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A road feared by travelers

Updated: Jan 27, 2023

The Saint Michel Bridge, a vestige of the old days.

For many travelers, Saint-Gervais-la-Forêt is first and foremost a long road that connects the city center of Blois, to its southern district, Blois Vienne, and that crosses the small town to the gates of the Sologne.

If you penetrate a little more in these lands, while going towards the mill, close to the equestrian center, we will see, once crossed the small bridge, hidden by the vegetation, these splendid foundations attested since the Middle Ages: the bridge Saint-Michel.

This old road, 2 kilometers long, allowed to cross this flooded land of the Loire, thanks to a series of arches intersected with earthen levees.

Numerous floods have damaged this construction, the last one still visible by the presence of this pond around it,

dates from the 19th century.

But did you know that this little path, unfortunately, did not have a good reputation ?

A cross of St. Michael once stood at the entrance, providing protection against evil.

But what evil were they talking about ?

One of the greatest fears of the traveler in the past was to run into highway robbers like the Coquillards (a famous band of bandits) who disguised themselves as pilgrims wearing a shell on their hats and robbed travelers.

But the most feared of all were the "grandes compagnies" also called the "écorcheurs". Mercenaries who sold themselves to the lords

to help them conquer lands.

A widespread phenomenon during the Hundred Years War, between the English and the French. Coming from all over Europe, they took part in the war in the hope of getting rich by looting. Men without faith or law

who were only looking for gold.

When some of the great lords could no longer pay them, the leaders of these companies would allow their skinners to go into neighboring villages or on the roads to plunder and steal. These violent behaviors were unfortunately "tolerated" by the lords, to compensate for their lack of fortune. They made the inhabitants of the villages live a nightmare, where they sometimes reigned supreme.

It can be said that, during the Hundred Years' War, the worst memory for the French people in the 14th and 15th centuries was the incursions of these Great Companies of flayers and not the English invasion itself.

In 1453, at the end of the Hundred Years War, these bandits dispersed, some left for Spain, others "converted" as "simple" brigands of the Great Roads, also called the feuillards or the gaudins and stayed near the roads and forests, to create their band.

So, you see, these roads were not safe! It took a lot of courage and faith to venture beyond the city. Not to mention the illnesses we could get because of the swampy land, the weather conditions, or by encountering beggars with leprosy and other communicable diseases, often rejected by the villagers and wandering near the roads.

This bridge, located in Saint-Gervais-la-forêt, was very important because it made it possible to get back to the two main roads, the first one, towards Bourges and Montrichard, the second one, towards Bordeaux and thus towards the Pyrenees to go to Santiago de Compostela. Joan of Arc probably took this route with her army

when she left the castle of Blois.

But now you understand why these few kilometers were enough to cause fear.

It was only in 1802, that the bridge was completely destroyed and replaced by the new road of Berry (called today, route nationale ) which had been built earlier in 1770.

Thus, by condemning this road, perhaps we have also made the town safer and more pleasant for our beautiful walks in Saint-Gervais-la-Forêt.

Translation by DeepL



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