The areas bordering the road from Carcassone to Quillan in the Aude are called Cathar or Grail country. This is because this part of southwest France is unerringly associated with the bloody persecution by the Catholic Church of those in the region who practiced the (heretical) Cathar religion. Add to this the Holy Grail myths and conspiracies surrounding places like Rennes-Le-Château, and you have a potent mix of local history layered thick with highly speculative theories and mystical legends. But not all the villages in the area have a connection to the prevailing lore. Some communes have equally remarkable histories but play an undeserving second fiddle to those accorded a Grail connection, however tenuous.
Take, for example, the small commune of Tourreilles, not far from the town of Limoux. The village, surrounded by vineyards that grow the grapes that make Limoux’s famous sparkling wine, keeps an undying flame to a local hero. In the village square stands a modest statue dedicated to Pierre Bayle, a young military drummer who willingly fought and died for his beloved France. He’s affectionately known as Le Petit Tambour (the Little Drummer).
In 1794 age 11, Pierre and several of his family set out from Tourreilles to join the 8th Aude Battalion to engage the Spanish army on the Franco-Catalan border. Pierre’s role was as a Diane drummer used to cover the sound of advancing artillery. In a fierce engagement just before the Battle of Sierra Negra in the Buire municipality, Bayle was struck by cannon shrapnel and died instantly. Pierre’s bravery and patriotism were later mentioned in dispatches from the front line by General Dugommier: “Despite the weakness of his age, he beat the Diane with incredible efforts, to stifle the march of our flying artillery.”
What distinguishes Pierre Bayle in French military history is he was and remains the youngest combatant to die in battle since the formation of the French Republic. Every year the Toureilles’ Mairie arranges a commemorative event in Pierre Bayle’s honor attended by French Army veterans. In addition, the town maintains close historical and cultural links with Biure in Catalonia and The Boulou in Occitane, close to where the petit tambour fell.
There are many monuments and tributes to those who have fought and died for their country, but this modest sculpture, in a crepuscular corner of southwest France, must surely be one of the most poignant.
Know Before You Go
After you visit the Pierre Bayle statue, you can also view Saint-Saturnine church with its lavishly decorated 17th Century altarpiece designed by Jean Jacques Melair.