Last modified: 2010-11-13 by ivan sache
Keywords: nievre | charite-sur-loire (la) | fleurs-de-lys: 3 (yellow) | towers: 3 (white) |
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by Arnaud Leroy
The city of La Charité-sur-Loire (5,500 inhabitants), as can be
expected from its name, developed around a priory built by monks from
Cluny on the right bank of the river Loire, between Nevers and Orléans.
La Charité is located on the RN 7 (Route Nationale 7), which was the main road between Paris and the French Mediterranean areas before the building of the highway A7. The RN7 succeded the Route Royale (Royal Road), which had itself succeded one of the main pilgrimage trails to Santiago.
Around 1059, the local lord of La Marche and a monk from the powerful
abbey of Cluny decided to rebuild a small convent, originally built by
monks of the St. Basile's order near the village of Seyr (maybe the Sun
City). Both the convent and the village were trashed by the Sarracens
at the end of the VIIIth century.
The order of Cluny was founded in Burgundy in 910 by Duke of Aquitaine Guillaume le Pieux (the Pious), who owned there the County of Mâcon. The founding chart of the Order of Cluny stated it depended directly of the Holy See and was independent of the local powers; being located quite far from Rome, Cluny was de facto completely independent. Cluny followed the Benedictine rule, according which most time was dedicated to prayer. Cluny was a very stable foundation and attracted several people who wished to escape the complicated political situation of the time (beginning of the feudality and decline of the royal power).
In the beginning of the XIIth century, the Order ruled 1,450 houses and 10,000 monks in France, Germany, Spain, Italy and Britain. The success of Cluny was mostly due to its great abbots (Sts. Odon, Mayeul, Hugues and Pierre le Vénérable), who were able to maintain a very centralized control on the complete Order by setting up a very hierarchized ruling system. At that time, the Abbot of Cluny was much more most powerful than the Pope, who "hired" him as his spiritual and political guide. The abbey church of Cluny was the biggest Christian church in the world until the rebuilding of St. Peter's basilica in Rome.
The Order of Cluny became very wealthy and progressively drifted away from St. Benedict's rule, causing the Cistercian reform led by St. Bernard de Clairvaux. The decline of Cluny started in the XIVth century, when the abbots mostly stayed in Paris; the abbey was trashed during the Religious Wars and nearly completely destroyed in 1798.
The Order of Cluny sent 100 monks, who built a priory and two churches,
the big Notre-Dame's church, which was consecrated by Pope Pascal II on
9 March 1107, and the smaller St. Laurent's church. As said above, the
priory was located on a main pilgrimage trail, near a bridge over the
turbulent river Loire. It became rapidly a popular stop on the trail,
nicknamed La Charité des Bons Pères. In the XIIth century, the priory
was ranked among the five filles aînées (senior daughters) of Cluny,
housed 200 monks and ruled 45 priories and 400 dependencies all over
western Europe. The Notre-Dame's church was the second largest church
in France after Cluny (and therefore the third largest Christian church
in the world).
A city developed around the priory, which was called La Charité. Both the city and the priory were so wealthy that it was necessary to protect them with a thick quadrangular wall defended by ten towers.
During the Hundred Years' War, La Charité and its bridge were strongly disputed between the Armagnac and the Burgundian parties. The warlord Perrinet-Gressard was appointed by the the Duke of Burgundy to fight against King of France Charles VII, and by the English to postpone the reconciliation between France and Burgundy. Perrinet-Gressard seized La Charité in 1423 to the Armagnac party. In December 1429, Charles VII ordered Joan of Arc to besiege La Charité. She had to lift the siege one month later; possible cause of her failure are the thickness of the city walls, the harshness of the winter and a mysterious "wonderful trick" found by Perrinet-Gressard. After the peace treaty signed in Arras in 1435, Perrinet-Gressard delivered the city to Charles VII against a huge ransom and the appointment of Captain of the city.
La Charité was trashed by a blaze in 1559. The Saint-Germain peace, signed in 1570, awarded the Protestants. La Charité as one of the four safe places where they were allowed to practice their religion, which did not prevent the city to be completely ruined during the Religious Wars.
When the French Revolution broke out in 1789, there were only 12 old
monks in the priory. The church and the priory were sold as biens du
clergé (clergy goods), but fortunately not destroyed.
In 1834, the writer Prosper Mérimée (1803-1870) was appointed Inspecteur général des Monuments Historiques. He did several trips all over France and saved many historical buildings, such as the fortified city of Carcassonne in Languedoc and the St. Madeleine's basilica of Vézelay, in Burgundy, from destruction by registering them on the national heritage lists. Mérimée also supported the restoration of the buildings and appointed the young architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc (1814-1879). Viollet-le-Duc's rebuildings were often not based on historical sources and very romantic, but he saved most of the French medieval heritage and triggered interest for ancient history. When visiting La Charité in 1840, Mérimée was told that the Notre-Dame's church should be suppressed in order to increase the Royal Road, and immediatly cancelled the project.
The Notre-Dame's church was restored and is today one of the best examples of the Burgundian Romanic style. The main part of the church is separated of the gate, protected by a tower, since the 1559 blaze. In 1990, La Charité was listed as a Grand Site Culturel et Touristique of Burgundy, along with Vézelay, Alésia, Paray-le-Monial and Cluny. In 1994, the municipality was among the founding members of the Fédération des Sites Clunisiens, which has 59 members all over Europe. UNESCO registered in 1998 the Notre-Dame's church on the World Heritage List.
Ivan Sache, 9 December 2004
The municipal flag of La Charité-sur-Loire, as seen there by Pascal Vagnat near the railway station, is white with the municipal coat of arms. The black writing VILLE DE (city of) is placed above the shield, the black writing LA CHARITE-SUR-LOIRE is placed below the shield.
The municipal coat of arms of La Charité-sur-Loire is (Brian Timms):
D'azur à trois tours d'argent, ajourées et maçonnées de sable, rangées en fasce, surmontées de trois fleurs de lys d'or également en fasce, les tours posées sur une terrasse échiquetée d'or et de gueules.
Azure three towers in fess argent masoned and pierced sable in chief three fleurs de lys in fess or a terrace in base checky or and gules.
These arms were registered on the Armorial Général.
Timms gives a variant of the blazon:
Echiqueté d'argent et de gueules, au chef d'azur chargé de trois tours d'argent maçonnées et crénelées de sable chaque tour surmontée d'une fleur de lys or.
Checky argent and gules in chief azure three towers argent masoned and creneled sable each tower surmonted by a fleur de lys or.
The earliest coat of arms of La Charité is said to be:
Echiqueté au chef chargé de trois tours (Checky in chief three towers).The coat of arms used on the flag is shown on the website of Neustadt an der Orla (Germany), a partner city of La Charité. It seems to be a mix of the two variants given above.
To make the things even more complicated, La Charité seems to have used other, earlier arms. Olivier Touzeau reports that the municipal website of the neighbouring wine-growers' city of Pouilly-sur-Loire claims that the coat of arms of Pouilly is derived from a former coat of arms of La Charité, since Pouilly was among the dependencies of the priory of La Charité. Those early arms would have included three square purses called in ancient French aumônières (from aumône, alms).
Ivan Sache, 9 December 2004