« In loco horroris et vastae solitudinis »
It was a place of horror and profound solitude. This inscription, taken from a hymn of Moses engraved on the frontispiece of the door, on the eastern façade of the Aubrac monastery.
In olden days, the Aubrac was a deep and dark forest that covered the whole mountain and extended well into the plain. Wolves and wild boars were the only inhabitants in these wild places. However, a wide, completely paved road , built by the Romans, crossed the forest all the way across. It was a section of a grand route which linked Lyon to Toulouse by Javols – the famous Via Agrippa. Nowadays the traces are visible all the way across the plateau. In winter there was a great risk of getting lost. Snow covered everything like a thick white coat and frequent fog made orientation extremely difficult. Added to that, in the middle ages, bands of thieves infested the surroundings, so travellers only ventured into the mountains in groups, to better defend themselves against probable attacks.
«The Hospice of Our Lady of the Poor »
The first hospital, of which little remains today, was set up by Adalard, viscount of Flanders, and a few companions. For him it was the realisation of a vow he had taken after having escaped from an attack by thieves in this place. This hospital became, for many centuries, serendipitous for travellers, the poor, pilgrims and was an outstanding contribution to the whole region.
From the moment of its construction, the lords of the land made gifts of large estates. The Lord of Apcher gave the lands of Montivernoux, la Fage, Grandval and other pieces around Fournels. The baron of Canilhac offered estates in the north of Trélans, Les Hermaux and Les Salces, while the lord of Peyre gave the monks «all the territories of the mountains between the Bès and the Hospital».
At Adalard’s death, in 1135, the community of priests, who had come there, had a very large property to administer.
The monastery which included, around the church, the hospital buildings and other dependences, monastic buildings and a cemetery, was surrounded by an enclosure. The main entrance was to the west and once they had penetrated inside, the pilgrims found a large coach entrance saying « door of the Miche (Bread)», named like this because the distribution of bread to anyone in need took place here. Everyone, without exception, had the right to get bread. There was also a chapel adjoined to the hospital, a cloister and an inn.
At the beginning of the 14th century, 120 brothers and 30 sisters were busy taking care of the institution or of pilgrims, 4 knights assured the protection on the road and 15 priests were entrusted with the religious services.
The « domerie of Aubrac »
In the 18th century, the “domerie” of Aubrac (the name given to monasteries whose abbot had the title “Dom”) counted, with the different orders, 80 members.
Elected for life by his brothers, the priest of the community also wore the title Dom – abbreviation of the latin Dominus – which gave its name “Domerie” to the Aubrac hospital.
From its creation in 1120 to the end of the18th century, the domerie received pilgrims and the clerics sounded the “Bell of the losts” for two hours each evening, when the weather was bad, to call the pilgrims lost on the plateau. The “Tower of the English”, 30 meters high and restored as a “gite d’etape” in our times, was constructed precisely at the moment when the English, masters of the Guyenne, were advancing in the Rouergue. In 1353, this imposing tower, built in haste for defence against them, but sadly ineffective, could not resist the invasion of a band of mercenaries who attacked the monastery in 1360.