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The carpenters guild in France

Engraving Feast of Saint Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters, in Rouen in 2005.

The principal of the guild is to provide training through the journeyman principle. It is difficult to pinpoint exactly when the carpenters guild was established in France. Professional carpenters are listed in feudal administration documents from the 12th century (Cartulaire d'Hesdin, 1100). But there is nothing to indicate if they travelled or not. The great medieval project of building religious edifices meant that professionals had to be trained and mobile. Most often, lay brothers and familiares were specialised workers. The guild today assumes a probable connection with the Benedictine and Templar orders. A miniature from 1480 depicts Pierre d'Aubusson, "Grand Master of the Order of the Hospitallers of Saint John of Jerusalem", during a ritual acceptance of guild members, including carpenters. This may be the first representation of compagnon carpenters, and it emphasises the close connection that the guild had with the monastic movement.

Today, the guilds maintain the principle of an initiatory society consisting exclusively of guild members.

One result of the mobility of both workers and masters at the time was an impressive diffusion of construction and assembly forms. These include the concept of the mortise and tenon, which spread throughout France around 1420, and the striking success of the triangular truss system. Journeymen carpenters did not work solely on religious structures.
In 1456, in Normandy, we have evidence of one Olivier Gueret and "his compagnons from the land of Brittany", who built structures for private individuals.
We know little about the formation of guild groups, especially as they were very often secret. Guild mobility was influenced more by the international nature of the religious orders than by the borders of countries. In addition, their connection with the orders brought about a tendency to mobilise in defence of their interest, a mobilisation in which we may see a distant beginning of the modern trade union.
The crown hunted down and persecuted groups that were identified with the house of the Mother of the compagnons.
The history of the guilds is a long and complex one. Today, they maintain the principle of an initiatory society consisting exclusively of guild members (both men and women). The society is based on a communal life in houses, strictly regimented by "The Rule". Compagnons are trained via travelling, continuous professional experience and theoretical knowledge that is provided by experienced compagnons. The entire experience is known as the Tour de France. Both the theoretical and practical instruction are of very high quality. The moral and professional strictness within the guilds is reinforced by their very long history. Guild rituals, although they are constantly evolving, maintain a strong significance to members. Even though journeyman training exists in a number of countries, the French guild system exerts a strong attraction on an international level.

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