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Gimel-les-Cascades (Municipality, Corrèze, France)

Last modified: 2010-11-13 by ivan sache
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[Flag of Gimel]

Municipal flag of Gimel-les-Cascades - Image by Arnaud Leroy, 11 September 2005

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Presentation of Gimel-les-Cascades

The municipality of Gimel-les-Cascades (657 inhabitants; 2,086 ha) is located in Limousin 10 km north-west of Tulle. It is today a small village mostly known for its scenic cascades, but it was the cradle of a powerful feudal family.

Gimel was first mentioned in 936 in the cartulaire (book of charts) of Tulle. Due to its strategical location on a promontory nearly completely surrounded by the river Montane, the site of Gimel was already settled in the Neolithic. In the Frankish times, a warrior named Dumine built a chapel in the gorges of the Montane and lived there as an hermit.

In the Middle Ages, there were in Gimel two castles (upper castle of la Roche-Haute and lower castle of La Roche-Basse) each surrounded by a village, which might explain the name of the village, from Latin gemelli and Occitan dzumel, twins (in modern French, jumeaux; in ancient French and astrology, gémeaux). The origin of the castles and feudal power in Gimel is, however, obscure. Gimel belonged in the Xth century to the Viscounts d'Aubusson, who are no longer mentioned at the end of the XIth century, when the lord is Bernard, Viscount de Gimel.
The Gimel family had close links with the church: Elie de Gimel was Archdeacon of Limoges near 1095, as was another Elie in 1146 and 1170; Hughes de Gimel was Archpriest in Limoges in 1146, then Dean of the Cathedral in 1162. A third Elie de Gimel was Archdeacon and Great Cantor, still in Limoges, in 1217; around 1340, Guillaume de Gimel was Bishop of Carthage. Several dames de Gimel were abbesses in Limousin, for instance Almodie de Gimel, Abbess in Limoges around 1170.

In 1264, Raynaud de Gimel made hommage to the Viscount de Turenne and Gimel became a Barony. At that time, the upper castle belonged to the Maumont family whereas the Gimel family kept the lower castle. The two families set several alliances. In 1493, Gabriel de Gimel, owner of the lower castle, purchased the upper castle; it is probable that the lower castle, in a very bad state, was then abandoned and that the two domains of Gimel were united in a single one. In 1486, the Bishop of Limoges had ordered the transfer of the St. Pardoux' church from the lower to the upper village.

One century later, Gimel was a local stronghold of the Holy League, the alliance of the Catholic princes against King Henri IV. Baron François de Gimel was one of the leaders of the League in Limousin, which caused a lot of disorder. The royal troops, commanded by Abel de Pierre-Buffière, Marquis de Chamberet, and helped by the militia of Tulle and peasants, besieged the castle for four months and seized it on Christmas night in 1594. Next year, gangs of leaguers took over the castle, which was reseized in 1595. The consuls of Tulle ordered the suppression of the castle to prevent a second return of François de Gimel. Henri IV forgave the Baron and partially compensated for the loss of his castle (which was a very good way to keep him lawful). François' daughter, Gaspare, married in 1600 Antoine de Lavaur. Their unique daughter married in 1625 François de Lentilhac. The Lentilhac family also owned the domain of Sédières and progressively abandoned Gimel.
In his Nobiliaire de Limoges, Abbot Nadaud describes the family de Gimel as: "Barons de Gimel, de Sarran, de Saint-Jal, de Paluel, Lords d'Ambur, de Chapdes, de la Rochebriant, de Montchauvel, d'Opme and of other places in Limousin and Auvergne". Jean de la Lajudie gives an additional long list of the Gimel possessions, including domains in Limousin, Auvergne, Périgord, Quercy, Guyenne, Lyonnais and Switzerland (Gimel in the canton of Vaud).
A remote descendant of the Baron de Gimel was an official pretender to the throne of France. Charles de Gimel (1891-1982) was known as the Hidden Pretender, the Lion of Juda, the King of the Holy Heart and the Duke of Normandy.

In 1790, the two parishes of Saint-Pardoux-de-Gimel and Saint-Etienne-de-Gimel were merged into the municipality of Gimel. The only remain of the latter parish is the Saint-Etienne-de-Braguse's church, built in the XIIth century near old Dumine's hermitage. The treasure of the church was transfered into the Saint-Pardoux' church in the upper village. It was stolen in 1991 but recovered a few years later. Its masterpieces are the St. Etienne's shrine, made in champlevé enamel from Limoges (Xth century) and St. Dumine's bust reliquary, made in solid silver (XVth century).

In the second half of the XIXth century, the population of Gimel increased thanks to the building of the railway, but then steadily decreased from 1900 to the 1980s. In the late 1870s, a cloth mill was built in Gimel by the manufacturer Auguste Pouyer-Quertier, Minister of Finance of President Adolphe Thiers and friend of the Count and the Countess de Valon, owners of the castle of Saint-Priest-de-Gimel. Unfortunately, the factory never worked and is today ruined.
In 1912, the painter Gaston Vuillier (1845-1915) obtained the protection of the site of the cascades: the cascades of Gimel were the first to be protected by law in France. This precluded any industrial utilization od the waterfall which would have spoiled the site, which is today the second most visited site in the department of Corrèze. The water of the Montane sometimes murmurs the story of the cascades: once upon a time lived in the castle a beautiful young lady, and a magician fell in love with her; in order to get rid of him, the lady asked him every night to achieve impossible exploits, which were of course not impossible for the magician. He created a cascade, a castle and a deep gulf. However, the lady always postponed the marriage with the magician and played the same game with other pretenders. The upset magician eventually did away with her. On full moon's nights, the Lady of Gimel can sometimes be seen getting out of her castle and crossing the main cascade. The three cascades of Gimel have a cumulated height of 143 m; they were named by Vuillier after local names: le Grand Saut (45 m), la Redole (38 m) and la Queue de Cheval (the horse tail, 60 m), flowing into the Inferno abyss.


Ivan Sache, 11 September 2005

Municipal flag of Gimel-les-Cascades

The municipal flag of Gimel is hoisted over the ruins of the upper castle. It is made of ten horizontal white and blue stripes and a diagonal red bend. The flag is in ratio 1:2.
This flag is the banner of the municipal arms, adopted on 4 August 1978, which are, of course, the arms of the former Gimel family. GASO gives the following blazon:

Burelé d'argent et d'azur de dix pièces, à la bande de gueules brochant sur le tout.

Timms, calling erroneously the village Gimel-les-Cadets (but with a question mark), gives:
Barry of ten argent and azure overall a bend gules.
He claims that the Gimel famliy was a branch of Lusignan, which is also claimed by other sources without firm evidence but the geographical proximity and the similarity in the arms.
The number of bars on the coat of arms seems to have varied with times. The Gimel family website give three variants, with six, eight and ten pieces, respectively:

Burelé d'argent et d'azur de six pièces à la bande de gueule brochante.
Burelé d'argent et d'azur de huit pièces à la bande de gueule brochante.
Burelé d'argent et d'azur de dix pièces à la bande de gueule brochante.

The arms with ten pieces are attributed to the senior branch of the family.

These arms can be seen everywhere in the village, on the glass-windows of the church, on St. Dumine's reliquary, and on the road shield at the entrance of the village, which says that Gimel has a friendly pact with Gimel in the canton of Vaud.

Ivan Sache, 11 September 2005