Part 1: How a mining history was wiped clean
Mines? Which mines?
several years, a number of our sympathisers and correspondents have been
scouring the territory of Perillos, and specifically the area where it is
known there were once mines. Apart from walking through the gorgeous countryside,
the work also involves leafing through various archives, in more dusty,
and less grandiose settings. The work – whether indoors or outdoors
– is slow, for several reasons. One of them is that the region that
needs to be investigated is far removed from the roads. At the time of their
exploitation some centuries ago, of course, that was totally different,
with roads developed so that machines and transport could come as close
as possible, to take away the mined material. But it appears that as soon
as the mining activity was stopped, all traces of these mines disappeared.
This is not really all that weird, as mines are known to be extremely dangerous.
Often, local children – and adults – will think it wise to explore
them on their own, often with very grave consequences. As such, mine accesses
are often blocked off, and in other cases, even their location is hidden,
just in case one or two obstinate people will take it upon themselves to
clear the entrance and enter as such.
In the case of Perillos, it seems the clean-up operation was even more extensive: all records of their extraction, their commercialisation, etc. have apparently been removed from the archives – or at least: cannot be located in the archives. Let us note that even the amount of extracted material sold, and its type, by whom, is normally something that leaves traces in one archive or the other, but in the case of Perillos, no such material is at hand. Indeed, it is clear why the historian who is drawing quick conclusions, would claim that Perillos had never any mines, for he cannot find any evidence for them. Indeed…
An introduction to mining
are several means to close a mine. One of them is the use of explosives,
which would mean that the fate of the mine is sealed; even if the opening
could be unblocked, the danger that deeper in the gallery the explosion
caused structural instability is a great risk that not even professionals
are willing to take. It is, after all, merely a bit of ore that is being
mined – not a treasure, however precious gold might seem to be.
Explosives are normally used for mines that have a horizontal access. For mines with a vertical access, easier means are used, specifically filling the hole with material that will effectively close it off. Quite often such material can be found immediately next to the entrance itself, at one point in the life of the mine having been removed from the tunnels. “What went out, will go back in.” Nature, over the following years and decades, will then retake first claim over the site and soon, hardly anyone will be able to see where – or whether – there was an ancient hole – let alone mine – there.
Indeed, today, one could be a metre away from an ancient mine, and no-one would know. At the same time, it is to be expected that, because Perillos is said to have had so many mines, not all of them will have been closed off as efficiently as they should have been – or that one closed-off access has since reopened itself – nature can obscure, but can also reveal.
Finally, it needs to be highlighted that the locals themselves know nothing about the mines – or at least refuse to speak about it if they do – and as our research progressed, it became clear to what unimaginable extent this ignorance could stretch.
it is clear that documents have survived in some archives, and that it is
merely a matter of locating these. All it takes is time, effort and patience.
And as such, it becomes clear that there were three mining sites on the
territory of Perillos. Of course, it is entirely possible that there were
more. It is simply that for any other sites, no documents have been recovered
Firstly, we came upon the archives of the largest mining area, which is situated on the plateau above the chapel of St Barbara. A second area is in the area of the plateau of Salveterra/La Mourtre and the third near l’Oriole, in the vicinity of the ruins of the convent of St Cecile. One might argue that this latter area is actually on the territory of the neighbouring community of Vingrau. In total, we are talking about ca. 15 shafts.
is clear that not all of these mines could totally disappear at the same
time. For that to happen, there would be a type of collective amnesia. Neither
could all of them have run dry. And in each instance, it seems that each
mine could only be worked by three or four men at the same time –
perhaps even less – or perhaps simply operated by the men of a single
family. If the latter were the case, it might explain why there is so little
information available, for the “secret” would die with the men.
Still, if it was a family affair, it would still mean that there were records somewhere, such as acts related to the property. Also, a family can be, but hardly is, a closed-off community and hence more distant family members and friends would have known about how a family earned its living, and hence someone somewhere would have known about the exploitation of mines. Finally, not all families would die at the same time, so one family’s mine(s) would still be exploited after some others might have been closed; or perhaps those other mines were then “bought” by those families still in the business.
continuing, we need to look elsewhere and see how other villages nearby
“remembered” their mining past. Communities such as Palairac,
First, there are documents that clearly state where the mines were/are located, even if these were minor operations. The mines that were operated during Antiquity were equally indexed and annotated as such, so we have an extraordinary overview of its mining history.
