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Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue (Municipality, Manche, France)

Last modified: 2015-05-02 by ivan sache
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Burgee of Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue - Image by Olivier Touzeau, 18 May 2014

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Presentation of Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue

The municipality of Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue (2,079 inhabitants in 2012; 628 ha, including the islet of Tatihou [29 ha]; municipal website) is located on the northeastern coast of Cotentin (Normandy).

Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue is named for its patron saint, St. Vaast (d. 540), Bishop of Arras (north of France). After having evangelized Clovis, King of the Franks, St. Vaast is said to have expelled, in the name of God, a bear that threatened the inhabitants of Arras; he further rebuilt the church of Arras and lived in an hermitage erected near the place where the bear's miracle had occurred. The saint's hermitage was transformed in the 10th century in a wealthy Benedictine abbey, completely rebuilt in the 18th century.
The second part of the town's name refers to its geographical location, being derived from the old Norse word haugr, "a promontory".

The today's Sailors' Chapel, dedicated to those lost at sea and decorated with several ex-votos, is made of the choir of the old church (demolished in 1864) and of the apse of the first parish church, erected in the 11th century. The maritime cemetery that originally surrounded the church was reconstructed with tombstones imported from the former parish of Rideauville, suppressed during the French Revolution. The chapel is the focal point of the Blessing of the Sea, a colourful procession of decorated boats known since 1906.

The battle of La Hougue opposed on 29 May 1692, during the War of the League of Augsburg, an Anglo-Dutch fleet (89 warships, 13 other ships, 3,240 cannons, 21,000 men), commanded by Edward Russell, to a French fleet (45 warships, 37 other ships, 6,750 cannons, 39,000 men) commanded by Anne Hilarion de Costentin de Tourville. The French fleet was expected to embark the army of James Stuart - the overthrown King James II and Louis XIV's cousin -, who expected to reconquer his throne. The two fleets met off Barfleur; in spite of the superiority of his opponents, Tourville obeyed Louis XIV's order and attacked the Anglo-Dutch fleet. The battle was quite inconclusive: while the French fleet did not experience any loss, the Anglo-Dutch fleet lost two ships and Rear Admiral Richard Carter was killed. Tourville ordered to withdrew to the safe harbours of Brest and Saint-Malo. Thirteen ships were, unfortunately, repelled by the strong currents of Raz de Blanchard to La Hougue, where they constituted easy preys for the Anglo-Dutch fleet.
On 1 June, three ships (the flagship Soleil Royal, the Triomphant and the Admirable) already damaged during the battle, beached close to the fortified town and harbour of Cherbourg. The town's artillery could not prevent for long the enemy to attack the ships, whose powder store blew up, causing a lot of damage and casualty in Cherbourg. On 2 and 3 June, the French ships moored in La Hougue (Ambitieux, Bourbon, Fier, Fort, Foudroyant, Gaillard, Magnifique, Merveilleux, Saint-Louis, Saint-Philippe, Terrible, and Tonnant) were all burned down by commandos embarked on launches.
The disaster of La Hougue definitively dashed James Stuart's ambitions and prompted Louis XIV to call back Vauban, whose opponents had convinced the king to sack him and to dismantle the fortifications of Cherbourg. In 1694-1699, Vauban erected two towers to protect the harbour of Saint-Vaast, which he considered as "the most beautiful in France". One tower was added to the fort of La Hougue while the other was built on the islet of Tatihou. Still preserved, those fortifications were registered in 2008 on the UNESCO World Heritage List, among the 14 fortified buildings and sites collectively labelled "Fortifications of Vauban" (presentation).

Saint-Vaast was famous in the 19th century for its shipyards. Only one of them is still active today; it contributed to the restoration of the terre-neuva Marité and of the gabare Fleur de Lampaul, registered as an historical monument and moored in the port of Saint-Vaast.
Saint-Vaast is the cradle of oyster-breeding in Normandy; the local oysters, renowned for their walnut taste, are bred in a zone ranging from Tatihou to Lestre.

Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue is the birth place of the writer, poet and art historian Max-Pol Fouchet (1913-1980; Les Amis de Max-Pol Fouchet association website). Living in Algeria from 1923 to 1945, Fouchet published in Algiers his first poems and met Albert Camus and the community of artists who gathered in Bab el Oued.
Fouchet take over in 1939 the review Fontaine. Openly rejecting Pétain's collaborationist regime, Fouchet signed in Fontaine the editorial "We are not defeated" the next day after the capitulation and rallied the intellectuals opposed to Pétain (including Louis Aragon, Vercors and Paul Éluard). Moreover, the name of Pétain was never used in any article published in Fontaine.
After the Anglo-American landing in North Africa in November 1942, Fontaine, released from censorship, soon became the "official voice" of the intellectuals who supported Free France ("the review of the anti-German resistance in full-light"). A milestone in the history of the review was the publication of Paul Éluard's poem, Liberté. Repatriated to Paris after the Liberation, Fontaine was published until 1947.
Max-Pol Fouchet was a noted humanist, interested in art, music and ethnology, and, mostly, in communication. A pioneer in cultural programs at the radio, he quickly understood the potential of the emerging television to spread culture to a large audience. Fouchet produced and chaired several innovative programs, such as Le fil de la vie [1954-1958], Lectures pour tous [1953-1958, the first TV program dedicated to literature], Terre des arts [1959-1971], Une aventure de la lumière : l'Impressionnisme [1974-1975]. and was a regular contributor to several other programs.

Ivan Sache, 18 May 2014

Flag of Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue

The flag of Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue (photo, inauguration of the Max-Pol Fouchet Hall, 19 July 2013; photo) is white with a decentered blue cross and the municipal coat of arms placed over the intersection of the cross' arms. The upper and right arms of the cross are light blue, while the lower and left arms are dark blue.

The coat of arms of Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue is "Azure two towers argent masoned or on a sea vert wavy azure the towers ensigned with three seagulls argent in fess grafted in base argent an anchor gules a chief gules two leopards or".
The coat of arms in use does not fully match the heraldic description, being quartered light blue - dark blue with countercoloured waves.
The interpretation of the arms is quite straightforward. The two towers represent the fortifications erected by Vauban in La Hougue and Tatihou. The chief represents Normandy.

Olivier Touzeau & Ivan Sache, 18 May 2014

Restaurant Le Chasse-Marée

[Le Chasse-Maree]

Burgee of the restaurant Le Chasse-Marée - Image by Ivan Sache, 6 June 2002

The restaurant Le Chasse-Marée (website), named for a traditional three-mast fishing boat (literally, something like "the fresh fish catcher") is located on the fishing port of Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue.

The restaurant has its own burgee, which is reproduced on the tablecloths and plates, and also hung on the wall of the entrance room. The burgee is white with an horizontal dark blue stripe shifted to the bottom of the flag, the interlaced letters "CM" (for Chasse-Marée) in dark blue in canton and a dark blue star above the blue stripe.
The two small rooms of the restaurant are decorated with dozens of yacht club burgees (photos).

Ivan Sache, 18 May 2014