Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/566

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

ple and their origin has not been discovered, although the subject has been an object of investigation and much discussion during the last four hundred years. The conjecture already referred to, which has long prevailed in France, that the Cagots and other despised castes in the Basque lands' were descendants of the Visigoths, who were conquered by Clovis, and fled to the mountains, has been shown to be baseless and untenable. Many of the most esteemed and distinguished families of Gascony, Aquitaine, and Béarn were descended from the Visigoths; and those brave heroes were not afflicted with any of the personal defects, or anything like them, which were attributed to the Cagots.

Another conjecture, which was partly held to by the Cagots themselves, made them descendants of the Albigenses, whom Pope Innocent III outlawed and banished in the beginning of the thirteenth century. It is an historical fact that these poor persecuted heretics or opponents of the papacy were then regarded as the scum of mankind; but then they received in these districts of the present France more sympathy and adhesion than the popes themselves. Moreover, the Cagots were in existence as a despised race more than two hundred years before the crusade against the Albigenses. Pierre de Marca thought that the Cagots were descendants of those Moors from Spain who remained in Gascony and Aquitaine after their leader had been vanquished by Charles Martel on the slopes of the Pyrenees. But this view is contradicted by the decided northern type which is still recognizable in the bodily appearance of the Cagots, and by the historical fact that those Moors were eventually converted to Christianity, and became blended with the other French nationalities.

Caxar Amant ascribed a Jewish origin to the Cagots, and endeavored to sustain his opinion by a garbled quotation of a Biblical verse. Another writer made them descendants of the Jews who came to Southern Europe after the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus. Abbé Venuti supposed that they were descendants of Crusaders who returned from the Holy Land after the first Crusade, afflicted with disease. Count Gebalin saw in them the descendants of the aborigines of the Pyrenean lands, who were reduced to a condition of outlawry like that of the lowest castes and tribes in modern India. Another view, by which they were regarded as the descendants of those Spaniards who were in the conspiracy against Charlemagne and participated in the battle of Roncesvalles, has been disproved by a comparison of dates and places.

The later explanations of the origin of the Cagots are more plausible, though not quite historically convincing. A French investigator, M. Francisque Michel, has written a valuable book on the "History of the Accursed Races of France and Spain," in which he has sought with great consistency, as M. Louis Lande has also done in the "Revue des Deux Mondes," to prove that leprosy was the cause of the terrible and ignoble treatment which the Cagots have had to endure.