A head crowned with mysteries

Listed as a historical monument since 1909, the Manosque town hall is home to many treasures, including a silver bust of Gerard Thom, the founder of the Hospitaliers Order who died in 1120. Originally, the head was part of a reliquary bust containing bones. According to local tradition, these bones were thought to be those of Gerard Thom. However, recent studies show that the relics are probably not his, but those of Saint-Géraud. He was venerated in Manosque, and prayed to for rain in times of drought at an ancestral procession. These bones were kept in the chapel of the Hospitaliers castle, situated on the existing place du Terreau in Manosque. In 1613, the Hospitaliers entrusted Saint-Géraud’s relics and cult, returning them to their founder. Undoubtedly the similarity between the two names, and the fact that the procession had became outdated, contributed to this imposture. Ever since,Saint Géraud has been ousted by Gerard the Hospitalier.  

Silver bust

In the 17th century, two silver busts were made at the same time to hold these relics: one was ordered from the bailiff, Jean-François de Puget-Chasteuil; the second – more prestigious, was ordered from the Marseille artist, Pierre Puget. In 1793, during the troubled times of the revolution, the church and chapel bells and other metal objects were sent to the foundry, including the two silver busts. Some fragments of the relics were saved and protected under the main altar of the Saint-Sauveur church. When calm returned, the head of one of the two relics was found. It is now exhibited in the town hall. But is it the work of the bailiff of Puget-Chasteuil, or of Puget? Note that no trace of such an order from the Marseille artist was found in the archives. Which leaves to wonder if there was confusion between the two homonyms – the bailiff and the sculptor – inspiring the tradition which says that the sculpture is the work of Pierre Puget. The doubt is reinforced by the fact that he never worked with metal. Admittedly, this very realistic work is of great quality and, in all likelihood, dates back to the 17th century. Realised 500 years after the death of Gerard Thom, it is a “supposed” portrait. It was covered with polychrome paint for a long time, before being totally stripped in the middle of the 20th century.