
     A curious letter written by the king Charles VI dated 1381 said; “it is of the time of Charlemagne, emperor and King of France that the city of Narbonne was removed from the hands of the Pharaohs.”  (“C’est du temps de Charlemagne, emperor et roi de France que la cité de Narbonne fut soustraite des mains des pharaons.”)
    So the story became accepted that the great Frankish king Charlemagne got the Muslims out of Narbonne, and, as usual, no credit was given for the help of the Jews, the Visigoths, or the Counts of Razès, or even Charlemagne’s father, Pepin le Bref!    
    It was Aimery who liberated Le Bourg in 793.  After this the Narbonne people rebuilt the city walls so Narbonne included Le Bourg.  You can now see part of these ramparts in the boulevard du Docteur Lacroix.
    Who was Aimery?  Sometimes his name is spelt Aymery.  There seems to be some confusion here, for Aymery didn’t rescue Narbonne from the Muslims in 793, but in 759.  In 768 the King of the Jews was officially installed in Narbonne.  According to what was written by Wolfram, the King’s name was Aymery - but he changed it to Théodore or Thierry.  This was because he had been received into the ranks of the Frankish nobility, possibly on the occasion of his marriage to Pepin le Bref’s sister, Aude.
     I suspect many chroniclers and historians, maybe writing after the event, confused Thierry with his son Guilhem, and the 759 events with those of 793.  None the less, the Viscounts of Narbonne were often called Aymery.  Were they descended from this man who could have been Thierry, or his son Guilhem?
No peace for Guilhem
It was the summer of 793 and Charlemagne was away fighting in Saxe.  The muslim leader, Hisham al Malik, was interested only in booty, not in holding any town.  Looting and pillaging all the way, he took the old Roman Road, the Camin Romieu which joined Béziers and Toulouse while avoiding Narbonne and Carcassonne.  
    Guilhem was obliged to leave his studies and his recent establishment at Gellone.
    He met the troops of Hisham al Malik on the banks of the Orbiel, near to Trèbes.  The French/Visigothic contingent was beaten and Hisham returned home through the Cerdagne.  The Arab version of events reads;  “The Saracens arrived at Narbonne and burnt the suburbs.  They took many Christians and a great booty.  After that, they headed for Carcassonne.  It was then that Count Guilhem, and other French counts with him, carried themselves to the river Orbiel and there engaged in combat.  That day, many Christian troops fell.  Guilhem, himself fighting valiantly, but seeing that he would not reach a victory, for his companions had abandoned him and taken flight, retired himself.  The Saracens, having gotten together their spoils, returned to Spain.”
    In Roman times, Trèbes was called Tricessinum, after the milestone there telling travellers on the Via Aquitana they were 30 Roman miles (very similar to English miles) from Narbonne.  By the 4th century Tricessium was a city, containing the last staging post or mansio before Carcassonne.  This probably became the château, which was demolished in 1420, along with the ramparts.  The bridge was Roman; today’s bridge over the Aude has had two arches added, but the foundations are still Roman.  The river Orbiel joins the Aude at Trèbes.
    Because the Saracens took “the top road”, they must have travelled along the north bank of the Aude, while Guilhem, departing from Narbonne, would have been on the south bank.  The battle therefore, must have been for the bridge; when the Muslims got it, they were able to leave, with the booty they had amassed, for Spain.  They would have taken the route that skirts the Montagne d’Alaric; and maybe Charlemagne, on his way back from the Pyrenees, tried to stop them there, perhaps at Montlaur, and failed.
    Guilhem and Charlemagne were considerably upset psychologically by the treasure they had lost.  Charlemagne had become almost paranoic about the Muslims, who were after all, not far away in the Pyrenees and were said to be inconsolable because they had lost Narbonne, and he campaigned against them throughout his reign.
     Throughout much of this process Guilhem was fighting side by side with Charlemagne.  He was sometimes called Duke William of Narbonne by English historians and later became a warrior that the troubadours used to write about.  He is sometimes called Prince of Orange, but that’s an error; it was his father Theirry who fought battles at Nîmes, Avignon and Orange between 738 and 756.
    Charlemagne, as part of his strengthening of the defences of the region, restored Las Castelas, and Las Tours, at Portel-des-Corbières, around 793.  We wonder if he knew of the thoughts of Ataulf, who first saw Portel and its surroundings as a great capital of Septimanie to rival Narbonne?   A medieval village grew up around the castles, the first houses built with the ramparts as their back wall.  As for the mansio at Portel, in the tenth century an oratoire was built there and dedicated to the virgin.  By the 13th century it was a church called Sainte-Marie des Oubiels, with an attendant graveyard.  Pilgrimages are still held there.
      The final assault against the Muslims was to re-capture Barcelona, which Guilhem did for Charlemagne in 801.  Charlemagne was so impressed by this, he extended the agreed lifespan of the Jewish Kingdom in Narbonne, and in addition Guilhem became Count of Barcelona.  Guilhem was by this time already the Count of Toulouse, the Count of Auvergne and the Count of Razès, and still held the title of King of the Jews.  Now he controlled the vast territory of what is today, Languedoc and Catalonia.
    He had lived a dazzling career.
A dramatic decision for Guilhem    
Guilhem of Gellone was a spirited warrior, a fiery lover, a first cousin of the great Charlemagne  but he finished his life as a hermit, in retreat from the world.  Why?
    In 806 something happened to Guilhem.  Whatever it was caused him to leave Narbonne, where he was a king, to leave his kingdom that stretched across Mediterranean France and Spain for hundreds of miles, to leave his home town of Rhedae, and to discard his worldly goods.  
    “He retired from the world,” the Catholics say.  It seemed to be a very sudden decision, a complete change of lifestyle.  Why?  I found out that Guihem’s second wife died in 806.  Ii seems to me that in his grief Guilhem accepted the comfort of Charlemagne and made a true conversion.
     In these cases, of “dropping out” from the world, the eldest son often “inherits” - some medieval kings even crowned their sons while they were still alive.  It was often the case with the Visigoths that eldest sons rode everywhere with their fathers, learning kingship at first hand.   But Guilhem’s titles were distributed between his sons. His descendants ruled the Narbonne region for more than 200 years.
    St. Benoît of Aniane, Aniane not being far from Gellone, was Guilhem’s spiritual counsellor for some time.  Before Guilhem’s conversion, Guilhem and Benoît must have had incredible discussions about relative religions.   Now, they discussed plans for developing Gellone as an abbey and monastery along the lines of Aniane, Benoît’s creation.