Second, mining in France didn’t operate within a void; there was governmental oversight. The State noted the end of concessions, mines that were abandoned, as well as the condition in which mines were to be found. If deemed dangerous, it was the Ministry that had to secure the entrance. And the manner in which the system functioned was that the higher authorities informed the local communities. It hardly mattered whether they agreed or not, as is in evidence in Palairac, where some still speak of a “scandal”, when discussing the manner in which the government had informed the locals that their mines had – rather than: were going to be – “secured”. But however scandalous the intervention in Palairac is deemed to be, even there, afterwards, the sites were carefully indexed. And locals definitely know some of the locations. Some, indeed, are still open and accessible, without any beyond the normal danger.
These two elements highlight how the State tackles mines. But we should not forget that the State is but one – even though it is the highest – level of government. There are also departmental, communal and even individual records. And, as mentioned, apart from such “hard evidence” there is still the soft evidence, often recollections of the locals, or somewhat secondary evidence, such as slips to do with salaries, rights, etc. that often survive in the “archives” of families – material from their ancestors that was boxed up wholesale, without any consultation. It is clear that in the case of Perillos, where no less than ten mines were in operation, a large percentage of the community was involved with, and talking about, these operations.
But there is even more. Mines were dangerous: there were cave-ins, explosions, accidents… in all of these cases, the religious authorities were called upon, either to say masses of hope, or remembrance, or to carry out the funerals of the deceased. It was St Barbara who was the patron saint of miners and it is likely that it was in her chapel that services were held – both regularly, and the exceptional masses that had – no doubt unfortunately – to be added on occasion. Both regular and irregular masses would equally have left traces in the parish records, and it is a matter of fact that in general the church is very careful in the preservation of such material. Such records of gave the names, facts, locations and other information, including ex-votos and which statues and relics were carried in procession. This was important, for such ceremonies often had to be identical to the previous events, and as some of them occurred only once per year, paper, rather than human memory, was the primary means of recording the details of the operation.
It’s all gone
is therefore rather incredible to have to conclude that hardly anything
is known about the mines of Perillos, apart from the little information
that we had been able to trace down in one administrative archive.
Indeed, there is a deafening silence when one approaches e.g. the mayor’s office in Opoul. Five years ago, we asked the office whether we could consult the material they possessed related to the mines. The secretary looked stunned, and told us she had no idea what we were talking about. It was the mayor, who had heard our request, who left his office and asked us to reformulate the question to him. He told us that, as a child of the town, as well as the first magistrate, if there had ever been a mine in the sector of Perillos, he would have been told about this, and would have known about it since early childhood.
It was said as if this announcement was meant to signal the end of our “daydream”, as if we were either mistaken, or merely dreaming. Alas, or thankfully for us, we had a copy of the official document that highlighted the exploitation of such mines in his “native region” and so a new appointment was made for the following morning, so that we could show the mayor this document.
The mayor was somewhat embarrassed, either about what he had said the previous day, or about his ignorance on the subject matter, or both. The document showed that Perillos once had several mines, and that at the end of the 19th century they were still in operation. Equally, no-one could contest the document, as it came from public archives; the specific document in question was an extension of the exploitation rights for the mines on the plateau on top of the chapel of St Barbara, extending almost to Cortal Lalane and thus taking in the sector of the La Caune cave.
meant several things. First, that these mining activities were going on
for a long period of time before the end of the 19th century. The question
should be asked as to why this activity was apparently stopped, without
leaving any trace in the archives. Second, that the materials extracted
were iron, silver, lead and gold – important minerals. Did they all
cease to be mined at the same time? Was there another arrest from the authorities
that ceased the mining operations? If so, why was there no trace of this
arrest in the archives?
