Compagnons du Tour de France
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The Compagnons du Tour de France is a French organization of craftsmen and artisans dating from the Middle Ages, but still active today. Their traditional, technical education techniques includes taking a tour, the Tour de France around France and being the apprentice of competent masters. For a young man or young woman today, the compagnonnage is an original way to learn a trade while developing character by experiencing community life and traveling. The community lives in a Compagnon house, there are more than 80 in France. The houses vary in size from a small house for 5 people to a big house with more than 100 people living together.
Until recently, the compagnons were all male. Today, compagnons can be found in 49 countries across 5 continents practising many different trades.
Tour de France simply refers to the fact that they are working in different places in France; every six months to a year,they are required to change work locations. This is unrelated to the Tour de France cycliste, a cycling competition. The word compagnon is a diminutive of compaing [compare Modern French copain], a person with whom one breaks bread.
Stages of becoming a Compagnon
To start a Tour de France, you are required to already have a Certificat d'Aptitude Professionelle diploma which includes classes and an apprenticeship. This diploma is the basic French trade qualification.
Stagiaire: During the first year of your tour de France,your title is a Stagiaire (aka Compagnon Guest), full-time work in your trade (M-F), and you are required to live in the Compagnon house. Lessons are Monday-Friday, from 8am-10pm and Saturday 8am-12pm and 1:30pm–5:30 pm. Dinner is eaten together at the siège (lodge) of Compagnons. During this period, if you like the Compagnon life and wish to be part of the family of the Compagnons you apply for the adoption ceremony.
Ceremony of Adoption: You will have to do your Travail d'adoption which is a project that must be submitted to become an Aspirant. At this point, you may be adopted as an Aspirant. Then you receive your Aspirant name, which is made up from the region or town that s/he comes from in France. For example, somebody from Burgundy, will be called Bourguignon. They are also presented with a ceremonial walking staff (representing the itinerant nature of the organisation) and also a sash. Those ceremonies are between Compagnons and Aspirants and is completely confidential.
Aspirant: Once you have accomplished the title of an Aspirant, you work full-time in your trade (M-F), and you are still required to live in the Compagnon house. You have lessons (M-F) 8pm-10pm and Saturday 8am-12pm and 1:30pm–5:30 pm. Dinner is eaten together at the siège (lodge) of Compagnons. The Aspirant stays/tours in several towns/cities over the next three to five years, working under Compagnons, to learn the trade.
Ceremony of Reception: The Reception ceremony is held. Ultimately, Aspirants present their masterpiece travail de réception to the board of Compagnons. The masterpiece is a required piece which every kind of Compagnon must complete as an Aspirant to become a Compagnon. Of course, there are different kinds of masterpieces depending on the trade. If accepted, you may become a Compagnon Itinérant and receive a Compagnon name. Furthermore, you are presented with a new walking stick that reaches the height of your heart. Some of these masterpieces are displayed at the Musée du Compagnonnage in Tours.
Compagnon: During the three years following the Reception, you are called Compagnon itinérant because you are still required to do 3 more years of touring. After thoses 3 years to the end of your life, you are a Compagnon Sedantaire. You aren't required to tour anymore, and you can live and work anywhere you want. You volunteer yourself to teach the young methods and professionalism.
Life during the Tour de France
A typical weekday for a charpentier (roof carpenter/framer) would involve a day on-site working full-time for the company that employs the Aspirant. Once the day of work is done you head to the Compagnon house, the place where you are living. The meal is taken between 7pm and 8pm with the community living in the house. After dinner, the Aspirants have classes from about 8pm until 10 pm. Thoses classes are technical drawing, technology, French, English, Mathematics etc. On Saturdays, classes are from 8am-12pm and 1:30pm–5:30 pm. During thoses classes you perform your skills by making different projects as well as having lessons. Many maquettes are created by charpentiers and other woodworkers. A maquette is a wooden model that they have conceived and created, first through drawings. They cut and assemble the wood to make the model. They will make a many of these throughout their time as Aspirants. Each piece is expected to show that they have understood and mastered the most difficult aspects of the trade so far. Sundays are spent exploring the area they are stationed at or they may work on a masterpiece/project.
Compagnonnage and history
Compagnons are also given secret words - the secrecy and the Compagnon name comes from late Medieval Times, when the strengthening group of Compagnons (Compagnonnage). They were building the churches and chateaux of France and were persecuted by the King and the Catholic Church because they refused to live under the rules of either.
During the Nazi Occupation of France in World War II, the Compagnons split into different factions; those supporting the collaborationist Vichy regime and those in the French Resistance. Many sièges burnt all their records in order that their details never be uncovered by the Nazis or the Vichy. The splits within the Compagnonnage remain bitterly held to this day.
The professions of the Compagnons are:
- carpenter wood constructor
- plumber-heating engineer
- plasterer-patternmaker-fibrous plasterer
- gardener-landscape architect
- body repairman
- boiler maker
- mechanic constructor
- precision mechanic
- leather goods maker
- harness maker
- pastry chef
- Adolphe Clément-Bayard, c. 1871, blacksmith
- Edmond Le Martin, blacksmith / farrier, hosted many travellers in Dunes. Father of aviator Léon Lemartin.
- Joël Robuchon, In 1966 Robuchon became the official chef of La Tour de France namely “Compagnon du Tour de France”, enabling him to travel throughout the country, learning a variety of diverse regional techniques. As a companion he also became inculcated with the spirit of reaching moral, manual and physical perfection.
Le Compagnon du Tour de France was a novel written by George Sand in 1840.