A fanciful 19th C drawing of Guilhem giving up his weapons at Gellone

Guilhem lived a simple life, wearing a monk’s habit. Monks were introduced into his monastery and all lived under the Rule of St. Benoît.  Guilhem was 63 years old.  He had taken to Gellone his piece of the true cross that Charlemagne had given him - it is still there.  He would have been happier living a peaceful life with his books, but the Catholic legends all say he spent his time in fasting and prayer.   
    Guilhem died on 28th May 812.  Chronicles tell us he fell ill and was carried to his personal cell, which held his relic of the cross.  He died laid out on the ground with his arms crossed, lying on a bed of cinders.  This sounds, somehow, like a “tradition” of the church so that Guilhem could be canonised.  (St. Martin of Tours died the same way.)
    Guilhem left behind his fine library, but few of the books survived.  There are only twenty illuminated manuscripts, including one called Sacramentaire du Gellone, a book of church ceremonies. It is still in existence, a valuable church document, and beautiful as a work of art, hand-painted by St. Benoît’s monks.
    But what about all those scientific studies in Arabic and Hebrew?  I shouldn’t be at all surprised if they were destroyed when Gellone was converted to a monastery.  The Roman Church were quite keen on people proving their faith.
    Guilhem was canonised about one hundred years later, and church histories about him describe him as a French warrior, a relative of Charlemagne, who gave up his worldly goods for God.  His interest in Jewish and Muslim issues, not to mention Arianism, is never mentioned.  Were they trying to hide the fact he was of Merovingian-Visigothic-Jewish descent?
But do visit the abbey
Many history books say Guilhem founded an “community” at Gellone right from the start.  Few histories mention Guilhem’s interest in all matters religious, his studies at Toledo, or his life in the Château before the abbey was built.  During that time he could have had a chapel in the valley, as many castles did, for private worship.  It would be this chapel that was enlarged into the abbey.          It’s long been known that the abbey contained a Visigothic altar, made of black and white marble, encrusted with coloured glass, and dated to the beginning of the 9th century.  There was also a crypt.  Just recently, some more evidence has come to light.  It’s always been accepted that the monastery of Gellone was Romanesque, and built in the 10th century.  However, in 1999, local archeologists found, high up under the roof and hidden by it, some capitals that have been firmly dated as the end of the 8th century - that is, round about 790 - exactly the time that Guilhem founded the place!  It now seems that Guilhem’s home, a fine establishment with a study centre and library, also included a place of worship, that was converted to a monastery, about 100 years later, aroundabout the time Guilhem was canonised.   By 900AD he was venerated and his cult was fixed.
    Guilhem was buried at Gellone.  His sarcophage was of white marble and elevated so that the pilgrims, and the sick, could pass underneath.  The community received other relics, which increased its popularity, and by the Middle Ages, pilgrims to Compostella and Jerusalem all stopped there.  (This is the aspect emphasised in all the tourist guides.)
    In 1569 the abbey was ransacked by the Protestants during the Wars of Religion.  Somebody managed to hide the relics of Guilhem, and his piece of the true cross, and these were recovered when restoration of the abbey began in 1679 by the Benedictines.  It was ransacked again during the Revolution and its goods seized; the cloisters were taken to a museum in New York in 1906.
    Today a sympathetic reconstruction has been done with care; it is well worth visiting.  

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