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The Cagots (pronounced [ka.ɡo]) were a persecuted minority found in the west of France and northern Spain: the Navarrese Pyrenees, Basque provinces, Béarn, Aragón,[1] Gascony and Brittany. Evidence of the group exists back as far as 1000s.[2]


Their name differed by province and the local language:


Notice in Saint-Leger-de-Balson (Gironde, France)

Cagots were shunned and hated; while restrictions varied by time and place, they were typically required to live in separate quarters in towns,[6] called cagoteries, which were often on the far outskirts of the villages. Cagots were excluded from political and social rights. They were not allowed to marry non-Cagots,[4][9] leading to forced endogamy, and were not allowed to enter taverns, use public fountains,[6] sell food or wine, touch food in the market, work with livestock,[1] or enter mills.[10] The marginalization of the Cagots began at baptism where chimes were not rung in celebration as was the case for non-Cagots and that the baptisms were held at nightfall. Within parish registries the term cagot, or its scholarly synonym gezitan, was entered. Cagots were buried in cemeteries separate from non-Cagots[11][6] with reports of riots occurring if bishops tried to have the bodies moved to non-Cagot cemeteries.[6] Commonly Cagots were not given a standard last name in registries and records but were only listed by their first name, followed by the mention crestians or cagot, such as on their baptismal certificate.[12] They were allowed to enter a church only by a special door[6] and, during the service, a rail separated them from the other worshippers.[6] They were forbidden from joining the priesthood.[9] Either they were altogether forbidden to partake of the sacrament, or the Eucharist was given to them on the end of a wooden spoon,[13] while a holy water stoup was reserved for their exclusive use. They were compelled to wear a distinctive dress to which, in some places, was attached the foot of a goose[3] or duck (whence they were sometimes called Canards), and latterly to have a red representation of a goose's foot in fabric sewn onto their clothes.[9][13] So pestilential was their touch considered that it was a crime for them to walk the common road barefooted or to drink from the same cup as non-Cagots. The Cagots were often restricted to the trades of carpenter,[4][11] butcher, and rope-maker.[14][15]

The Cagots were not an ethnic nor a religious group. They spoke the same language as the people in an area and generally kept the same religion as well. Their only distinguishing feature was their descent from families long identified as Cagots. Few consistent reasons were given as to why they were hated; accusations varied from Cagots being cretins, lepers, heretics, cannibals, sorcerers,[9] sexual deviants, to simply being intrinsically evil. The Cagots did have a culture of their own, but very little of it was written down or preserved; as a result, almost everything that is known about them relates to their persecution.[16] The repression lasted through the Middle Ages, Renaissance, and Industrial Revolution, with the prejudice fading only in the 19th and 20th centuries. By the middle of the 19th century, previous beliefs of them being intellectually inferior[9] had waned and German doctors regarded them as “not without the ability to become useful members of society.”[17]

Origin and etymology[edit]

The neighborhood of Bozate [es] in the town of Arizkun is a former ghetto of Navarrese Agotes, and is home to the Museo Etnográfico de los Agotes (Ethnographic Museum of the Agotes)[18]


The origins of both the term Cagots (and Agotes, Capots, Caqueux, etc.) and the Cagots themselves are uncertain. It has been suggested that they were descendants of the Visigoths defeated by Clovis I at the Battle of Vouillé,[8] and that the name Cagot derives from caas ("dog") and the Old Occitan for Goth gòt around the 6th century.[19][9] Yet in opposition to this etymology is the fact that the word cagot is first found in this form no earlier than the year 1542. Seventeenth century French historian Pierre de Marca, in his Histoire de Béarn, propounds the reverse – that the word signifies "hunters of the Goths", and that the Cagots were descendants of the Saracens[14] and Moors[20] of Al-Andalus after their defeat by Charles Martel,[9] although this proposal was comprehensively refuted by the Abbé Venuti as early as 1754.[21]

Biblical legends[edit]

Various legends placed the Cagots as originating from biblical events, including being descendants of the carpenters who made the cross that Jesus was crucified on,[22] or being descendants of the bricklayers who built Solomon's Temple after being expelled from ancient Israel by God due to poor craftsmanship.[9] Similarly a more detailed legend places the origins of the Cagots in Spain as being descendants of a Pyrenean master carver named Jacques, who traveled to ancient Israel via Tartessos, to cast Boaz and Jachin for Solomon's Temple. While in Israel he was distracted during the casting of Jachin by a woman, and due to the imperfection this caused in the column his descendants were cursed to suffer leprosy.[3]

