Compagnons du Tour de France
The Compagnons du Tour de France is a French organization of craftsmen and artisans dating from the Middle Ages. Their traditional, technical education includes taking a tour, the Tour de France, around France and doing apprenticeships with masters. For a young man or young woman today, the compagnonnage is a traditional way to learn a trade while developing character by experiencing community life and traveling. The community lives in a Compagnon house known as a cayenne and managed by a mère, a woman acting as a second mother, of which there are more than 80 in France. The houses vary in size from a small house for five people to a larger one with more than 100 people living together.
Until recently, the compagnons were all male. Today, they can be found in 49 countries across five continents, practising many different trades.
"Tour de France" simply refers to the fact that the Compagnons travel throughout France; every six months to a year they are required to change work locations. This is unrelated to the Tour de France cycling competition. The word compagnon (companion) is derived from the Old French compaignon, a person with whom one breaks bread.
Stages of becoming a Compagnon
To start a Tour de France, one is required to already have a Certificat d'Aptitude Professionelle diploma which includes classes and an apprenticeship. This diploma is the basic French trade qualification.
Stagiaire: During the first year of your tour, your title is Stagiaire (aka Compagnon Guest), full-time work in your trade (M-F), and you are required to live in the Compagnon house. Lessons are Monday-Friday, from 8am-10pm and Saturday 8am-12pm and 1:30pm–5:30 pm. Dinner is eaten together at the siège (seat or lodge) of Compagnons. During this period, if you like the Compagnon life and wish to be part of the family of the Compagnons you apply for the adoption ceremony.
Ceremony of Adoption: You will have to do your Travail d'adoption which is a project that must be submitted to become an Aspirant. At this point, you may be adopted as an Aspirant. Then you receive your Aspirant name, which is made up from the region or town that s/he comes from in France. For example, somebody from Burgundy, will be called Bourguignon. They are also presented with a ceremonial walking staff (representing the itinerant nature of the organisation) and also a sash. Those ceremonies are between Compagnons and Aspirants and are completely confidential.
Aspirant: Once you have accomplished the title of Aspirant, you work full-time in your trade (M-F), and you are still required to live in the Compagnon house. You have lessons (M-F) 8pm-10pm and Saturday 8am-12pm and 1:30pm–5:30 pm. Dinner is eaten together at the siège of Compagnons. The Aspirant stays/tours in several towns/cities over the next three to five years, working under Compagnons, to learn the trade.
Ceremony of Reception: The Reception ceremony is held. Ultimately, Aspirants present their masterpiece travail de réception or Chef-d'œuvre to the board of Compagnons. The masterpiece is a required piece which every kind of Compagnon must complete as an Aspirant to become a Compagnon. Of course, there are different kinds of masterpieces depending on the trade. If accepted, you may become a Compagnon Itinérant and receive a Compagnon name. Furthermore, you are presented with a new walking stick that reaches the height of your heart. Some of these masterpieces are displayed at the Musées du Compagnonnage in Tours and Paris.
Compagnon: During the three years following the Reception, you are called Compagnon itinérant because you are still required to do 3 more years of touring. After thoses 3 years to the end of your life, you are a Compagnon sedentaire. You aren't required to tour anymore, and you can live and work anywhere you want. You volunteer yourself to teach the young methods and professionalism.
Life during the Tour de France
A typical weekday for a charpentier (roof carpenter/framer) would involve a day on-site working full-time for the company that employs the Aspirant. Once the day of work is done you head to the Compagnon house, the place where you are living. The meal is taken between 7pm and 8pm with the community living in the house. After dinner, the Aspirants have classes from about 8pm until 10 pm. Thoses classes are technical drawing, technology, French, English, Mathematics etc. On Saturdays, classes are from 8am-12pm and 1:30pm–5:30 pm. During thoses classes you perform your skills by making different projects as well as having lessons. Many maquettes are created by charpentiers and other woodworkers. A maquette is a wooden model that they have conceived and created, first through drawings. They cut and assemble the wood to make the model. They will make a many of these throughout their time as Aspirants. Each piece is expected to show that they have understood and mastered the most difficult aspects of the trade so far. Sundays are spent exploring the area they are stationed at or they may work on a masterpiece/project.
Compagnonnage and history
The Compagnonnage dates to medieval times, when the Compagnons built the churches and chateaus of France and were persecuted by kings and the Catholic Church because they refused to live under the rules of either.
During the Nazi Occupation of France in World War II, the Compagnons were persecuted by the occupiers, who thought they were related to the Free Masons.
The professions of the Compagnons are:
- carpenter wood constructor
- plumber-heating engineer
- plasterer-patternmaker-fibrous plasterer
- gardener-landscape architect
- body repairman
- boiler maker
- mechanic constructor
- precision mechanic
- leather goods maker
- harness maker
- pastry chef
- Agricol Perdiguier, Avignonnais la Vertu (1805–1875), joiner.
- Adolphe Clément-Bayard, c. 1871, blacksmith
- Edmond Le Martin, blacksmith / farrier, hosted many travellers in Dunes. Father of aviator Léon Lemartin.
- Joël Robuchon, In 1966 Robuchon became the official chef of Le Tour de France namely “Compagnon du Tour de France”, enabling him to travel throughout the country, learning a variety of diverse regional techniques. As a companion he also became inculcated with the spirit of reaching moral, manual and physical perfection.
Le Compagnon du Tour de France was a novel written by George Sand in 1840.
- "Acceptance and masterworks". Carpenters from Europe and Beyond. Archived from the original on 2015-04-07.
The initiation process is a perfect illustration of Arnold Van Gennep's early 20th century theory of the rite of passage, with its successive stages of isolation, marginality and finally aggregation into the social body.
- Traugott, Mark (1993). "Agricol Perdiguier". The French Worker: Autobiographies from the Early Industrial Era. University of California Press. p. 116. ISBN 978-0-520-07932-8. Retrieved 2014-11-25.
- (French) Official website of the Compagnons du Devoir
- (French) Official website of the museum of compagnonnage