Each town in the Béziers Méditerranée area has its own mascot: an animal that the village has taken as its symbol, deriving from local legends that often date from the Middle Ages. The inhabitants create a model of the animal in wood and fabric. The mascot takes part in all outings, festivities and events, and is led in majesty by the young people of the village when they parade through the streets.
Here's a list of the animals:
Alignan-du-Vent: the foal
Béziers: the camel
Bassan: the toad
Boujan-sur-Libron: the octopus
Cers: the rabbit
Corneilhan: the crow
Espondeilhan: the louse
Lieuran-lès-Béziers: the frog
Lignan-sur-Orb: the turtle
Montblanc: the foal
Sérignan: the unicorn
Servian: the stag
Valras-Plage: the sea-horse
Villeneuve-lès-Béziers: the swallow
Valros: the mule
The Bassan toad
The nickname for the inhabitants of Bassan is the manja-crapauds (the manja toads). Two inhabitants from Bassan were caught in a storm and took refuge under a fig tree. The rain only stopped in the dead of night. The two fellows were starving and decided to eat some figs from the tree. One of them sat on the shoulders of the other to pick the fruits in the dark and pass them down to his friend. The friend suddenly felt a strange object in his mouth and swallowed. His stomach then began to croak like a toad…
The Lieuran tree frog
In 1694 - according to legend - during the reign of Louis XIV, there was a terrible famine, the harvests were disastrous, the roads were filled with beggars and Protestants fleeing persecution, epidemics spread. The village of Lieuran was not spared from the calamities. The only solution was prayer and pilgrimages. One day, a storm of a rare violence broke out. The villagers were petrified by the terrifying noise and believed it was a divine punishment. They came out of the church. The oldest legends told the tale but - there, before their eyes, along with countless raindrops were millions of tree frogs falling from the sky. They were everywhere: on roofs, in the streets, in the gardens and the vineyards! The frogs were a blessing for the starving villagers, providing food and reassurance. The event also provoked the envy and jealousy of neighbouring villages, who nicknamed the inhabitants of Lieuran-lès-Béziers, "Los Beca-ranetas" (the tree frog eaters).
The Béziers camel (lou camel)
The animal came from Egypt with St Aphrodisius (who brought Christianity to Béziers, and was the city's first bishop and later martyred by the Romans). With no one to look after it after its master's death, the camel also risked death in a short space of time. But a family of compassionate potters gave it food to survive. When Aphrodisius was recognised as a Saint, the town's authorities considered it an honour to take charge of the upkeep of the animal. They gave it a house, at the entrance of the present-day Rue Malbec which, was renamed, on the death of the camel, "Rue du Chameau" (Camel Road). The revenues from this fiefdom were then used by the town's dignitaries for buying bread, which was given to the poor, once it had been blessed by the bishop, during the Caritats festivities. Today, this act of charity is symbolised by a kind of brioche called the Coques de St Aphrodisius.
To perpetuate the camel's memory, an enormous wooden machine was built, covered with a painted canvas, including the city's coat-of-arms and two inscriptions on the sides: one in Latin, EX ANTIQUITATE RENASCOR (I am reborn from Antiquity), and the other in Occitan: SEN FOSSO (We are many or We are strong). The camel is still led by a strangely costumed individual: the PAPARI (probably a form of "Papalin/Papalino": a solider of the Pope).
The Boujan-sur-Libron octopus (lo pofre)
Boujan-sur-Libron was hit by famine, when a fisherman announced the news that the River Libron was filled with octopuses (in Occitan: pofres) which had come from the Mediterranean, four leagues away. The inhabitants hurried off to see the miracle. The village was saved from famine!
The Sérignan unicorn
A very recent creation, by Sérignan school children, is the story of a horse from Italy meeting a shellfish washed up on the shores of Sérignan. The mythical animal came to the rescue of the inhabitants during its journey, which took it from the beach to the village.
The unicorn. The legend says that a magnificent horse took on the appearance of a unicorn to help fishermen bring in their fish and the winemakers to work on their land. There is no doubt that a wild beauty watches over the population.
The Servian stag (lo servi)
The legend of this magical animal is inspired by a true event. In 1208, on the orders of Pope Innocent III, a crusade was launched against the Cathar and Albigensian heretics, who were deemed to be unbelievers. According to the divine law of Rome, the pride of these groups from the south of France should be broken, these stubborn and resistant rebels who defied the religious orders. At the head of the army ordered to carry out the repression was Earl Simon de Montfort, a bloodthirsty man, hungry for fame and feared wherever he went. Servian, a peaceful village in Languedoc, would also be subjected to the divine judgement. At that time near the village lived a magnificent and majestic stag that came to drink from the River Lène each morning. The local lord was told about this, and decided to win the splendid trophy for himself. He organised a vast hunt. After a long chase, the stag was surrounded by the hounds that had been sent after it. There was no escape. Courageously, the stag stood its ground and fought, then made a great cry that caused the dogs to flee, to the great annoyance of their master. In the face of so much courage, the lord magnanimously pardoned the stag. Time passed, and Simon de Montfort and his wild horde approached. His aim was to launch an attack and conquer Servian. But the stag remembered: it had to prove its gratitude to the local lord. One moonlit night, it roared so loudly that the earth shook. With its powerful hooves, it beat the ground, like an army of drummers. The attackers, fearful men from the North, took to their heels...
The Lignan-sur-Orb turtle (la tartugo)
Once upon a time… At the end of winter 1399, in the middle of the Hundred Years War, Languedoc was invaded by groups of pillagers. The winter was harsh with a lot of rain: the River Orb overflowed onto the plains of Béziers, and the crops were practically wiped out. The inhabitants suffered from famine, but frogs and turtles enjoyed life in the River Orb.
A young man from Lignan, Simon, liked to sit beside the river, playing a reed flute. The boy attracted the attention of some turtles, with more and more of them coming to share his poor meals. But although the animals liked his music very much, there was one particular tune they didn't like at all, and they would crawl away whenever they heard it.
One morning in May, Simon was awoken by the strange din of clanging armour: a horde of invaders from Carcassonne were coming closer to Lignan. As soon as he saw them, Simon knew they were robbers who would pillage the town before going on to attack Béziers. But the boy was alone: his parents had gone away to cut wood, and many of the inhabitants of Lignan had taken refuge in Béziers.
Only the River Orb separated Simon from these dreadful men. So he walked to the river bank and played a tune on his flute, the turtles' favourite. Hundreds of the little animals gathered around him, making a ford from one side of the Orb to the other. The troop of highwaymen began to cross the river; but when the first pillager was about to set foot on the Lignan side, Simon began to play the tune the turtles hated so much - and they fled in all directions. The ford broke up, the evil men were plunged into the River Orb, encircled by hundreds of turtles, which, believing themselves to be under attack, drowned a large number of robbers, and pushed back the others with their snouts.
Simon's stratagem had saved Lignan and Béziers. Since then, every year in May until his death, Simon and all his friends from Lignan set off to the banks of the Orb to thank the turtles by giving them good things to eat. “And so the tartugo became the mascot of Lignan-sur-Orb.”