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THE BEAST OF GÉVAUDAN

THE BEAST OF GÉVAUDAN

My good friend and colleague, writer Val Wineyard, recently asked me if I would guide two friends of hers who were interested in following in the tracks of France’s famous Beast of the Gévaudan for a manuscript to be published early next year. I am sure it will be a big success.

The story in this blog post comes from what I heard from my new friends, what I saw for myself, and what I found on the Internet. It is a true story. It happened in the period of 1764 to 1767, when a creature called “La Bête du Gévaudan” killed dozens of people, mostly women and children.

The Beast had a large territory. It roamed the region between Marvejols in the south and Massaic in the north. An area over 60 kilometres long and 80 kilometres wide. Rough, mountainous terrain. With dense forests, deep valleys, and high peaks. The Beast apparently loved the high ground. Its main hunting ground was the “Montagne de la Margeride,” a mountain range covering the departments of Haute-Loire, Ardêche, and Lozère.

Nowadays the Beast of Gévaudan is a tourist attraction. There is a sign depicting the head of a wolf on the Autoroute from Béziers, via Millau and Clermont-Ferrand, to Paris, just before the turn-off to Mende. And there is a park called “Les Loups du Gévaudan” just north of Marvejols. Housing real wolves from all over the world. And a museum, the “Musée fantastique de la Bête du Gévaudan” in the city of Saugues. There are statues of the creature itself, some of them huge and most of them terrifying. And statues of people fighting off the wolf, often women and children. All very lifelike.

Before we follow the trail of La Bête, let us talk a bit about why this wolf was killing people. For most of the time wolves are known to stay away from human beings, knowing well how dangerous they are. It could have been an acquired taste. Like the case of the man-eating lions in Africa. A taste acquired because of dead bodies, left out in nature. After war battles or after plague epidemics. A taste passed on from wolf to wolf. In any case, this Beast preferred people to livestock. There is a story that the Beast came straight through a herd of sheep at the girl who was herding them.

There is also the question of why the wolf attacked so many women and children. Well, the children were often tasked with herding livestock in remote places. And the women were often outside as well, gardening, walking to town. While the men were away, doing special jobs. Not all the attacks were fatal, however. A few times women and even children were able to drive off the wolf. They were very, very brave.

There are also stories that it wasn’t a wolf that did the killings, but a hyena, from Africa. Or a wolf especially trained by a man, a wolf-man, to kill people. Or maybe it was the man himself, dressed as a wolf. The Church weighed in on the killings and called the Beast a scourge of God. And asked the people to pray and do penitence. Good for a full house in the cathedral of Mende, the house of the bishop, and in the churches of the area. But it didn’t really help the people who were attacked. See {PIC 00}.

The first attacks took place generally in the south of the region. Marvejols has an awesome statue of the wolf in the heart of the city. And just north of this is the “Parc à loups du Gévaudan,” the park with live wolves. Local businesses also know how to make use of the story, for we even found a pizzeria called “P’tit loup” meaning “Little wolf. ” See {PIC’s 01 – 03}.

Then the wolf moved north, to places such as Le Malzieu. A beautiful historic city. On the pilgrim route from Le-Puy-en-Velay to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. With old houses, ancient walls, and beautiful towers. And lots of references to the Beast of Gévaudan. Look at this little statue of a wolf behind bars in an alcove of a house. And this magnificent scene, depicting a man wearing a wolf skin, a man-wolf, with a dog, covered with a cloth of steel, like a modern bullet-proof vest. And a shepherd with a sheep. At the outskirts of this town we also found a moving statue of two children fighting off a huge, lifelike wolf. See {PIC’s 04 – 11}.

More attacks were reported in places north, such as Le Villeret, a mountain village. Surrounded by fields of grass and woods. Finally things got so bad that King Louis XV decided to help. He ordered his chief hunter to go to the Gévaudan and kill the wolf. After several unsuccessful attempts the hunter finally succeeded. He brought the skin of the wolf to the king and was rewarded with a knighthood.

Alas, it was not over yet. After about two months the attacks started again, more to the north this time. Maybe it was the partner of the wolf that was killed, or a wolf from the same pack. The king was asked for help again, but he thought he had done his duty and would not help. Several local hunters tried to kill the beast, but failed. The wolf was extremely clever and knew how to avoid the hunters. Attacks took place also in the vicinity of Mount Mouchet. A desolate place on very high ground. The mountain is 1465 meters high and often covered in snow. See {PIC 12}.

Communities around this mountain affected by the attacks include Auvers, Nozeyrolles, La Besseyre-Saint-Mary, and Paulhac-en-Margeride. The stories include an attack where the wolf jumped over a high stone fence to go after three small children. Their mother drove the Beast away. Still, one of the children died. The woman was rewarded by the king for her bravery. There is a fearsome statue of a woman fighting a huge wolf in Auvers. See {PIC 13} and {PIC 14}.

Finally, on a field just northeast of Auvers, the wolf was killed. It was on June 19, 1767. By a local man named Jean Chastel. His portrait in bronze, attached to a large menhir, can be seen in La Besseyre-Saint-Mary. A fearsome face that would frighten a wolf. See {PIC’s 15 - 17}.

Thirteen kilometres east of this area is the city of Saugues. Here we find the “Musée fantastique de la Bête du Gévaudan.” In a little side street in the old town. Several signs point to the place where the museum is. Including small round portraits made of stone in the pavement. We can even see the footsteps of the wolf on the street. Just east of Saugues, on the road to Le-Puy-en-Velay, stands a huge wooden wolf. Almost ten meters long. An awesome sight. When I first saw it, I thought it was a crocodile. But it is the Beast of the Gévaudan. See {PIC’s 18 – 22}.

 

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Scotland April 2014
Newsletter March 2014
 

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Wednesday, 18 September 2019

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