Religious origin[edit]

Another theory is that the Cagots were descendants of the Cathars,[9] who had been persecuted for heresy in the Albigensian Crusade.[14] With some comparisons including the use the term crestians to refer to Cagots, which evokes the name that the Cathars gave to themselves, bons crestians.[23] A delegation by Cagots to Pope Leo X in 1514 made this claim, though the Cagots predate the Cathar heresy[24] and the Cathar heresy was not present in Gascony and other regions where Cagots were present.[25] Perhaps this was a strategic move: in limpieza de sangre statutes such stains of heresy expired after four generations and if this was the cause of their marginalisation, it also gave grounds for their emancipation.[26]

One early mention of the Cagots is from 1288, when they appear to have been called Chretiens or Christianos.[14] Other terms seen in use prior to the 16th century include Crestias, Chrestia and Christianus, which in Béarn became synonymous with the word leper.[27] Thus, another theory is that the Cagots were early converts to Christianity, and that the hatred of their pagan neighbors continued after they also converted, merely for different reasons.[24]

Medical origin[edit]

Another possible explanation of their name Chretiens or Christianos is to be found in the fact that in medieval times all lepers were known as pauperes Christi, and that, whether Visigoths or not, these Cagots were affected in the Middle Ages with a particular form of leprosy or a condition resembling it, such as psoriasis. Thus would arise the confusion between Christians and Cretins.[14] However, early edicts apparently refer to lepers and Cagots as different categories of undesirables.[24] By 1593 the distinction was explicit. The Parlement of Bordeaux repeated customary prohibitions against them but added when they are lepers, if there still are any, they must carry clicquettes (rattles).[28] One belief in Navarre were that the Agotes were descendants of French immigrant lepers to the region.[22]

Other origins[edit]

Victor de Rochas [fr] wrote that the Cagots were likely descendants of Spanish Roma from the Basque country.[29]

In Bordeaux, where they were numerous, they were called ladres (synonymous with the Gascon word for thief), also used in Old French to refer to leprosy, close to the Catalan lladres and the Spanish ladrón meaning robber or looter, similar to the older, probably Celtic-origin Latin term bagaudae[9] (or bagad), a possible origin of agote.

The Way of St. James; the anti-Cagot prejudice existed in northern Spain, Western France, and Southern France, roughly coinciding with the main routes.

The alleged physical appearance and ethnicity of the Cagots varied wildly from legends and stories; some local legends (especially those that held to the leper theory) indicated that Cagots had blonde hair and blue eyes,[9] while those favoring the Arab descent story said that Cagots were considerably darker.[30] In Pío Baroja's work Las horas solitarias comments that Cagot residents of Bozate [es] had both individuals with "Germanic" features as well as individuals with "Romani" features.[31] One common trend was to claim that Cagots had no earlobes,[9] or that one ear was longer than the other[30][32] (The same thing appears in popular culture in the novel of Salman Rushdie, Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights, as a characteristic of the Duniazát.), with other supposed identifiers including webbed hands and/or feet, or the presence of goitres.[33]

Graham Robb finds most of the above theories unlikely:

Nearly all the old and modern theories are unsatisfactory ... the real "mystery of the cagots" was the fact that they had no distinguishing features at all. They spoke whatever dialect was spoken in the region and their family names were not peculiar to the cagots ... The only real difference was that, after eight centuries of persecution, they tended to be more skillful and resourceful than the surrounding populations, and more likely to emigrate to America. They were feared because they were persecuted and might therefore seek revenge.[24]

A modern hypothesis of interest is that the Cagots are the descendants of a fallen medieval guild of carpenters.[15] This theory would explain the most salient thing Cagots throughout France and Spain have in common: that is, being restricted in their choice of trade. The red webbed-foot symbol Cagots were sometimes forced to wear might have been the guild's original emblem.

