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Précigné (Municipality, Sarthe, France)

Last modified: 2013-04-04 by peter hans van den muijzenberg
Keywords: sarthe | précigné | cross (red) | scallops: 5 (white) | eagles: 16 (blue) | alerions: 16 (blue) | montmorency-laval |
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[Flag of Précigné]

Flag of Précigné - Image by Ivan Sache & Arnaud Leroy, 5 November 2011


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Presentation of Précigné

The municipality of Précigné (2,896 inhabitants in 2008; 53,785 ha) is located in Upper-Anjou, 10 km south of Sablé-sur-Sarthe. Précigné is located on the geologic border between the Armorican Massif (west) and the Paris Basin (east).

Précigné emerged as a clearing made on the bank of river Voutonne. In the Middle Ages, a small town developed, made of a Lower and a Upper Cities. Robert IV de Sablé, Grand Master of the Order of the Temple in 1191-1193, set up several religious foundations near the town, including a Templar commandry and the Premonstrian abbey of Perray-Neuf.

In 1296, the Pointeau family founded the domain of Bois-Dauphin. The four generations of Pointeau were succeeded by another seven generations of Montmorency-Laval. This branch from one of the most powerful French lineages built a Renaissance castle and favored the development of Précigné, once famous for its weavers.
During the War of Religions, Urbain de Montmorency-Laval (1557-1629, aka Urbain de Laval-Bois-Dauphin), Marquis of Sablé, was a local leader of the Holy League set up by nobles revolted against the king of France. The Laval-Bois-Dauphin lineage is a junior branch of the second lineage of Montmorency-Laval, itself a junior branch of the second Laval lineage. A supporter of Duke Henri I de Guise, Urbain de Montmorency-Laval fought in several battles from 1575 to 1587. One of the leaders of the insurrection known as the Day of the Barrickades, which broke out in Paris on 12 May 1588, he was jailed and eventually pardoned by King Henri III. In 1589, Urbain de Montmorency-Laval was made Marshal of Bois-Dauphin by the Duke of Mercœur, Governor of Brittany and the local leader of the Holy League. He was injured and captured in 1590 during the battle of Ivry, which did not prevent him to resume the struggle the next year. After several other years of less efficient struggle, Urbain de Montmorency-Laval eventually rallied King Henri IV, who made him State Councillor, Knight of the Order of the Holy Spirit (1597) and Marshal of France (1598).
Appointed Ambassador in Germany (1599) and Austria (1601), Urbain de Montmorency-Laval stopped in 1615 the army set up by nobles against King Louis XIII, preventing it to enter Paris.

The Montmorency abandoned the domain in 1648; they were succeeded in 1711 by Jean-Baptiste Colbert, Marquis of Torcy, Croissy and Sablé, who preferred Sablé, where he build a big castle. When his son Ménelé died without a male heir in 1790, the domain was split; Bois-Dauphin and Précigné were allocated to Viscount Charles de La Porte de Riantz, while Sablé was allocated to Count Guy de La Porte de Riantz, Charles' elder brother.

The patron saint of Précigné is St. Ménelé, a young noble man from the 7th century who refused the marriage arranged for him by his father and fled to Auvergne, where he founded an abbey where most of his relatives eventually retired. In 1712, Colbert de Torcy obtained relics of Ménelé and his disciple Savinien. Like many other local saints, Ménelé and Savinien were never recognized by the church, although their relics were involved in miracles. Ménelé is represented with a rabbit, since he was able to talk to rabbits and to convince them to leave the farmers' fields (a kind of local variant of the Pied Piper from Hamelin, but nothing is said on the fate of the rabbits !). In the 1970s, a parish priest opposed to local superstitions and apocryphal saints called poor Ménelé "a saint for rabbits". Ménelé was also invoked when rain lacked.
Another semi-apocryphal character of Précigné is Madame de Bonnes-Eaux (1649-1734), nee Gabrielle Sigoigne. She died in 1694 from melancholia and was buried in the parish cemetery; when her servant attempted to cut a finger from the body to steal her ring, the dead screamed "It hurts!", woke up and came back home draped in her shroud. There is no firm evidence that this "resurrection" ever happened, this kind of story, based on a few cases of live burials (deliberate or not), being quite ubiquitous in the French traditions.

Viscount Emmanuel de Rougé (1811-1873), a descendant of the La Porte de Riantz family, must be the most famous child of Précigné, of which he was Mayor in 1871-1873. A brilliant scholar, he was appointed in 1849 curator of the Egyptian section at the Louvre Museum and, in 1864, Professor of Archaeology at the College de France. A great admirer of Champollion, he significantly contributed to Egyptian philology, translating and explaining several writings and texts.
Priest Louis Chevalier (1852-1938) is another noted scholar from Précigné. Ordained priest in 1875, he traveled to the Sahara, where he collected several plant species. The 600 volumes of his herbarium were, unfortunately, destroyed in a blaze, only one being preserved.

Précigné was the site of the Alsetex (Alsacienne d'Études et d'Explosifs) factory. Founded in 1920 in Alsace to manufacture explosives used in the local potash and coal mines, Alsetex moved in 1935 far from the German border, settling near Précigné in the Malpaire forest. Several workers moved with the factory, founding the workers' estate known as Cité de l'Alsace. Locally nicknamed "The Powerhouse" or, simply, "The Factory", the Alsetex factory contributed to the development of Précigné. In September 1939, the factory, requisitioned for the national defense, employed 3,000 workers, the population of the town increasing to 7,000. The factory produced 1 million of grenade switching caps per month.
Abandoned on 18 June 1940 and partially relocated to Vizille, near Grenoble, the factory was occupied by the Germans. Nearly destroyed by the allied bombings and the withdrawing Germans, the Alsetex factory was rebuilt after the Liberation. In the 1950s, the factory produced antipersonnel and terrestrial mines, employing 1,200 workers. Started in 1963, the decline of Alsetex ended in 1967 with the closure of the factory.

Source: Municipal website

Ivan Sache, 5 November 2011


Flag of Précigné

The flag of Précigné (photo), unveiled on 24 April 2009 during a session of,the Municipal Council, is yellow with a red cross charged with five white scallops and cantonned with four blue eagles in each quarter.
On 21-23 May 2009, a copy of the new flag (photo) was offered to the Mayor of the twin town of Wewelsburg (Germany).

The flag is a banner of the municipal arms, "Or a cross gules charged with five scallops argent cantoned with 16 alerions azure".
These arms were the arms of the Montmorency-Laval lineage (Héraldique européenne website), that added the scallops as a mark of cadency to the Montmorency arms. Those arms are used today by the municipality of Montmorency, which also flies a banner of them as the municipal flag.
The Montmorency arms were used for the first time by Constable Matthew II de Montmorency, after his marriage with Emma de Laval. According to Bertrand de Broussillon, Matthew increased the number of alerions on the Montmorency arms from 4 to 16 to emphasize his rank of Constable. In 1250, the arms of Montmorency-Laval were added the five white scallops on the cross. The scallops come from the arms of Matthew d'Attichy, son of Matthew II of Montmorency and of his first wife, Gertrud de Nesles (Laval municipal website).

Ivan Sache, 5 November 2011