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Who Were the Cagots of France?

Several factors dictate belongingness to a particular social class. You can be born into it, share the same religious ideology, or simply because you have money. But what made the Cagots France’s untouchables during their time? 

The Cagots were a small group of people in medieval France. Despite no racial or religious differences being observed, they were the most discriminated against and persecuted people in France and Spain.

The Cagots

The Cagots, also known as Agotes, were a small ethnic group of people who lived in the Pyrenees Mountains between Spain and France. Cagots were known to be nomads as they were often discriminated against as outcasts of medieval society.

Cagots lived in Spanish and French Basque provinces, in Béarn, Gascony, Languedoc, and as far as Brittany. They were also called different names such as Ghézitains, Gadgets, Gafos, Canards, ducks, Chrestians.

Cagots were discriminated against for almost seven hundred years. They were thought of as lepers, pagans, and even as cannibals. They were not allowed to live with the general population, hence only lived amongst themselves known as cagoteries.

They were only allowed certain professions, limited to carpenters, butchers, and executioners. Similar to the Hindu Dalits, cagots were not allowed to walk barefoot because it was believed their feet smelled terrible.

Churches would often refuse them, and on the rare occasion when they are accepted, they are given the Eucharist using a long stick. Cagots were made to wear signs as they walk around, such as a symbol of a duck or goosefoot drawn in red, or made to wear bells to signify to others that they are near.

These people endured discrimination until the twentieth century, with the last recorded events recorded in 1964. Families rumored to be descendants of Cagots were discriminated against in the small community of Salies-de-Béarn. It is believed that this social class no longer existed since most have intermarried and blended into modern populations. (Source: Encyclopedia)

Theoretical Origins of the Cagots

Not much is said about the Cagot’s origins, and there are even fewer records of why they were discriminated against. Some reports claimed that these people were genetically different, claiming that Cagots had bright blue or olive eyes, yellowish skin, and webbed hands and feet.

Other theories of these peoples’ origins include:

  • Cagots were descendants of Cathar heretics who survived the 13th century Albigensian Crusades.
  • They were descendants of Muslim soldiers of the 8th-century Muslim invasion. Though converted, much suspicion was still cast on them.
  • Cagots were descendants of Viking settlers.
  • They were descendants of the first Christianized Gauls but kept pagan practices.
  • Cagots were descendants of Visigoths, a people defeated by King Clovis in the 6th century.

These theories have long been debunked or were otherwise unconvincing due to the lack of evidence. There is one other theory that holds a strong possibility of the origins of the Cagots. They were believed to be descendants of a guild of old carpenters and artisans.

Theorists believed that the red web-foot symbol was a trademark of an old carpenters’ guild. Furthermore, theorists also concluded that the first records of Cagots coincided with the rise of several buildings in the 9th and 10th centuries.

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