There was a brief construction boom on the Way of St. James pilgrimage route in the 9th and 10th centuries; this could have brought the guild both power and suspicion. The collapse of their business would have left a scattered, yet cohesive group in the areas where Cagots are known.[16]


Holy water font for Cagots in Oloron cathedral, Béarn

Cagots were forced to use a side entrance to churches, often an intentionally low one to force Cagots to bow and remind them of their subservient status.[30][34] This practice, done for cultural rather than religious reasons, did not change even between Catholic and Huguenot areas. They had their own holy water fonts set aside for Cagots, and touching the normal font was strictly forbidden.[35][6] These restrictions were taken seriously; in the 18th century, a wealthy Cagot had his hand cut off and nailed to the church door for daring to touch the font reserved for "clean" citizens.[36]

Cagots were expected to slip into churches quietly and congregate in the worst seats. They received the host in communion only at the end of a stick. Many Bretons believed that Cagots bled from their navel on Good Friday.[24]

An appeal by the Cagots to Pope Leo X in 1514 was successful, and he published a bull instructing that the Cagots be treated "with kindness, in the same way as the other believers." Still, little changed, as most local authorities ignored the bull.[30][4][1]


A 19th century French postcard titled Une procession de cagots arrive sur les bords du Lapaca (A procession of cagots arrives on the banks of the Lapaca), showing the feet of either geese or ducks attached to their clothing.

The nominal though usually ineffective allies of the Cagots were the government, the educated, and the wealthy. It has been suggested that the odd patchwork of areas which recognized Cagots has more to do with which local governments tolerated the prejudice, and which allowed Cagots to be a normal part of society. In a study in 1683, doctors examined the Cagots and found them no different from normal citizens. Notably, they did not actually suffer from leprosy or any other disease that could clarify their exclusion from society. The Parliaments of Pau, Toulouse and Bordeaux were apprised of the situation, and money was allocated to improve the lot of the Cagots, but the populace and local authorities resisted.

In 1673, the Ursúa lord of the municipality of Baztán advocated the recognition of the local Cagots as natural residents of the Baztán.[9]

By the 18th century Cagots made up considerable portions of various settlements, such as in Baigorri where Cagots made up 10% of the population.[34]

In 1709, the influential politician Juan de Goyeneche [es] planned and constructed the manufacturing town of Nuevo Baztán (after his native Baztan Valley in Navarre) near Madrid.[9] He brought many Cagot settlers to Nuevo Baztán, but after some years, many returned to Navarre, unhappy with their work conditions.

In 1723 the Parlement de Bordeaux [fr] instituted a fine of 500 French livres for anyone insulting any individual as "alleged descendants of the Giezy race, and treating them as agots, cagots, gahets or ladres"; ordering that they will be admitted to general and particular assemblies, to municipal offices and honors of the church, they may even be placed in the galleries and other places of the said church where they will be treated and recognized as the other inhabitants of the places, without any distinction; as also that their children will be received in the schools and colleges of the cities, towns and villages, and will be admitted in all the Christian instructions indiscriminately.[37]

During the French Revolution substantive steps were taken to end discrimination toward Cagots.[38][6] Revolutionary authorities claimed that Cagots were no different from other citizens,[37] and de jure discrimination generally came to an end.[39] Still, local prejudice from the populace persisted, though the practice began to decline. Also during the Revolution, Cagots stormed record offices and burned birth certificates in an attempt to conceal their heritage. These measures did not prove effective, as the local populace still remembered. Rhyming songs kept the names of Cagot families known.

Modern status[edit]

Kurt Tucholsky wrote in his book on the Pyrenees in 1927: "There were many in the Argelès valley, near Luchon and in the Ariège district. Today they are almost extinct, you have to search hard if you want to see them".[40] The Cagots no longer form a separate social class and were largely assimilated into the general population.[14][15] Very little of Cagot culture still exists, as most descendants of Cagots have preferred not to be known as such.

There was a distinct Cagot community in Navarre until the early 20th century, with the small northern village called Arizkun in Basque (or Arizcun in Spanish) being the last haven of this segregation,[22] where the community was contained within the neighbourhood of Bozate.[7][1] Family names in Spain still associated with having Cagot ancestors include: Bidegain, Errotaberea, Zaldua, Maistruarena, Amorena, and Santxotena.[1]

Because the main identifying mark of the Cagots was the restriction of their trades to a few small options, their segregation has been compared to the caste system in India.[30]

In media[edit]

