Good King René’s Provençal Tradition
The legend of the Tarasque gave rise to festivities on the initiative of King René of Anjou in 1469. In fact, in the 15th century, King René of Anjou inherited the kingdom of Provence and settled there. He organised festivities on the second Sunday after Pentecost and on July 9th – the day of Saint Martha, patron saint of Tarascon. On April 14th 1474, King René decided to create the Order of Tarascaires – also called the Order of the Knights of the Tarasque – to whom he bequeathed the presidency of the festivities. In this way, he wished to ensure that the festivities would continue, which were to be celebrated at least seven times a century, for 50 days, with an all-you-can-eat banquet and a lot of din. A warm welcome was also to be provided for foreigners. For the residents of the Rhône, the aim of these festivities was to exorcise evil in order to prevent the river from overflowing.
Until the end of the 19th century, these festivities consisted of games and a procession led by the various trade associations (winegrowers, shepherds, gardeners, etc.). The presence of these guilds was very symbolic: they represented the fertile rebirth during the Pentecost celebrations. The shape of the Tarasque as we know it is attributed to King René: a monster with a lion’s head, a torture shell, armed with stings and fangs, a reptile’s tail and a fish’s belly. The festivities promoted by King René generated a popular enthusiasm of great fervour despite the danger. Indeed, the Tarascaires – who animated the beast from within to make its tail swing – could injure the crowd present.