What links a monkey, a monk and a beautiful young girl in one of the most unusal of French legends – quite a Lot says Evelyn Jackson…
If you are very observant, you may notice a faded painting on the side of a long-shuttered buvette in the tiny village of Saujac, Aveyron, Midi-Pyrénées. It might pique your curiosity. “Why is there a monk and a monkey painted there,” you might ask yourself. If you take the narrow road out of the village up to the Causse, you might also wonder what the Saut de la Mounine sign is all about when you pass it up on top. Unless you are fluent in patois, you won’t know that mounine means monkey in the local dialect. Even if you do know its meaning, the fact that there is a ‘monkey jump’ located here might still puzzle you. Ah, but there is an explanation for all this mystery. Let me tell you the story….
Once upon a time, in the 15th century actually, a monk named Cidoine set off on pilgrimage from Conques (also in the Aveyron area) with his pet monkey and a goat. As he walked along the edge of the Causse (just above where Saujac is now), he tripped and fell over the edge. His belt caught on a tree saving him and his monkey. As he hung there, he spotted a cave and decided that this was a sign that they should stay right here….so they did.
This hermit monk became quite the local celebrity. Frequently visitors came to his cave bringing him food and seeking his advice on many matters. One such visitor was Ghislaine, the 16 year old daughter of Ogier, Lord of Montbrun, a fortified village directly across the Lot river facing Cidoine’s cave. Another frequent visitor was Renaud, the son of Ogier’s fiercest rival, Gaifie You can guess what happened…yes, Ghislaine and Renaud fell in love…star-crossed lovers whose fathers hated one another. When Lord Ogier found out, he screamed a curse…”I swear by the devil, I’d rather you thrown off that monk’s rock than marry the son of my rival!”
Ghislaine was distraught. She went to Cidoine and asked him what she should do. He told her on the day that her father went out hunting to come to his cave with her best dress. When she arrived, he dressed his old, blind monkey in it and flung him off the rock in front of the cave. Lord Ogier, hunting along the Lot, saw his daughter’s brilliant red dress flying thought the air as the monkey plunged to the valley below. Thinking his daughter had jumped to her death and full of remorse, he recanted his oath and ran along the Lot to find Cidoine who then revealed the deception. Jubilant, Lord Ogier embraced his daughter and blessed her union with Renaud. They were married in the Montbrun castle, their fathers reconciled, and everyone lived happily ever after. Except the monkey, of course.
They say that on the nights when the vent d’Autan blows, the ghost of the monkey roams the countryside up and down the Lot River.
If you wish to visit Saujac, it is located on the Aveyron side of the Lot river 5.5 kms from Cajarc.
By Evelyn Jackson