  • The German poet Heinrich Heine visited the town of Cauterets in July 1841 and learned of the Cagots minority and their discrimination by others, subsequently becoming the topic of his poem Canto XV in Atta Troll.[6][41]
  • The 2012 Spanish-language film Baztan by Iñaki Elizalde, deals with a young man fighting against the discrimination he and his family have suffered for centuries due to being Cagots.[20]
  • The Cagot sculptor Xabier Santxotena [eu], whose work explores the history and identity of the Cagots, opened the Museo Etnográfico de los Agotes in his former family home.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e "Los agotes: El pueblo maldito del valle del Baztán" [The Cagots: The cursed town of the Baztán valley]. (in Spanish). Archived from the original on 19 August 2011. Retrieved 17 August 2020.
  2. ^ Robb 2007, p. 43.
  3. ^ a b c Lascorz, N. Lucía Dueso; d'o Río Martínez, Bizén (1992). "Los agotes de Gestavi (bal de Gistau)" [The Agotes of Gestavi (Gistau Valley)]. Argensola: Revista de Ciencias Sociales del Instituto de Estudios Altoaragoneses (in Spanish). Huesca: Instituto de Estudios Altoaragoneses. 106: 151–172. ISSN 0518-4088.
  4. ^ a b c d Loubès, Gilbert (1995). L’énigme des cagots [The enigma of the cagots] (in French). Bordeaux: Éditions Sud-Ouest. ISBN 978-2879016580.
  5. ^ Antolini, Paola (1995). Los Agotes. Historia de una exclusión [The Agotes. History of an exclusion] (in Spanish).
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Winkle, Stefan (1997). Kulturgeschichte der Seuchen [Cultural history of epidemics] (in German). Düsseldorf/ Zürich: Artemis & Winkler. pp. 39–40. ISBN 3-933366-54-2.
  7. ^ a b Garcia Piñuela, M. (2012). "Etnia marginada, Los Agotes" [Marginalized ethnic group, the Agotes]. Mitologia (in Spanish). pp. 12–13.
  8. ^ a b Garat, Dominique Joseph (1869). Origines Des Basques De France Et D'espagne [Origins of the Basques of France and Spain] (in French).
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Álvarez, Jorge (31 October 2019). "Agotes, the mysterious cursed race of the Basque-Navarrese Pyrenees". La Brújula Verde. Retrieved 8 October 2021.
  10. ^ Hawkins 2014, p. 6.
  11. ^ a b Guy, Yves (19 February 1983). "Sur les origines possibles de la ségrégation des Cagots" [On the possible origins of the segregation of cagots] (PDF). Société française d'histoire de la médecine (in French). Centre d'Hémotypologie du C.N.R.S., C.H.U. Purpan et Institut pyrénéen d'Etudes anthropologique: 85–93. Archived from the original (PDF) on 24 August 2021.
  12. ^ Louis-Lande, L. (1878). "Les Cagots et leurs congénères" [Cagots and their congeners]. Revue des deux Mondes (in French). No. 25.
  13. ^ a b María del Carmen Aguirre Delclaux [es] (2008). Los agotes: El final de una maldición [The Agotes: The End of a Curse] (in Spanish) (2nd ed.). Madrid: Sílex ediciones [es]. ISBN 978-8477374190.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  14. ^ a b c d e f Chisholm 1911, p. 947.
  15. ^ a b c Thomas, Sean (28 July 2008). "The Last Untouchable in Europe". The Independent. London. p. 20. Archived from the original on 12 January 2021. Retrieved 28 July 2008.
  16. ^ a b Robb 2007, p. 46.
  17. ^ Rheinische Monatsschrift für Praktische Aerzte [Rheinische monthly publication for practical doctors] (in German). Vol. 3. 1849. p. 288.
  18. ^ "Los agotes en Navarra, el pueblo maldito amante de la artesanía" [The Agotes in Navarra, the cursed town that loves crafts] (in Spanish). 22 April 2020. Retrieved 8 October 2021.
  19. ^ Michel, Francisque Xavier (1847). Histoire Des Races Maudites De La France Et De L'espagne [History Of The Cursed Races Of France And Spain] (in French). Vol. 1.
  20. ^ a b Fayanás Escuer, Edmundo (26 March 2018). "Un pueblo maldito: los agotes de Navarra" [A cursed town: the agotes of Navarra]. Neuva Tribuna (in Spanish). Retrieved 8 October 2012.
  21. ^ Hawkins 2014, p. 37.
