On Sunday we went for a drive in our lovely new car and ended up at Saint Gaultier, in Indre (the old Province of Berry). The town sits on the Creuse River and bears the name of a saint who undoubtedly never lived there. It is 113 metres above sea level and has about 2000 inhabitants.
|A Renaissance doorway.|
The town is on a secondary pilgrim route that joins Vézelay to Poitiers, then on to Angouleme, and is part of the Camino de Santiago (or as it is known in French, the Chemin de St Jacques).
|A pair of doors into a large building complex stretching from rue du Cheval blanc (where these doors are) to rue de Creuse (opposite the old priory, now a school).|
In Roman times Saint Gaultier was just a small villa with a river port. In those days, the neighbouring community of Rivarennes was more important.
|The top of rue du Cheval blanc.|
In 1040 land along both sides of the Creuse river belonging to a local Charente lord was confiscated after he burnt and plundered Abbot Gaultier's abbey at Lesterps near Confolens. The land was given to the abbey and two priories were established -- one at Rivarennes, and one on a ford upstream, which would grow into the town of Saint Gaultier. The priory by the ford constructed a bridge and charged a toll, thus becoming wealthy and fuelling the growth of the town. By the end of the 11th century they could also afford to construct a church dedicated to Abbot Gaultier. The town being effectively part of the Abbey of Lesterps meant that it was protected against local aristocratic squabbles and raids, and during the Hundred Years War and Wars of Religion which otherwise devastated Berry. But the bridge became unuseable at the beginning of the 14th century and had to be restored.
|Looking up rue de Creuse. On the right the former priory, now school. On the left (middle distance) is the front of the building with the two interesting doorways on rue du Cheval blanc.|
In the 16th century, there were more than 600 homes in the town, but the priory was almost ruined. The badly damaged bridge was washed away by the Creuse River in 1530 and was finally rebuilt in 1654.
The slopes around St Gaultier at that time produced the best wine in the Duchy of Berry.
|The remains of the 17th century bridge.|
At the beginning of the 18th century, famine was rampant. The mayor, in order to obtain wheat for the inhabitants, had the church bells sold. The Creuse destroyed the bridge once again, leaving only the ruins of a pile in the river.
Around 1830, a suspension bridge was built at the site of the present bridge, which was to replace it in 1878.
|A path up from the river.|
The remains of fortifications can be seen in gardens and buildings bordering the Creuse.
|The 19th century bridge.|
The wealth of the town in the 19th century came from the numerous clothing factories and workshops in the valley from Argenton sur Creuse to St Gaultier, and the manufacture of lime, with big kilns on the edge of town. The large bourgeois houses in the town testify to the economic success of this period.
|The Romanesque-Poitevin style church is 11th and 12th century.|