History & Heritage

The influence of the Hospitallers of St John of Jerusalem

Armoiries de lOrdre de Saint Jean de Jerusalem.svg

The Hospitallers of St. John of Jerusalem is a religious and military order that was born out of the desire to protect pilgrims on the pilgrimage routes. First in Jerusalem, then in Cyprus and finally in Malta where it took the name of the Order of Malta. It is a very powerful order politically.

To support the Order's action in the Holy Land, they set up Commanderies throughout Europe. A commandery is a group of buildings: a dwelling where the hospitallers live, a chapel, the tithe barn for collecting the tax, a "Hôpiteau" to receive and care for pilgrims, military outposts and a large wall to protect them in case of attack.

The choice of Lavausseau, at the end of the 11th century, was strategic, firstly because it was on the route to Santiago de Compostela, but also because it was a promising place for leather production, an essential resource at the beginning of the 12th century. And indeed, Lavausseau became a major leather manufacturing centre in the Middle Ages.

Centuries of vegetable tanning

If the hospitaliers chose Lavausseau to settle, it is because there are the essential elements for the manufacture of leather: a river, forests and livestock.

Ideally situated on the Boivre, at a short distance from its source, which brings purity and freshness; surrounded by large oak and chestnut forests for the production of Tan, the bark crushed into fine shavings in a mill; close to numerous breeders on the Deux-Sèvres side, where the soil is too chalky and not conducive to cultivation, this is what has enabled Lavausseau to make a leather of great quality, recognised as far away as Italy

These three elements are then put in a large pit. And for many months, the tannin contained in the bark will diffuse into the water and then be absorbed by the skin and act on the collagen proteins and on the mucus to make the skin rot-proof.

Working in the pit is only one of many steps in making the skin fit for use.

A new tanning method: chrome

In 1811, there were still eleven tanneries, with vegetable tanning, along the Boivre River. At the end of the 19th century, they were grouped together by Charles Guionnet, who founded a company that was the ancestor of the Tannerie de La Boivre.

In 1929, Théodore Carbonnier acquired the Tannerie de la Boivre and then specialised in mineral tanning, using chrome for the first time in Lavausseau. He then began to produce shoe soles. This production disappeared in the 1950s with the appearance of synthetic products.

Theodore Carbonnier's children, Emile and Yves, were the main trainers of Ludovic Guignard, the last tanner known to the Tannerie de la Boivre. He specialised in the production of decorative skins (goats, sheep and calves).

The activity of the Tannerie de la Boivre ceased in September 2015 for environmental reasons. However, the buildings, machines and tools were given to the Commune of Lavausseau, which delegates their management to the Cité des Tanneurs association.

Photo credits Guillaume Héraud Photographer