Abbé "Sans-Peur" Solier, the fearless friar of Languedoc by Brian Langston

Abbe Sans Peur Solier 1Brian Langston tells the story of one of the forgotten heroes of the French Revolution who led a band of Languedoc resistance fighters opposing the religious oppression of ‘The Terror’. One of the forgotten folk heroes of late 18th century France is a humble parish priest from the Cévenol village of Colognac, who for years led an outlawed band of religious brigands and became a thorn in the side of the revolutionary government.

 

Jean-Louis Solier was a cross between Friar Tuck and Dick Turpin and his extraordinary courage and audacity earned him the nick-name Sans-Peur or "Fearless". He was described as "a man of about sixty, gray hair, round face, height of about 5 feet, 2 inches, usually dressed in a jacket with pockets of a dark gray; a waistcoat underneath, and always armed with a double-barrelled gun and two pistols in his belt." The brigand–priest was born in 1734 at Lasalle near Saint Hippolyte du Fort in the Cévennes and was one of 28 children. Although he had ambitions to join the army, his father encouraged him to take holy orders instead and he became a well-loved village priest.

 

After the overthrow of the monarchy and the execution of King Louis XVI during the French Revolution, religion was brought under state control. Monastic orders were abolished and their property confiscated. Catholic priests and nuns were forced to swear an oath of fidelity to the new order under pain of imprisonment, torture, deportation or death. By Easter 1794 approximately 30,000 priests had been forced to leave France, and those who did not leave or recant were executed or sent to Devil’s Island. Few of France’s 40,000 churches remained open; many had been closed, sold, destroyed, or converted to other uses.

 

Abbé Sans-Peur refused to submit and took to the mountains and forests of the Gard and Hérault where he led a small band of guerrillas fighting a rear-guard action against the revolutionary forces. He hid in caves and woodland shelters where he conducted religious services and gave communion to Catholic children. He gained notoriety as one of France’s most wanted criminals after carrying out daring raids on tax collectors and government officials who passed through the region.

 

In one spectacular daylight robbery, Abbé Sans-Peur and his so-called bande d’égorgeurs (cutthroats) relieved government couriers of 59,000 francs worth of gold pieces at Gignac, between Montpellier and Lodève. When a tax collector in the commune of Saint-Roman-de-Codières, near Sumène, was robbed of 4,000 francs the authorities redoubled their efforts and on 24th February 1801 whilst visiting a safe-house in Saint-Martial, the elusive 66 year old religious outlaw was finally captured.

 

Abbe Sans Peur Solier 3He was sentenced to death by the Revolutionary government and faced a firing squad in the Place d’Auvergne, in Le Vigan on 1st March 1801. He went nobly to his death, without fear, singing the Miserere. One of the soldiers refused to fire on the priest who had carried out his first communion. Thus ended the remarkable life of the Fearless Friar of the Languedoc. The fortune he had liberated from the government forces was never recovered.

 

About the Author
Brian Langston is a retired Assistant Chief Constable now living in Herault. He writes on a variety of topics including true crime, mysteries and the paranormal. His new book "True Ghosts and Ghouls of Windsor & Eton" is published by Halsgrove publishing in April 2016. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.