The village of Auxillac
The village was part, with Montjézieu, of the old parish of Salmon. It is now merged with La Canourgue. It is a small village located at the foot of the Causse de Sauveterre plateau, in a fertile valley at the edge of the Jarnelle, a tributary of the Lot river. Its typical houses perched on a hillside overview the “Auberge du Moulin” (the Mill’ss Inn), birthplace of Céleste Albaret, governess and confidante of the famous author Marcel Proust. The name of the village probably comes from "Horcillacum", aka "domain of Urcilius". Formerly attached to the parish of Salmon with the village of Montjézieu, it became independent when it was dismembered in 1836. The village has been associated with the municipality of La Canourgue since 1972. This small municipality and its hamlets contain many treasures of stories and heritages of all ages. Come and discover them using this route.
Already mentioned in a charter in 1130, the parish of Salmon is very old. It once owned a church rebuilt by the Pope Urbain V from Gévaudan in 1363, perched on a hill overlooking the Lot river. Different legends rock the origins of its name: some believe that it refers to the presence of Jews attested in Montjézieu as early as the 12th century, while others claim that it comes from the salmon fish that once went up the Lot river, the name of the parish also being written “Saumon” (salmon in French) until 1689. The parish of Salmon was dismembered in 1836 to make way for those of Montjézieu and Auxillac.
The mill’s Inn at Auxillac and Céleste Albaret
In Auxillac, the mill’s Inn is the birthplace of Céleste Albaret. This lozerian woman born in 1891 is famous for having been the governess of Marcel Proust but also his friend. She enters her service through her husband Odilon, a taxi driver in Paris whom Proust used to take. The young Céleste freshly arrived in the capital is bored and that saddens Odilon. Proust proposed that she works for him in exchange of minor jobs. Eventually he ends up hiring her as a full-time housekeeper and she then comes to live at 102 Haussman Boulevard in his apartment. The working conditions were peculiar, to say the least. The author did not tolerate outside noise, so the shutters of the apartment windows were constantly closed and the windows covered with thick curtains. Proust's room, where he spent the vast majority of his time, was caulked with sheets of cork. The master also could not bear the kitchen odours that could cause him asthma; as such it was prohibited to cook without keeping the kitchen doors completely closed. Proust's pace of life was also special: he worked most of the night only to fall asleep at daybreak and wake up the next day at the end of the afternoon. Céleste had to be at his service at any time day or night. She did not benefit from holidays, public holidays or even weekends. And yet, she never complained.
She was extremely devoted to the author and remained at his service until the end of her life. In admiration for his personality, his whims did not shock her that much because she was aware that he was devoting his life to a work of considerable scope that would mark history. Over time a deep intimacy had developed between them. Despite her modest condition and lack of education, Céleste had a certain common sense which allowed her to contradict her master from time to time and to raise some objections. He liked to ask her about her childhood in Lozère. Sometimes he even read to her certain passages he had just written and asked for her opinion. Even if a deep intimacy bound them, it was always platonic, Céleste being married and the homosexuality of Proust proven.
When the author died in 1922, it was with deep sadness that the Lozerian women bid him farewell. She will die 62 years later. Céleste gathered memories of that time in her book "Monsieur Proust". By dedicating her life to him, providing him with the atmosphere he needed and even being his only confidante during the eight years he spent writing "In search of lost time" (à la recherche du temps perdu), she surely participated greatly in the development of his work. To pay tribute to her, the Town Hall of La Canourgue decided to give her name to the town's municipal library.
The Plague in Gévaudan of 1721
Corréjac is famous in a very sad way. It was here that the plague epidemic that struck Gévaudan from 1720 to 1722 began. On November 23, 1720, Jean Quintin left for the Saint-Clément fair in Saint-Laurent d'Olt. Shortly after, he got a fever and felt immensely tired. He somehow managed to return home to Corréjac and died the next day. The whole Quintin family was decimated in the following days. His son, born from a first marriage, borrows the coat of his brother-in-law living in La Canourgue to go and bury his mother. He returns it the next day. The families of the two unfortunates also died a few days later, in Cadoule and La Canourgue, and the plague epidemic is now spreading in Gévaudan. Winter brings a lull, but when the weather returns, the epidemic reappears and becomes more and more virulent, worrying local authorities. Doctors of the court are sent to Gévaudan and their verdict is formal: it is indeed a "pestilential fever".
Despite attempts to counter the epidemic, the disease soon spreads beyond the area of La Canourgue and Corréjac and reaches other places including the cities of Marvejols and Mende. The situation seems out of control and the fear of contagion and death is omnipresent. A blockade was put in place preventing the circulation of goods and men between Gévaudan and the neighbouring provinces. Movement restrictions are imposed on residents. In Corréjac, the fifty inhabitants who had survived are forced by the authorities to go and live in huts built on the nearby mountain, but the precarious living conditions push the unfortunates to return to the hamlet. When the authorities were informed of it, they gave the order to burn the houses in the village, which was executed on July 1, 1721. Thus, those marked with an explanatory plaque with the drawing opposite are witnesses to this sad story. This drawing shows a doctor in a suit helping him to protect himself from the plague. It consists of a long tunic enclosing the head in a hood and a long beak-shaped mask filled with aromatic herbs supposed to purify putrid air.
It should be known that Gévaudan was a very poor province at the time, where the wool industry and the trade in fabrics were very important. Weaving is not done as in some regions on an industrial scale, but manually by each family during the harsh winters. As sheep were often not enough, wool was imported from abroad, particularly from Spain and Smyrna, in present-day Turkey. It is believed that it was the latter that poor Jean Quintin would have brought back to Corréjac and which would have contaminated Gévaudan. We now know that the plague is spread by fleas from infected rats, and the latter are particularly fond of stoles and tissues. The fact that this trade is a great source of income for Gévaudan then has two perverse effects: on the one hand the spread of the disease is facilitated, and on the other hand when the epidemic is declared the trade is interrupted, weakening the economy of Gévaudan, a region already reputed to be extremely poor.
Eventually the plague will die out, partly thanks to the adaptation of the population which becomes more resistant to the bacillus after a long exposure, but also to the measures of the zealous La Devèze, sent from the king’s court. According to the historian Louvreleul, the epidemic would have caused 5678 deaths in Gévaudan, of which 945 of 1633 inhabitants in La Canourgue and 1800 of 2746 in Marvejols.