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Sub-prefecture of the Haute-Garonne (31)
Population: 12,000 (Saint-Gaudinois, Saint-Gaudinoises) and 45,000 in the community of communes.
Specialities: south-western gastronomy, duck, confit
Personalities: Pierre Berbizier, William Servat (rugby), Élie Baup (football), Marie-Laure Brunet (biathlon), Pavel Sivakov (cycling), Jacqueline Boyer (actress)
Sport: Ours de Saint-Gaudens (rugby league). AITF tennis tournament. Occitania road.
Economy: paper mill, geophysical research.
Festivals: Pronomade(s) (street arts, April), Comics Festival (May), Jazz en Comminges (June), Mountain Festival (October), Sing Go Gospel (November), Les Pyrénéennes (December), Concerts at the Cube.
Labels: fun and sports town, town in bloom
Websites: www.tourisme-stgaudens.com / www.stgo.fr / www.coeurcoteaux-comminges.fr
SAINT-GAUDENS, A STORY
The return of the stolen tapestries
30 August 1661 is one of the main dates in the history of Saint-Gaudens, as it marks the return to the collegiate church of the relics of the saint who gave his name to the town, which had been dispersed to escape looting and wars. September 26, 1997 could also become a date celebrated by the people of Saint-Gaudens, as it marks the return to the same collegiate church of two priceless Aubusson tapestries stolen by daring burglars more than seven years earlier.
The Triumph of Faith, a copy of a painting by Rubens, and the Martyrdom of Saint-Gaudens, which recounts the legend of the saint, who was beheaded by the Visigoths, vanished on the night of 20 December 1989. Produced around 1760 by the Royal Aubusson Manufactory, the two works did not reappear until seven years later at an auction in New York at Sotheby's. It was an Aubusson documentalist who identified the stolen works by consulting the sale catalogue out of curiosity.
A lengthy FBI investigation established the good faith of the seller and multiple negotiations between the American authorities and the French ministries concerned made it possible to recover the stolen tapestries, no doubt in exchange for money. The poor shepherd Gaudens was thus able to return to his place of burial. As for the thieves, they are still at large...
SAINT-GAUDENS AND CYCLING
Saint-Gaudens is one of the Pyrenean towns whose name is familiar to cycling fans. Some of the great mountain stages in the history of the Tour have ended there, such as in 1955, when Louison Bobet finally donned the Yellow Jersey that would make him the first winner of three consecutive Tours de France. It was also after a start in Saint-Gaudens that Lucien Van Impe, in 1976, relegated Joop Zoetemelk to more than 3:00, taking a firm option on the final victory in Saint-Lary-Soulan.
Situated at the crossroads of the various Pyrenean routes, the town has hosted nine stage finishes and ten starts, the last of which was in 2009. In 1970, for example, Bernard Thévenet left Saint-Gaudens to win his first stage in La Mongie.
During the last two visits of the Tour to the town, Saint-Gaudens served as a springboard for Pyrenean stages won at the Plateau de Beille by Jelle Vanendert in 2011 and in Saint-Lary-Soulan by Rafal Majka in 2014.
The monument of the three marshals
Marshals Foch, Joffre and Galliéni, originally from the Pyrenees, fighters in the 1914-1918 war. Opposite, the monument to the dead, created in 1923, the work of Paul Ducuing, a sculptor born in Lannemezan.
Behind it, the orientation table offers a magnificent panorama of the Pyrenees and the emblematic peak of Cagire.
Below, at the foot of the stairs, a stele erected in memory of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, an American sculptor whose family was originally from Aspet, a village 17 km to the south.
The grain market
In the 19th century, the grain trade being very active, the construction of a market hall was decided. Until the middle of the 1970s, the market hall welcomed buyers and sellers of grain and poultry, according to the markets. The building was listed as a historical monument in 2004. Re-opened in 2018, it now houses a covered market for food shops.
Comminges Grand Prix from 1922 to 1954
From the regularity race on the spa circuit created in 1922, to the ultimate speed race in 1954, some of the most beautiful pages of automobile and motorbike sports were written in this sector by the best drivers. A glorious past to which the monumental grandstands lining the famous Côte de la Garenne facing the Pyrenees still bear witness, where legendary brands triumphed during the 18 car and 16 motorbike grand prix. Chiron, Williams, Etancelin, Sommer, Wimille, Villoresi, Pozzi, Ascari won on Bignan, Bugatti, Alfa Romeo, Talbot, Maserati, Delahaye, Ferrari, Monomill... The Comminges circuit also welcomed, in the 50s and 60s, stage finishes of the Tour de France. Today, the stands of the Circuit du Comminges still remain. A Circuit museum retraces the history of motor racing in Comminges.
Eugène Azémar Square, named after the creator of the Comminges Grand Prix (1922-1954), is the town's public garden. It features a partial reconstruction of the cloister of the former Bonnefont Abbey with 20 capitals, listed as historical monuments in 1927.
In 2019, the pond that had been in the centre of the garden for decades was replaced by a water mirror.
The Saint-Gaudens Museum holds the most important public collection of Valentine's porcelain, with over 500 pieces. From 1829, the Fouque-Arnoux family, earthenware makers from Moustiers-Sainte-Marie (04), chose to settle in Saint-Gaudens on the banks of the Garonne, opposite the village of Valentine, to manufacture a new product: porcelain. The beautiful dark blues with which it was to be decorated led to its being nicknamed "Valentine blue".
With its cloister and chapter house, it was an important religious building in Comminges. It housed a college of canons, a community of clerics created by Bishop Bertrand.
The 11th century Romanesque building, with a Pyrenean basilica plan with three naves, was built on top of an older building. It was enlarged with the construction of the cloister and the chapter house in the 12th and 13th centuries. The north side portal was built in the 16th century. This ensemble was restored as well as the bell tower in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Sold as national property, the cloister was destroyed around 1810. It was rebuilt in 1987 on the basis of the original cloister with the help of restored original capitals and mouldings of works kept in museums and private collections. The north gallery contains the most beautiful capitals of the Romanesque period with rich sculptures with interlacing, zoomorphic or historiated motifs. Saint Peter and the Apostles reminds us that the collegiate church is dedicated to him, just as Saint James is honoured on this route to Santiago de Compostela. The Romanesque part continues in the western gallery, while the eastern part is Gothic.
Mounjetade, which takes its name from the Occitan word munjeto (white bean), is the Ariège version of cassoulet. It is also the traditional dish of Comminges and Saint-Gaudens.