For this is now a fact: we have to admit that mines exist, but that their existence was removed both from the physical landscape, as well as from almost all archives. One could ask whether the documents we found, might not have been an oversight. Indeed, anyone searching for paperwork, will look for the first arrest, in which the concessions were granted, and the final cessation of all mining operations. One might overlook an extension of the original grant – and it is precisely such a document that we were able to recover. Of all the other, much more obvious documents, there is no trace. Why?
us look what evidence there is for the existence of mines in this sector.
There is one document, providing conclusive proof there were mines. It is
also a very authoritative document, for it is addressed to the Prefect of
the Pyrénées-Orientales, to continue the concession for the
exploitation of the mines, on the territory of Perillos, long before it
was annexed to Opoul. The document consists of a plan that folds open, and
an accompanying letter. The latter is the request to continue the exploitation,
whereby the map illustrates to which mines the concession applies.
A second piece in the file is a copy of the given authorisation, granted two months after the request. It is a favourable request and is accompanied by another plan, which highlights all the exploitable mining points of the area. This second map is therefore of even greater interest than the first map.
Upon inspection, the two plans appear to be the work of a professional map maker, as there are signs of triangulation involved in the creation of this map. The area covered by the map includes the sector of St Barbara and especially the “Plat de Périllos”, an area that afterwards seems to be disappear from the official maps.
It is not the only thing that has disappeared. We also find six calvaries, which existed along the border between Perillos and Opoul. It appears that these monuments are only located on the border with Opoul, and not on the other borders with Feuilla, Embres and Vingrau. Of these six markers, nothing remains – and neither is there any trace of them on any more modern map. An interesting side-effect of the disappearance of the calvaries is that the map can no longer be used to accurately define the locations of the mines. However, that is unlikely to be the reason for their disappearance. Hard work on the ground will reveal that some of these calvaries can be found – or at least their foundations. But once the foundations have been located, it is equally clear that the calvaries themselves are dismantled – on purpose. This is not the type of destruction that time or a calamity does, but it is clear that this is the work of human hands. Why? “Vandalism” might explain some of the damage, but not the dismantling of the structures themselves. And what to make of the following observation: the inscriptions in the stones have been removed by a hammer and chisel, which has carefully removed what could be read previously. Why? Either this is a remarkable type of vandalism, or someone is literally doing away with historical material, in a very specific manner. Indeed, we can begin to ask a big question: mines that disappear, monuments that are dismantled, both of which are then removed from maps; villages that become abandoned. What is happening in Perillos?
As to finding reasons why such a detailed destruction of a rather mundane monument would have occurred: such monuments normally carry information: dates, dedications, etc., all information which can lead to people, families, events, etc. And someone seems to have thought that this information might be “revealing” – though what it revealed, of course, is now a very interesting question – and one very difficult to answer.
One might argue for another theory, which is that these calvaries were interpreted as signs of the church – which they largely are – and that they were destroyed during the turmoil of the French Revolution. It is possible, and it is definitely a fact that the calvaries were already there in the 18th century, as they appeared on the map that was made towards the year 1800. However, their presence on the map of 1800 strongly suggests, if not proves, that their destruction is later than the timeframe of the French Revolution.
The second stage
information we possessed, though it was more than the local authorities
had, was in essence however not very much. But then, at the beginning of
December 2008, a correspondent sent us new information. This came in the
form of certain constitutional “archives” that mentioned tin
ore and silver that was found in the middle of the 19th century, in Perillos
itself. This discovery was made during preparatory work for the construction
of a feeding trough, of which today not a single trace remains. The tin
ore was found at a respectable depth.
As such, this discovery appears to be nothing too spectacular. But the information does contain aspects that are of interest. For example, that the discovery was made in the century when the mines were reactivated. Also, we learn related things, such as the fact that the community was investing in a large feeding trough for communal use, at a site that could serve little else, but that the feeding trough was also trying to get water from elsewhere… so much so that genuine excavations at a great depth were done. In the end, it appears that these excavations will lead to little, as they realise that the water naturally flows there to fill the reservoir. It is a bit confusing that it is only once they are digging, that they realise water arrives to the site anyway. Unless there was some abnormal weather that meant this observation hadn’t been done before, but in the construction of such troughs, normally, years of thinking and months or weeks of preparation occur, so that all of their hard work actually wasn’t necessary, sounds a bit empty. So it almost appears as if the locals wanted to dig somewhere, as if they were looking for something, but – gosh – after having dug deep, all of sudden, they find that their work has been futile. But meanwhile, they have dug deep, and might have found something of interest – or nothing at all.
