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Jean Chaize, June 2003
Jean Chaize, one of the path-workers involved in the beginnings of the
«Saint-Jacques», has allowed us to publish the article below which goes back to a
communication he made to the Société Académique in Le Puy. This foundation article
relates how the GR 65 was born.
In view of the importance which the Chemin de Saint-Jacques
has acquired in Haute-Loire and the effect this has had, it seems a good time
to recount today, in a few words, the history of the redevelopment of the
ancient pilgrim route, known as and identified by the initials G.R. 65. Recent
history, you will tell me, compared with the subjects usually dealt with at
the Société Académique, but it may in future inspire a
certain interest in our compatriots.
The evidence of history
The first thing to do was to assemble an inventory of the traces
left behind by those distant pilgrims. A rapid scanning of the known documents
revealed large gaps and much that was not very precise. In addition, it proved hard
to disentangle the many possible routes
from those associated with the pilgrimage to Le Puy's own shrine of Our Lady.
If the literature relating to the great adventure of pilgrims to St James
revealed the immense need felt by thousands of human beings
to undertake this voyage, it did not furnish the expected evidence.
Thus, the Pilgrim's Guide, a key document because of its age,
was found to be largely silent on the route followed by the via Podiensis. On the
other hand, in his work 'Les pèlerins du Moyen-Age' [Medieval Pilgrims], Raymond Oursel
noted several sections of route judged to have been frequented by a number of people en
route to Galicia. Carefully noted, these echos, combined with those places whose name
incorporated the name or memory of St James, enabled the
meetings held at the home of the secretary of Sentiers de G.R. to
create an outline of the future and current itinerary.
The search for a route
It was around this structure that the new route was to be built.
But, in modern times, the links between these various points
are not immediately obvious. An exploration on the ground
was therefore needed and lasted nearly 18 months. After much
discussion it was decided to use and respect the following criteria for this:
After this period of pure reconnaissance, as laborious as can be imagined, once the route had been determined on the map, it was time for the waymarking proper, the necessary tools for which - brushes, knives, paint - were provided by the Federation des Sentiers. This last phase saw the group return to the terrain. But the previous comings and goings of 10 to 20 people, the numerous cordial contacts with the local population, had not been in vain; the locals, seeing the same people return as waymarkers, greeted them with: «ah, here are the Saint-Jacques back again». The imprint of the pilgrimage thus became a reality over the whole of the new itinerary, and the neo-pilgrims could pass without fear of being rebuffed or looked at askance.
But the adventure was still not finished, as two very important elements were still missing, one being that of having gîtes capable of sheltering walkers at the end of each day. After study, three sites were identified between Le Puy and the border with Lozère, but putting them into effect exceeded the competence and means of the small group of volunteers. It was necessary to convince the relevant local authorities to involve and interest themselves in this need for walkers to find, each evening, after a day's march, a roof, a shelter to pass the night and recover from the day's exertions. Saint-Privat d'Allier was the ideal spot for the first of these nocturnal pauses. The Mayor and General Councillor, who had previously made fun of the team and its ambition, declaring it utopian to hope to see walkers setting off on an adventure along these isolated paths in the middle of nowhere, nevertheless agreed to set aside a place of welcome in a communal building, theoretically empty in summer because intended for the shelter of those single people whose homes were too remote for them to be able to live there in winter. Then, at the other end of the département, at the domaine du Sauvage, thanks to the kindness of its caretaker, it was agreed that one of the many unused buildings could, without much problem, receive walkers before they set off across the largely deserted landscapes of the Margeride. In between these two, Saugues, despite its commercial nature, posed a problem, for it was not immediately able to provide a suitable resting-place. Happily, chance filled the need. Hearing that, at the national level, a hundred tents suitable for accommodating 15 to 20 people were being offered for use by organisations providing welcome for travellers, the group was, thanks to the speedy action of the Mayor and General Councillor of Saugues, able to obtain delivery of the last available tent. Shipped to Langeac, transported to Saugues, and set up for the summer, it served for several years before more suitable arrangements were made.
The first topo-guide
If the G.R. 65, Sentier de Saint-Jacques, seemed therefore
to be operational, at least in Haute-Loire, there was still one other
an indispensable one moreover, namely a topo-guide describing the route.
Quickly and carefully put together, including for the first time in a
description diverse elements, particularities, curiosities,
legends, echos of local history, etc. Once completed, this document was
kindly printed by the Chamber of Commerce in Le Puy, and duly provided
appropriate maps. Thus, at the end of 1972, the circle was complete,
pilgrims or walkers could undertake the journey, especially when
Lozère and Aveyron quickly followed our lead, enabling the National Federation
to edit, based on our model, an official topo-guide
covering the whole stretch from Le Puy to Conques. When one knows the
result of this initiative and its current success, bringing each year
nearly 10,000 people to Le Puy,
and culminating in 1998, at the time of the inclusion of the
Chemins de Saint-Jacques in the World Heritage List, in the specific
inclusion of the cathedral and hôtel-Dieu of Le Puy.
This pioneer's account is extremely valuable in giving us a view of the birth of this path. It leads us to make the following comments.
The documentation was meagre, limited to the Pilgrim's Guide.
Lacking documents mentioning the route to Compostela for which evidence was being sought,
what was left was toponyms, sculptures or traces, such as shells,
which it was tempting to view as waymarks showing the
route to Galicia.
Those who have not read them will find below two
pages taken from Raymond Oursel's book. In 1963, he had no inkling of the
political dimension of the last Book of the Codex Calixtinus,
which became the Pilgrim's Guide,
but he brings a lucid eye to the way in which the roads of the time are redrawn.
THE FOUR FRENCH ROUTES : A HEROIC AND GRANDIOSE VISION
… Moreover, a wide variety of routes
were available for the pilgrim from France, Germany or Italy to reach the
crossing of the Pyrenees. Apart from the list of «holy relics», adaptable
to many a detour, the silence of the Guide is total on this point, and
its intention seems less to define fixed axes than to
spread over the surface of the Frankish kingdom, through a vision both intensely poetic
and as if foreshortened, the sacred fan that will sweep it clean.
Pèlerins du Moyen Age, Paris, Fayard, 1st edn 1963 (1978 edn, pp 168-9)
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