Sainte-Enimie

Cultural Heritage
Principal
GPS coordinate : 44.366905 3.410535

The village

Located in the Gorges du Tarn, Sainte-Enimie is a medieval village, with old and narrow alleys paved with Tarn pebbles, arched streets, wide staircases and pleasant terraces. Founded in the Gallo-Roman age, the village was once called Burlatis, and has been renamed in the Middle Ages after Saint Enimie arrived there.

Ancienne route vers Sainte Enimie dans le Valat de la Combe

The legend of Saint Enimie

The name of the village comes from Enimie, a merovingian princess, King Clotaire II ‘s daughter and Dagobert’s sister. This maiden, who lived in the 7th century, was famous for her great virtue, and spent her time tocure the poor and the lepers. Nevertheless, because of her bright beauty, the nobles of the kingdom were eager to marry her. So, when she reached the age of marriage, her father chose a suitor for her, but she turned him down, explaining that she was already married to God. To avoid the forces marriage with her suitor, Enimie implored God to help her, asking him for a favour: she wanted to lose her beauty. God answered her prayer: she got leprosy. For years, no physician was able to cure her. The young princess implored God again. An angel, messenger of the Lord, appeared to her, telling her to go to a place called Burlatis and to bathe in its spring. Enimie found the place, in the heart of the Tarn valley; she bathed in Burle spring, prayed to God and was miraculously cured. However, when she moved away from this place, the disease reappeared… and disappeared again each time Enimie came back near the spring. Enimie understood that God called her to stay in this wild place. She equiped therefore a cave where she settled with her goddaughter. You can still see it: il is the Ermitage de la Roche, above the village.

La chapelle L'Hermitage

The Ermitage de la Roche, where Enimie lived, is a chapel on a stiff cliff upon the village. It is accessible on foot: a Way of Cross leads to it. The princess’s relics remained there until 1970, when they were stolen. The hermitage is not open to the public but it is possible to peep inside through the gride. The current building is semi-troglodytic: to the cave itself some masonry units have been added between the 10th and the 15th century. Beside the altar, a resurgence of the Burle spring still runs from a little tap. Until the middle of the 20th century, the mothers went there with their babies who had eczema or other sorts of skin disease and bathed them in the little basin dug into the rock.

In her cave, Saint Enimie was said to have performed many miracles, but the main tale is her struggle with the Drac (a sort of devil, in the occitan area).

800px-France_Lozère_Sainte_Enimie_03

On the wall of the 14th-century medieval church Notre-Dame-du-Gourd , a 20th-century ceramic shows Enimie struggling with the Drac, an incarnation of the devil.

In fact, Enimie had undertaken to evangelise a place which was pagan so far, which made this aquatic demon angry. He emerged from the Hell through the avens (pit caves) which are numerous on the Causse and persecuted the nuns who lived in the convent founded by the saint. However, Enimie managed to compel him to go back to his dark kingdom.

In Languedoc, the Drac is an evil character, linked to rivers and stretches of water. His mischiefs are sometimes merely bad jokes, sometimes murders: so, if sometimes he is nothing else than a sort of malevolent sprite, he also looks like the devil itself – as his name suggests it (in Latin, “draco” means “snake”) – who looks for the next man he will devour. The drac is famous for his ability of metamorphosis and his aquatic nature: he appears near fords and bridges in the shape of a quadruped and tries to throw the passerby in the water to drown him without letting him time to confess. Usually, making the sign of the cross is enough to conjure him.

Named abbess, Enimie is said to have founded a convent, then a monastery, around wich the village grew. The city grew bigger after the restoration of the Benedictine monastery in 951  by the Bishop of Mende (it may have been the first monastery founded in the 6th century by Saint Ilère, Bishop of Gévaudant, or the one which was founded by Enimie). At that period, historical research authenticated the story of Blessed Enimie and the saint began to be worshiped. In the 13th century, the local Prior asked Troubadour Bertran de Marseille to rewrite a Latin poem about Enimie’s life. This poem, which praised the saint, was sung in the whole region, and pilgrims flocked again.

Enluminure d'un manuscrit du XIVe siècle figurant sainte Énimie

Illumination in a 14th-century manuscript which represents Saint Enimie

La source de Burle, une exsurgence karstique

Burle spring : a karst spring

Photo credit: Roger Carron (village and hermitage) ; https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fichier:France_Loz%C3%A8re_Sainte_Enimie_03.jpg (struggle with the Drac) ; Hélène Graneris (Burle spring)