  22. ^ a b c Carrasco, Bel (27 April 1979). "Los agotes, minoría, étnica española: Mesa redonda de la Asociación Madrileña de Antropología" [The agotes, minority, ethnic Spanish: Round table of the Madrid Anthropology Association]. El País (in Spanish). Retrieved 8 October 2021.
  23. ^ Lafont, R.; Duvernoy, J.; Roquebert, M.; Labal, P. (1982). Fayard (ed.). Les Cathares en Occitanie [The Cathars in Occitania] (in French). p. 7.
  24. ^ a b c d e Robb 2007, p. 45.
  25. ^ Hudry-Menos (1868). "L'Israël des Alpes ou les Vaudois du Piémont. — II. — La Croisade albigeoise et la dispersion" [The Israel of the Alps or the Vaudois of Piedmont. - II. - The Albigensian Crusade and the dispersion]. Revue des Deux Mondes (in French). p. 588. Retrieved 13 October 2016.
  26. ^ Hawkins 2014, p. 36.
  27. ^ "CAGOT: Etymologie de CAGOT" [CAGOT: Etymology of CAGOT]. (in French). Archived from the original on 17 June 2016. Retrieved 13 October 2016.
  28. ^ Hawkins 2014, p. 12.
  29. ^ de Rochas, Victor (1876). Les Parias de France et d'Espagne (cagots et bohémiens) [The Parias of France and Spain (cagots and bohemians)] (in French). Paris.
  30. ^ a b c d e da Silva, Gérard. "International Humanist and Ethical Union – "The Cagots of Béarn: The Pariahs of France"". Archived from the original on 18 February 2008. Retrieved 9 July 2008.
  31. ^ Baroja, Pío (1982). Las horas solitarias [The lonely hours] (in Spanish). Caro Raggio Editor S.L. ISBN 9788470350665. Cara ancha y juanetuda, esqueleto fuerte, pómulos salientes, distancia bicigomática fuerte, grandes ojos azules o verdes claros, algo oblicuos. Cráneo braquicéfalo, tez blanca, pálida y pelo castaño o rubio; no se parece en nada al vasco clásico. Es un tipo centro europeo o del norte. Hay viejos en Bozate que parecen retratos de Durero, de aire germánico. También hay otros de cara más alargada y morena que recuerdan al gitano
  32. ^ Fabre, Michel (1987). Le Mystère des Cagots, race maudite des Pyrénées [The Mystery of the Cagots, cursed race of the Pyrenees] (in French). MCT. ISBN 2905521619.
  33. ^ Cabarrouy, Jean-Emile (1995). "Les cagots, une race maudite dans le sud de la Gascogne: peut-on dire encore aujourd'hui que leur origin est une énigme?" [The cagots, a cursed race in the south of Gascony: can we still say today that their origin is an enigma?]. Les Cagots, Exclus et maudits des terres du sud [The Cagots, Excluded and cursed from the southern lands] (in French). J. & D. éditions.
  34. ^ a b "Agote: etnología e historia" [Agote: ethnology and history]. Euskomedia: Auñamendi Entziklopedia (in Spanish). Archived from the original on 5 May 2011.
  35. ^ Catholic Encyclopedia: "Holy Water Fonts"
  36. ^ Robb 2007, p. 44.
  37. ^ a b Archives départementales de la Gironde (ed.). "Inventaire des archives de la série C". (in French). Archived from the original on 7 February 2017. Retrieved 22 January 2018. {{cite web}}: External link in |editor= (help)
  38. ^ "Die Cagots in Frankreich: (Schluß des Artikels in voriger Nummer)" [The Cagots in France: (End of article in previous number).]. Die Grenzboten: Zeitschrift für Politik, Literatur und Kunst (in German). Vol. 20. Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Bremen. 1861. pp. 423–431.
  39. ^ "Die Cagots in Frankreich" [The Cagots in France]. Die Grenzboten: Zeitschrift für Politik, Literatur und Kunst (in German). Vol. 20. Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Bremen. 1861. pp. 393–398. Abgleich das geseß ihnen gegen ende des vorigen jahrhunderts gleich rechte mit den übrigen bürgern gewährte, ihre sage verbefferte und sie schüßte, ist der fluch, der aus ihnen lastete, doch noch nicht gang gehoben, die berachtung, die sie bedecste, noch nicht gang gewichen und an vielen arten wird ihre unfunft noch als ein schandflect angesehen.
  40. ^ Tucholsky, Kurt (1927). Ein Pyrenäenbuch [A book of the Pyrenees] (in German). Berlin. pp. 97–104.
  41. ^ Heine, Heinrich (17 February 2010) [1913]. Atta Troll. Translated by Scheffauer, Herman. Project Gutenberg.


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]