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Domfront-en-Poiraie (Municipality, Orne, France)

Last modified: 2021-07-01 by ivan sache
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Flag of Domfront-en-Poiraie, current and former versions - Images by Olivier Touzeau, 16 March 2021, and Arnaud Leroy, 13 April 2005, respectively

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Presentation of Domfront-en-Poiraie

The municipality of Domfront-en-Poiraie (4,211 inhabitants in 2018; 6,549 ha; municipal website) was established on 1 January 2016 as the merger of Domfront, La Haute-Chapelle, and Rouellé.

Domfront, a former fortified town located on the border of Normandy and Maine, was built on a sandstone spur dominating the river Varenne, which flows through the Norman hills in a gorge located 70 m below the spur. One of the most powerful keeps in France, now ruined, was built in Domfront, watching the road linking Caen, the capital of Normandy, to Maine and Anjou.
Formerly known as Domfront-en-Passais, the town is named after an hermitage built by St. Front in the forest of Passais in the middle of the 6th century. The country watered by the rivers Mayenne, Varenne and Égrenne, Passais is famous for its pear trees and Domfront is the capital of poiré, a cider made with fermented fresh pear juice, Calvados du Domfrontais, made with 2/3 of cider and 1/3 of poiré, and pommeau.
In the past, Domfront had a lukewarm reputation because of the saying: Domfront ville de malheur ! arrivé à midi, pendu à une heure ! seulement pas le temps de dîner ! (Domfront, city of sorrow! arrived at noon, hung at one! even no time for a lunch!). The saying recalls the sad end of a Protestant who was recognized, arrested and hung in Domfront in 1574 during the Wars of Religion.

Around 1010, William Talvas, Duke of Bellème and later Count of Alençon, built a wooden fortress, around which the town of Domfront developed. The castle was occupied by Duke of Anjou Geoffrey Martel in 1048 and seized by William the Bastard (later the Conqueror) in 1051. In 1092, the inhabitants revolted against their lord, Roger of Montgomery, and asked Henry Beauclerc (1069-1135), William the Conqueror's fourth son, to be their lord. Henry built around 1000 a stone castle, whose wall surrounded an area of 1.5 ha that included several buildings. Beauclerc later built similar castles in Normandy, in Caen, Arques andFalaise. When he was crowned King of England as Henry I in 1100, Domfront was incorporated to England. In the middle of the 12th century, Domfront was visited by Henry II Plantagenet (1133-1189, Duke of Normandy in 1150, Count of Anjou in 1151, Duke of Aquitaine in 1152 and King of England in 1154), his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122-1204, Queen of England in 1152) and their brilliant court. In August 1162, the last attempt of conciliation between Henry II and the Pope's legates failed in Domfront.

In 1356, Domfront, which had been reincorporated to France with Normandy in 1204 by Phikip I Augustus, was seized and reincorporated to England. The English left the town ten years later against the paiement of a ransom. The English reconquered it in 1418 and left in 1450, when they eventually left Normandy.
In 1574, Domfront experienced its longest siege. Count Gabriel of Montgomery (1530-1574), leader of the Huguenot party, entranched himself in the fortress and had to surrender to Marshal of Matignon, the chief of the Catholic Army, who promised to spare his life. However, Montgomery was beheaded a few months later on the Place de Grève in Paris upon Catherine de Medici's order. Before taking the Huguenot party, Montgomery was the chief of the personal guard of King Henri II's, which he lethally wounded during a tournament in 1559.
In 1608, Sully ordered the suppression of the fortress of Domfront. The only remains of Henry Beauclerc's castle are two walls of the keep, two round towers, and the ruins of the St. Symphorian chapel, in which Eleanor of Aquitaine's daughter was christened. Only 13 out of the 24 towers of the wall have been preserved.

The Romanesque church of Notre-Dame-sur-l'Eau (Our Lady on the Water) was built around 1020 by William Talavas on the right bank of river Varenne. In 1836, the clueless engineer building the road between Domfront and Mortain required the suppression of four out of the seven bays of the nave and of the aisles. The church was damaged again in 1944 and restored.
The church was a main place of pilgrimage on the road to Mont-Saint-Michel. A legend says that St. Thomas Becket (1118-1170), Archbishop of Canterbury, celebrated the Christmas mass in 1166 in this church. Kings of England William the Conqueror and Henry II, as well as Kings of France St. Louis (Louis IX) and Louis XI prayed in the church; Louis XI, famous for his miserliness, even made a donation to the church.

Ivan Sache, 13 April 2005

Flag of Domfront-en-Poiraie

Domfront-en-Poiraie keeps using the flag of the former municipality of Domfront (photo), photo, photo, photo), white with the municipal coat of arms in the center, and the words “Cité médiévale”, in red above the coat of arms, "Gules a three-towered castle argent on a base vert", and “Domfront”, in orange-yellow beneath the coat of arms. A former version of the flag had the words “Ville de”, in yellow above the coat of arms, and “Domfront”, in red beneath the coat of arms.

The arms of Domfront are shown in the Armorial Général as "Gules three towers or on a base vert" (image).
Jean Oursel (Les Beautez de la Normandie ou l'origine de la ville de Rouen, 1700) quotes the report of the suppression of the castle of Domfront, which mentions that the chapel's main window, inscribed "1382" featured an old shield surrounded and supported by "two kinds of winged snakes", the field gules a tower argent masoned sable with five crenels, charged with a small antique escutcheon "Azure a fess or cantonned in chief by three stars and in base by a heart all or." The same arms were also featured on a gray stone set in the wall of a tower adjacent to the castle's gate, and on one of the town's gate.
Caillebotte (Essai sur l'histoire et les antiquités de la ville et arrondissement de Domfront, 1806) presents a plate featuring the arms, with the fess omitted on the escutcheon. The omission remained unnoticed to several authors that copied the plate
Presented as Domfront's original arms, these arms are indeed the arms of the town, but with the addition of the arms of the Ledin lineage. Caillebotte claims that the Count of Alençon allowed Pierre Ledin, as a reward for "his service to the guard and preservation of the castle of Domfront", to add his personal arms to the town's original arms. The "service" might have been the restoration of the castle, which had been fiercely disputed by the French and the English.
Appert and de Contades (Essai de Bibliographie cantonale, 1867) believe that the arms were indeed forged by Pierre Ledin to claim ancient nobility - the lineage would be ennobled only in 1611.
[G. Hubert. 1913 Notes sur les anciennes armoiries de Domfront. Le Pays Bas-Normand 6:4, 299-304]

Olivier Touzeau & Ivan Sache, 1 July 2021