elements of the new information involves layers that are situated near la
Mourtre, and a site whose name we will, for the moment, not reveal, until
we have made a personal inspection of the area. La Mourtre – to repeat
– means “death” and is the general area – and we
highlight the word “general” – where Saunière,
on his model, writes “Tomb of Joseph of Arimathea” and “Tomb
These layers were already identified in the 17th century, as already in evidence in the first document, which spoke of a mineral “field” in this area of Perillos: one of three sections. The mineral in question here is iron, whereas for the sector near the chapel of St Barbara, it was lead, silver and a gold-bearing seam.
The new information comes from the AFM – the Association Française de Microminéralogie. We traced them there partially due to the information received from the departmental archives of the Pyrénées-Orientales, as well as other information coming from the National Archives, largely series F 14. It is after having gone through all of this information, that we found a third sector of interest, located between L’Oriole and what remains of the Convent of St Cecile. This third sector, according to the copies of the archive, was made up of three “bleedings” that were relatively close together. Only iron was extracted here. As we mentioned in the article on the “cells” of the convent elsewhere on this site, in the walls of the cells, there was often native iron visible in the stones that were used for this.
can make some general observations about the three sites. First of all that
all activities in the three sectors – St Barbara, la Mourtre and St
Cecile – stopped at the same time. Some men, though not from Perillos,
but from elsewhere, asked, on April 7, 1859, whether they would be allowed
to reopen the mines. What happens next, we do not know, as once again all
the information on the subject is lacking.
By the end of the 19th century, there is no longer any sign of tracks or roads, to bring and take material from the mining sites to the main roads. By sheer coincidence, it is therefore a fact that the “cleanup” of these mines is done at the time before Saunière – in the wake of Boudet and Gelis? – arrives. But when Bigou passes by, on his way into exile in Spain, a century earlier, it is clear that the mines are still in full swing.
clean-up operation in Perillos of these mines is truly remarkable. As mentioned,
compared to similar villages with a mining past, such as Palairac, Perillos
is once again the odd one out. One can ask – not just on this evidence,
but the information about Perillos as a whole – whether someone was
anxious, afraid, that if too many traces of these mines remained, certain
things might be revealed.
There is another “conspiracy theory”. We know that in the 14th century, Ramon de Perillos made a pilgrimage to St Patrick’s Purgatory and upon his return expresses the certainty that on his terrain, is an entrance to another world. By default, except if we are to imagine some new age-y time portal that was meant to exist in mid air, this “entrance” is almost by default underground – as is the case in St Patrick’s Purgatory. Scenario: after Ramon de Perillos and the general abandonment of the territory by the lords of Perillos, a memory of this “entrance” nevertheless remains, but no-one knows where precisely. Someone then realises that mining prospection is a perfect cover to send people in the field, and look everywhere, poke everywhere and dig small or larger holes. At the same time, they will find ores, and the entire enterprise might actually pay for itself!
The important question, of course, is whether the portal is ever found, or not. Let us note that the sites where mining occurred are “logical” choices to go in search of the locations Saunière was looking for – and found. For example, let us note that early on, when we spoke about a mystery of Perillos, many thought it was indeed located towards La Caune, i.e. the sector of St Barbara. Next, when some people realised La Mourtre meant “death”, and when it was found to be located inside a – beautiful – valley, this became the next logical choice. Could the same “logic” have been applied in previous centuries? Let’s assume that whoever is masterminding this search finds nothing, and realises this is not leading anywhere. After all, after mining for more than a century, if still not found, it is clear that this organisation needs to change tack. So the mines are closed, cleaned up… and a different approach is taken. And it is then that Mr. Saunière walks into the picture, walks around the countryside, and seems to accomplish what no-one had been able to do for many centuries. Could it be a short stroll for Saunière, but a great voyage for Mankind?