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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/565

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AN OUTCAST RACE IN THE PYRENEES.

tives of the Cagots living outside of the Pyrenees, who are variously called, according to the place, Cahets, Caqueux, Caquins, Cacoas, Collibrets, etc., and are spread to Lower Poitou, in Brittany and Marne, and far down into Spain.

The race of the Cagots was for hundreds of years superstitiously avoided by the other inhabitants of the country, despised, persecuted, repelled, treated as if abandoned and outcast, and restricted in all legal and social rights. Dark superstition and the prejudice of earlier times attributed to them a constant leprosy; they were supposed to have a peculiar repulsive exhalation, to be destitute of earlaps, to be color-blind, to see in the night like cats and owls, and were accused of pretended, likewise disgraceful offenses. They were treated as feeble beings, afflicted with contagious disease and moral impurities, who should not be touched, and with whom as little business intercourse should be had as possible. Down to the seventeenth century they were thus treated. If they lived in the towns, they were confined to a particular quarter in which the other citizens rarely came; if they came out of their quarter, they were obliged to wear a piece of red cloth on some conspicuous part of their dress, so that others might recognize them and keep away from them. On the plains they dwelt for the most part in miserable huts, which were separated from the town by a wood or by running Avater. In the church they were separated from the rest of the congregation by a wooden partition, and had to go in and out by a separate door. Holy water, the communion, and the other blessings of religion were forbidden them, and they could take part in the processions only under particular conditions; and the corpses of their dead were buried, without bells and music, in a separate burial-ground, or in a separate corner of the common cemetery.

The same kind of contempt and ill-treatment was measured out to the relatives of this race in other Pyrenean provinces, where they were formerly numerous, but have now nearly died out in consequence of persecutions. The Agotes, as they were there called, were formerly very numerous in the Basque provinces, and they can still occasionally be found sprinkled among the people. They were there equally despised and regarded as an unclean race, excluded from association with the rest of the people, compelled to seek abodes in caves, secluded hamlets, and miserable huts; they could fill no office; could not sit at table with other persons, or drink out of the same cup for fear that they would communicate some poison or impurity to the dish; and were not allowed to go into the church to receive their portion of the mass, but had to wait at the door till the priest brought it out to them. Marriage with them was as disgraceful as if it were with Moors, gypsies, or other non-Christians; and they were supposed to communicate disease and horrible ills to whoever touched them. The Cahets in Guienne were the objects of similar reproach and adverse regulations.

The reason of the superstitious prejudice and hatred against this peo-