Last modified: 2018-01-14 by ivan sache
Keywords: saint-witz |
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Flag of Saint-Witz - Image by Arnaud Leroy, 18 March 2004
The municipality of Saint-Witz (2,552 inhabitants; 766 ha; municipal website) is located 30 km north of Paris and 15 km of the Roissy-Charles de Gaulle international airport.
Saint-Witz was established on the slope of the Montmélian hill, which
dominates the plain of France. Montmélian was the site of a Celtic
sanctuary dedicated to God Toutatis, converted into a temple dedicated
to Mercury after the Roman conquest.
The Romans built a fortified camp (castrum) on the top of the hill. Farmers and craftsmen established an earlier settlement near a source gushing forth on the south-western slope of the hill. The tradition says that St. Rieul / Regulus, who evangelized the region at some time between the 3rd and the 5th century, destroyed a pagan statue by hitting it with his staff, causing the conversion of the villagers to the Christian religion.
The village was originally named Saint-Vit-sous-Montmélian, for the church built by a lord of Montmélian to keep relics of St. Vitus he had brought from Sicily, mentioned for the first time in 784. Vitus, venerated, as one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers, all over Europe under different local names (Gui, Guido, Guy, Veit, Vid, Vito, Vith, Wit...) was allegedly martyred during Diocletian's persecution. The odd written form "Witz" appeared in the parish's records short before the French Revolution.
The Montmélian hill, known as the "Holy Mound", belonged to the kings of
France. Hugh Capet (Duke of the Franks in 960, crowned King of the
Franks in 987, the stem of the Capetian dynasty) erected there a wooden
castle, which was replaced in 1060 by a stone fort, heavily fortified by
Philip II Augustus (r. 1179-1223). The defeat of Fréteval (1195) forced
Philip to transfer the domain of Vernon (Normandy) to his winner, Richard Lionheart. As a compensation, the king offered to Richard de
Vernon the land and woods of Montmélian, the royal castle excepted. The
lord built in 1205 a fortified manor, which was ruined, as was the royal
castle, in the 16th century during the Wars of the Holy League.
The village progressively moved downhill to the paved road of Paris. Extraction of gypsum, active until 1920, and of clay highly prized for the production of tiles, were the main sources of income in the village until the Second World War.
Hella S. Haasse (1918-2011), the "Grand Old Lady" of Dutch literature, lived with her husband, Jan van Lelyveld, in Saint-Witz from 1981 to 1990. She wrote there Ogenblikken in Valois (Instants in Valois, 1982), Berichten van het Blauwe Huis (Messages from the Blue House, 1986) and Schaduwbeeld of Het geheim van Appeltern (Shadow Picture or the Secret of Appeltern, 1989).
Ivan Sache, 2 December 2017
The flag of Saint-Witz is white with a stylized representation of the municipal coat of arms, surmounted by "Ville de Saint-Witz" and surmonting "Val d'Oise", in black.
The arms of Saint-Witz are "Quarterly, 1. Azure three fleurs-de-lis
argent, 2. Vert a statue of the Blessed Virgin argent, 3. Vert a
windmill standing on a hill of the same, 4. Azure a tree vert."
The first quarter recalls that the Montmélian hill was part of the royal domain.
The second quarter recalls the church dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, erected after St; Regulus' miracle and the place of a popular spring pilgrimage. Ruined long ago, the church was replaced in 1864 by a neo-Gothic chapel. The poet Charles Péguy (1873-1914) spent the night of 4 to 5 September 1913 praying in the chapel; he was killed the next day during the Battle of the Ourcq.
The third quarter recalls the early village built atop the hill and the wind mills that surmounted it.
The fourth quarter represents the woods surrounding the village and its natural environment.
Arnaud Leroy & Ivan Sache, 2 December 2017