The Via Tolosana pilgrimage – from Arles towards Santiago de Compostela – crosses the Hérault Valley, taking in scrubland, forest and the Gorges of the Herault to reach the Abbey of Gellone. From 1000 AD, pilgrims from Italy and the East have made the
journey from the port and sanctuary of Saint Gilles, across the lands of the Count of Toulouse to reach the Pyrenees and, from there, down to the Camino Francès in Spain. In Languedoc, pilgrims can stop in the Abbey of Gellone to contemplate the relics of Guilhem, a valiant knight and founder of the abbey who died in 812, as well as fragments of the Real Cross given by Charlemagne.
This particularly medieval pilgrimage honours the memory of Saint James, brother of Saint John, identified through legend as the man who brought Christianity to heathen Spain in the 1st century AD and as the Patron Saint of Spain. From Charlemagne's reign, he has been considered in the Iberic peninsula, as the ‘The Braggart’ or ‘Moor Killer’, for his support of the Christian armies against the Saracens. To pay tribute to the Saint, the pilgrims journeyed to the very northwestern tip of Spain in the depths of Galicia, the end of the known world at that time…
And still today, after crossing Saint Gilles du Gard and Montpellier, walkers cross the Hérault Valley on the GR 653 (hiking route) then, between scrubland and olive trees at Montarnaud and La Boissière, reach the Aniane Abbey then the Gellone Abbey at Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert by crossing the Pont du Diable.
Further on, the walk continues via Montpeyroux, Arboras and across Saint Saturnin de Lucian and onwards towards Lodève, Castres, Toulouse, and Oloron Sainte-Marie.