FROM THE LOGBOOK: THE HOUSE OF THE TEMPLARS
At the end of July, I returned to France’s heartland, Auvergne. This time, monster-hunting wasn’t on the agenda. Instead of the plains and forests of le pays du Gévaudan, I sought the planèzes, the lofty plateaux of Cantal. These lava-formed uplands, home to a large population of red-furred cattle (I was told the Salers herds outnumber humans in the region three to one), are dotted with ancient burons; the remote, makeshift huts of Haute-Auvergne shepherds.
After some time observing and enjoying the countryside around Col de Neronne, I caught wind of a curious rumour about a strange house in the Renaissance town of Salers. I was told that the house, the Maison des Templiers, had been a medieval outpost of The Knights Templar, a kind of French Alamut that had been abandoned after the deposal of Grand Master Jacques de Molay in 1307. Sadly, this exciting news turned out to be hearsay.
Nevertheless, I did learn that the house (now a museum) dates to the fifteenth century. In 1730, it was acquired by Israel de Mossier, a commander of the world’s longest surviving chivalric order: The Knights of Malta. Mossier used the building as an official commandry and oversaw its renovation until his death in 1745. Afterwards, the property passed into the hands of Joseph Dufour, an Knights of Malta officer from Ydes.
Today, the building is a local museum and includes a nineteenth-century apothecary’s shop and exhibits on Cantal folklife and the history of the Knights of Malta. Even though it wasn’t the Templar stronghold I was looking for, it is unquestionably a culture vault, a time capsule sequestered behind Salers’ ramparts and turreted homes. Like the rest of region, which owes its dramatic landscapes to a prehistoric volcanic past, the House of the Templars, and its eclectic collection, is a product of six centuries of wars, migrations, and cultural exchange.