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La Charité-sur-Loire (Municipality, Nièvre, France)

Last modified: 2021-01-11 by ivan sache
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Flag of La Charité-sur-Loire - Image by Arnaud Leroy, 9 December 2004

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Presentation of La Charité-sur-Loire

The municipality of La Charité-sur-Loire (4,965 inhabitants in 2016; 1,578 ha; municipal website) is locatedon the right bank of 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 looted by the Saracens at the end of the 8th century.
The Order of Cluny sent 100 monks, who built a priory and two churches, the big Notre-Dame church, which was consecrated by Pope Paschal II on 9 March 1107, and the smaller St. Lawrence church. The priory was located on a main pilgrimage road, near a bridge over the turbulent river Loire. It became rapidly a popular stop, nicknamed "La Charité des Bons Pères". In the 12th century, the priory, ranked among the five senior daughters of Cluny, housed 200 monks and ruled 45 priories and 400 dependencies all over western Europe. The Notre-Dame church was the second largest church in France after Cluny (and therefore the third largest Christian church in the world).
The town that developed around the priory was named La Charité. The wealthy town and priory were protected by 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 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 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 town to Charles VII against a huge ransom and the appointment of Captain of the town.

La Charité was destroyed by a blaze in 1559. The Saint-Germain peace, signed in 1570, made of La Charité one of the four safe places where the Protestants were allowed to practice their religion, which did not prevent the town 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 romantic rebuildings often drifted from historical sources, 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 church should be suppressed in order to increase the Royal Road, and immediatly cancelled the project.

The Notre-Dame 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 church on the World Heritage List.

Ivan Sache, 9 December 2004

Flag of La Charité-sur-Loire

The flag of La Charité-sur-Loire is white with the municipal coat of arms. The black writing VILLE DE (city of) is placed above the shield, the black writing "LA CHARITÉ-SUR-LOIRE" is placed below the shield.

The coat of arms of La Charité-sur-Loir, as registered on the Armorial Général is "Azure three towers in fess argent masoned and pierced sable in chief three fleurs-de-lis in fess or a base checky or and gules. A variant of these arms is "Checky argent and gules in chief azure three towers argent masoned sable each tower surmounted by a fleur-de-lis or". The coat of arms used on the flag seems to be a mix of these two versions.
The earliest coat of arms of La Charité is said to be "Checky in chief three towers".

The arms of the neighbouring wine-growers' town of Pouilly-sur-Loire are claimed to have been 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").

Pascal Vagnat, Olivier Touzeau & Ivan Sache, 9 December 2004