The legend of the Ker of Massat

the Ker of MassatNowadays the Ker, heavily wooded and covered in underbrush, resembles a collosal sentinel keeping watch over the waters of the Arac, which flows through the canton of Massat. In the 14th century, however, when this craggy outcropping was more arid, it was home to a hermit, who would light a smoky fire to alert the valley’s inhabitants when bandits approached.

But it was not so long ago, at the end of the 18th century and during the 19th, that the Ker was the last refuge of the Petchets, refractory priests who refused to submit to the laws established under the Terror, then under the reign of Napoleon Bonaparte.

Two of them, the curé Jean-Galy-Roquefort and the canon Ruffié, would die in prison in Toulouse. As for the curé Urtier, he hid in the village of Bernedo, today called Bernède, on the road to the col du Saraillé.

Thus a "little church" was soon created, in the hamlet of Petchet, with the support of the loyal followers. The worship services were celebrated in the houses. There, Pierre Loubet de Paoule’s house served as the "lieu saint" and the dead were buried on the Ker at night, for the followers of the rebellious priests were no longer allowed to be interred in the cemetery at Massat. These were furtive ceremonies, betrayed only by the dancing firelight at the summit of the rock.

Over the years, the curé and his followers came to be known as "Petchets". The last of them was named Sabin Loubet de Paoule and he died in 1940 at the age of 97. In addition to farming, he made his living as an itinerant peddlar ("colporteur’), wandering the montains from village to village selling thread, needles, spectacles and almanacs.

Secrets never died when he had them for this Petchet was none other than the grandson of Pierre Loubet Paoule, whom the curé Urtier had named a deacon. Thus the continued practice of this worship around the Ker was assured by men who refused to renounce the religion of their ancestors and above all the "civil constitution of the clergy".

It is also said that in 1940, one could still distinguish the shape of the tombs on the ground of the Ker. Now, all that remains is the stele that once sheltered the statue of Saint Branda.

All of which casts a different light on this massive rockface, which also contains a cave, the first one in Ariège where prehistoric objects were discovered.

— Jean-Claude BERNARD

Many thanks to these photographers

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