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Bernay (Municipality, Eure, France)

Last modified: 2022-07-30 by ivan sache
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Flag of Bernay - Image by Olivier Touzeau, 24 January 2021

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Presentation of Bernay

The municipality of Bernay (9,951 inhabitants in 2018; 2,403 ha) is located on river Charentonne, 50 km west of Évreux.

Bernay's area was offerred etween 996 and 1008 by Duke of Normandy Richard II in dowry to his wife, Judith of Brittany, who funded there the building of a Benedictine abbey. The monks used the rivers flowing through the area for industry, for example cleansing, mills and fisheries. The town is known for its cloth industry.
In 1231, King Louis IX (St. Louis) held the Assises de Justice (Court of Justice) in the town; in 1250 he founded an hospital in recognition of the eager reception given to it by the population. On the death of Peter I of Alençon, Bernay was incorporated into the county of Évreux and given in 1281 by Philip the Handsome to his brother Louis of France. Veneration of Notre-Dame de la Couture (13th century) is the startingpoint of important pilgrimages, which attract people from across Normandy.
Bernay changed hands several times during the during the Hundred Years' War. In 1354, following the Treaty of Mantes, the town was ceded by king of France John II the Good to his son-in-law, king Charles II of Navarre, along with many other Norman lands. After the two kings had clashed, Bernay was seized from Navarra in April 1356, after the arrest of Charles II, to be returned to him in 1358. On 19 April 1378, after a short siege, the fortress was taken by Bertrand Du Guesclin against the promise made to its captain, Pierre du Tertre, to intercede on his behalf with king of France Charles V. In the tower of the Bernay fortress, the French seized the secret archives of the king of Navarre, which had not been burnt and which brought to light many alliances and plots of Charles II, with the English in particular. The fortress was destroyed soon after. Bernay was for a time returned to Charles II's son, before being confiscated by Charles VI in 1385. Subsequently, the town passed into the hands of the English before being taken over by the French troops.

During the 19th century, when the road system was modernized, most industrial development moved to the outskirts of the town. In August 1944, during World War II, the First Canadian Army advanced east towards the Seine following the successful Operation Tractable. The Canadians liberated Bernay, which escaped damage from the Canadian bombardment of the area thanks to a thick layer of clouds, thus preserving the historical download.

Olivier Touzeau, 24 January 2021

Flag of Bernay

The flag of Bernay (photo) is white with with the municipal logo derived from the municipal arms, "Per pale azure and gules a lion or overall".

The arms of Bernay are first documented in État des armoiries des personnes et communautés envoyées ès bureaux établis par Maître Adrien Vanier, chargé de l'exécution de l'édit du mois de novembre 1696, pour être présentée à Nosseigneurs du Conseil, députés par sa Majesté, par arrest du 4 décembre audit an, et 23 janvier 1697 (indeed, the Armorial Général).
Bernay is presented as No. 135, p. 446 in the volume dedicated to the Généralité of Alençon: "The town of Bernay bears Azure a lion or armed and langued gules". The volume showing the drawings of the arms gives a slightly different description: "The Mayor and the Councillors of the town of Bernay bear Azure a lion rampant or armed and langued gules"".
It "seems likely" that the arms were not imposed by the editors of the Armorial but described by the municipal officers as those featured, "maybe for long", on the municipal banner.
The arms are first documented on a seal made in the late 17th century, with the caption "SEAU DE BERNAY". Used until 1792, the seal was offered in 1866 to the town museum by his founder, Mr. Assegond. Stolen in 1872, the seal is known by different prints, for instance on the obverse of folio 65 of the 1790 municipal register.

The arms of Bernay were featured on one of the two banners offered on 25 August 1789 to the five companies of volunteers. The other banner featured the arms of France.
The flag featuring the municipal arms was tricolor, made of pieces of white, cherry and big blue taffeta. The arms of the town were painted on one side of the banner, while the cypher of the king and a writing were painted on the other side. The "gilded paintings and writings" were executed by the local artist Descours Jr., "a distinguished disciple of Deshayes".
The two banners, whose overall cost was 169 pounds and 13 sols, were probably destroyed in May 1792. To prevent troubles caused by national guards from Ille-et-Vilaine, the municipal officers ordered the suppression of all arms and shields.

In 1826, Mayor Dulac, "a distinguished man and scholar", commissioned his friend Auguste Le Prévost to rehabilitate the municipal arms. Le Prévost, who owned the seal, redacted an historical note, which is kept in the municipal archives and was reproduced by Canel in Armorial des Villes et Corporations de Normandie.
Nothing happened until D'Avanne published in 1836-1837 in the Bulletin de l'Académie ébroïcienne a series of articles on the arms of the towns of Normandy. An inhabitant of Bernay informed him that the arms of the town were "a sheep argent on a field azure" with the caption "LE BARON DE BERNAY". These wrong arms might allude to the discovery of a statue of the Virgin by a sheep reported in a very rare book printed in 1667. Indeed, the abbey of Bernay, known as Baronnie, bore an Agnus Dei on its counter-seal, known since 1271. However, the arms of the Comté, the secular part of the town, never featured a sheep.
In 1852, the parish priest Balis admitted in Notice historique ... sur Notre-Dame-de-la-Couture that nobody knows how the arms of the town looked like and that he browsed several books to find them, to no avail
In Histoire de Bernay, a "brilliant", "incomparable" and "misunderstood" study awarded in 1874 by the Société libre de l'Eure (Bernay section), the "famous historian" A. Goujon writes that the arms of Bernay, "Azure a lion rampant or armed and langued gules", are a reminiscence of the arms of the Montgomery lineage.
[Documents inédits sur les armoiries de la ville de Bernay, recueillis par E. Veuclin. 1881]

Olivier Touzeau & Ivan Sache, 25 January 2021