In the south of France, just north of the Pyrenees, lies the department of the Gers. The capital Auch (22.0000 inhabitants) is situated at the centre of this sparsely populated department. A description of the landscape in the magazine Arbre et Paysage from March 2002 reads as follows: “The landscapes of the Gers seem at first sight both muddled and homogenous. From east to west, from north to south hills and valleys alternate, with a modest relief between 80 and 300 meters above sea level and seldom differences of more than 100 meters. There is no abrupt change of landscape.”

Jegun bastide from the air

Almost 20 km northwest from Auch we find the small town of Jegun. There, we have arrived in the heart of the Gimbrère-land. The oldest references of the Gimbrères are all found in a radius of 10 km around Jegun. Jegun was probably founded in the 13th century. It is a typical bastide, a fortified little town with a characteristic orthogonal street plan. Earlier on, there already was a settlement around the Saint Candide church just outside the bastide. That settlement was already fortified in the 11th century.

Three kilometres more to the west we find a lieu-dit with the familiar name La Gimbrère, on a little natural plateau on the eastern slope of the ridgeline between Jegun and the neighbouring community of Bonas. We have arrived now at the origin of the Gimbrères. La Gimbrère and her surroundings have a history that reaches far back in time. This territory, northwest of Auch, is very fertile. There already was large scale agriculture before the Romans entered this region in the 1st century of our era.

Reconstruction of a Roman villa

Agriculture was also flourishing in Roman times. Wheat was one of the most cultivated crops. Agriculture estates arose with luxurious villas at their centre. This villa culture lasted till far into the 6th century. Remains of many Gallo-Roman villas have been found.

Remarkably, Christianity established itself early in this region. From the 6th century on, many small churches were built in the rural areas. A density of about one church per 2,5 square km was reached. A strong connection existed between Gallo-roman villas and/or their cemeteries (necropolises) and churches. Even when the economy declined at the end of the 7th century, a lot of the agriculture remained. The rural communities survived, and the churches continued to be used. The villas became increasingly obsolete or they were divided into smaller housings.

La Gimbrère, that did not yet carry that name in late Roman times, also had such a local community. There are signs that villa was situated on or nearby La Gimbrère, a Roman property of a certain Vitalis. Maybe later the junipers grew between the ruins of the villa, because any plowable area where wheat could be grown, was used for that purpose. The soil around La Gimbrère was so suitable for wheat, that this also   was cultivated between the 7th and the 12th century, when other cereals (like spelt, rye and millet) predominated in the surroundings. Part of the area of La Gimbrère therefore was called Blads de la Gimbrere. Blads are fields which are rich in wheat. This name still lived on in the time that wheat was again the most grown cereal.

There was an early Gallo-Roman or early medieval necropolis near La Gimbrère. Presumably the little church of Saint-Sernin de la Gimbrère was located there. Saint-Sernin, or Saint Saturnin, was Bishop in Toulouse in the 3rd century. He died a violent death because of his faith and was worshipped as a martyr. Churches were devoted to him between the 4th and 10th centuries. Saint-Sernin de la Gimbrère is probably one of the earlier of those. It was the little church of a small (family) parish, that is first mentioned in a document of the 14th century. The parish then consisted of five autonomous households. The average households consisted of five persons, with the pater familias in the centre. Possible servants belonged to the household.

The early community La Gimbrère

At the end of the 13th century the bastide of Jegun was founded, with allocation of rights and freedoms to its inhabitants. In the same period also the castelnau (a walled village on a hill, usually near a castle) of Bonas was founded, also with allocation of rights and freedoms. Due to the allocated rights and freedoms Jegun and Bonas drained the community of La Gimbrère. We know that already in 1293 a Gimbrère, namely Sansaverius de Gimbrera, was an inhabitant and even a consul (councilman/alderman) of Bonas.

Another Gimbrère, Raimundus de Lagimbreda, was the parish priest of Bonas then. This Raimundus was probably a direct relative of Bertrand de Lagimbrera, knight and so probably the owner of la Gimbrère. This strongly suggests that in the Middle Ages Gimbrera and Gimbreda were used interchangeably for the same place and the same family. Raimundus was probably also the parish priest of St-Sernin. According to a document from the early 15th century, one parish priest served both parishes of Bonas and la Gimbrère.

The Black Death of 1347-1352 will have struck La Gimbrère also, and the little parish will have languished since. A document about church taxes from 1544 shows that the parish does not exist anymore. The few remaining parishioners ended up with other parishes in the neighbourhood. But the territory of the parish stayed intact as separate tax base for the church tax (tithes) until the French Revolution. St-Sernin de la Gimbrère is still mentioned in the list of revenues of the archdiocese of Auch of 1790. It is not known when the little church itself vanished.

Detail from a lease agreement of 1553 for the tithes of la Gimbrère: dixme de la Gimbrere

 Hence, the local Gimbrère community has been decimated in the course of time. In 1405 two Gimbrères, Guil­hermus de Lagimbreda en Bertrandus de Lagimbreda, lived in Bonas with their families. They are men­tio­ned in a document as representatives of the inhabitants. Another Gimbrère, Bernardus de la Gimbrela, ca­non in the city Tartas, was witness at the draft of the document. This Bernardus will have been a direct relative of the owner of la Gimbrère. The tax book of Auch from 1439 shows that Arnaud de la Gimbrera was owner of a house and two vineyards. He could still also have been the owner of La Gimbrère.

Early 16th century a Gimbrère settled in Castera Vivent, a small nearby village. After that, around 1600, it is Ayguetinte that becomes the heartland for the Gimbrères. From there the family spread its wings, first within France and subsequently through Belgium and the Netherlands onwards into the world. You can find more about this in chapter 7. The line of direct descent can be found in chapter 8.