intoHistory, geschiedenis beleven in authentieke logies
Some age-old residences are astonishingly well preserved, but not many have been as intimately involved in so many key episodes of French history as Moussac castle. This fortified mansion, dating from the end of the 13th century, has been restored in keeping with traditional building techniques. The overall design is inspired by the Renaissance style in which, thankfully, several modern day amenities have been incorporated.
© Château de Moussac
If Moussac castle has played such a pre-eminent role in Languedoc history, this is because it was a church property, since its concession to the Bishop of Uzès by King Philippe-Auguste (1211). The context is important: we are at the end of the Albigensian crusades (against the Cathars) and the fief, until that time the property of the Count of Toulouse, has just been conquered by the royal armies. The site lies at a strategic point, half way between Alès and Nîmes, on the Gard(on) River leading to the Rhone and the Mediterranean Sea. The bishop has a tower built to assert his rank as a temporal lord and the victory of the Church over the heretics.
The power of the clergy is however challenged at the end of the 13th century by King Philippe IV le Bel, in conflict with the Papacy on the subject of the submission of bishops to his power and the church’s financial contribution to the royal coffers. Following the trial and execution of the Templars, their two principal opponents, Guillaume de Nogaret (instigator of the aggression which ultimately cost the pope his life) and Guillaume de Plaisians, received from the king extensive lands right in front of Moussac castle. Faced with the rise in secular power and the hostility of these influential representatives of the crown, the bishop had his castle reinforced. The powerful tower dates from this period as does the part of the bishop’s palace which still exists, with its beautiful vaulted Gothic ceiling, fresque and wall paintings.
The bishop meted out justice in the Great Hall of the castle (7 metres high), adorned with a beautiful decor of flowers and painted stones. The fresque on the south wall (14th century) is worth a visit to Moussac in itself. It depicts the trial of Jesus before King Herod Antipas, in the company of Jewish elders who poke their tongues at him in contempt. The choice of this biblical theme is of course no accident. It is clearly the Church in chains, unjustly condemned by the king (counselled by a devil in the form of a winged dog), which is symbolised here. However, as Christ ultimately manifests his power by his victory over death, so faith is glorified by the Virgin and Child fresque which towers above King Herod.
14th century fresco, depicting the trial of Jesus before King Herod Antipas © Château de Moussac
The vaults and walls of this great hall are likewise decorated with lines of flowers in varying darkish red-ochre tones. Why this profusion of very simple flowers in a bishop’s palace? Are they roses (originally represented with five petals, like the common wild rose), popular in the Middle Ages? They have often been associated with the martyrdom of Christ. Perhaps they adorned the bishop’s coat of arms? Do they symbolise a biblical garden, the Garden of Eden in Genesis or the orchard of the Covenant in Jeremiah (maybe the sweet flowers of the Song of Songs)? Or perhaps it is just simply an evocation of springtime renewal …
Guillaume Grimoard, Vicar General of Uzès, lived for a while at Moussac castle before being elected pope (1362-1370), under the name of Urban V,during the period when the Holy See resided in Avignon.
This was a sombre period of history during which the Black Death took a violent toll of the local populations. It was also a period which saw the first conflicts of the Hundred Years War: the “Tuchins“, who revolted against royal power, took possession of the village in 1382, when it was pillaged with great savagery. The War Tax bled the area dry, leaving the region without resources.
In the 16th century, and as the convictions of the Reformation began to take hold, the lands in the Languedoc gradually became a Protestant stronghold. Rivality with the Catholics would turn into a civil war in the following century. Royal troops besieged Alès, the adjoining town, which they conquered in 1629. Cardinal Richelieu came in person to negotiate peace and re-establish the Uzès diocese. Local tradition has it that this encounter took place in Moussac castle, which had just been restored to the bishop.
The village fell into Protestant hands once again in 1703, during the Cévennes War. The head of the “camisards“, Jean Chevalier, took over the church but baulked at capturing the castle. The religious building was then converted into a protestant church.
Great Hall @ Château de Moussac
Our venerable Moussac castle ended up being sold as state property during the French Revolution. A whole string of private owners then took possession up to 1984. In 2012, it was bought by Anne Creusot and Frédéric Salle-Lagarde, whose ancestors had also played a role in the history of the area (on one side or another). It was they who undertook a particularly stylish restoration of the centuries-old monument and re-designed it as holiday accommodation.
First floor of the castle © Château de Moussac
The Great Hall and its mezzanine © Château de Moussac
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