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Échenoz-la-Méline (Municipality, Haute-Saône, France)

Last modified: 2022-02-26 by ivan sache
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Flag of Échenoz-la-Méline - Image by Olivier Touzeau, 30 May 2021

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Presentation of Échenoz-la-Méline

The municipality of Échenoz-la-Méline (3,249 inhabitants in 2019; 809ha; municipal website) is located just south of Vesoul.

Échenoz-la-Méline was first mentioned, as Escheno-la-Melinam, in 1174. The church of the village of Pont (today integrated into Échenoz-la-Méline ), the site of a pilgrimage of regional importance during the Middle Ages, was destroyed in modern times. In the past, the town lived mainly on agriculture and wine-growing, while 13 mills lined the channeled river Méline.

The cave of La Baume was visited in 1750 by a group of local scholars, as reported by the cleric Jean-Baptiste Maréchal, member of the expedition. In his report, Maréchal claims that the cave was used as a shelter by the villagers of Échenoz in 1595, during the siege of Vesoul by the Lorrain adventurer Louis de Beauveau-Tremblecourt. Maréchal provides a reliable scale map of the cave and debunks local superstitions: "The cave is kept only by bats and can be visited in all safety without fearing the devil's venomous creatures".
Excavations were performed in August 1827 by engineer Édouard Thirria. As he previously did when surveying the well-known neighboring cave of Fouvent-le-Bas, Thirria forwarded bone samples to Georges Cuvier and Marcel de Serres for identification. Most bones found in La Baume belong to the cave bear. Thirria concluded that the deposit was formed during the Great Flood: some bones belonged to bears that took shelter in the cave, while the other were transported to the cave from the surface, where all animals had been killed. In spite of progress in knowledge and the debunking of Cuvier's catastrophist theories, Thirria never changed his mind, claiming in his last, posthumous book published in 1869 that the lack of human bones in La Baume provides another evidence that no human existed before the Great Flood. E. Chapelain settled the controversy in Esquisse préhistorique du département de la Haute-Saône, published in 1879, pointing out that Thirria was so opposed to antediluvian theories that he did not even consider searching for human remains in La Baume.
The presence of Neanderthals in La Baume was demonstrated only in 1969, from scientific excavations performed by Michel Campy and Jean François Piningre.
[A. Thévenin. 2006. Le XIXe siècle et les débuts de la recherche archéologique en Haute-Saône. Pp. 11-29 in : L. Bary (Ed.) Artisanats, sociétés et civilisations : Hommage à Jean-Paul Thevenot, ARTEHIS]

Olivier Touzeau & Ivan Sache, 22 February 2022

Flag of Échenoz-la-Méline

The flag of Échenoz-la-Méline (photo) is white the the municipal arms, "Per chevron reversed, 1. or an inverted trident's head gules, 2. Vert, a twelve-rays sun or filled azure".

The coat of arms was adopted on 5 December 1986 by the Municipal Council, following a public contest launched in the municipal bulletin of January 1986. The designer, François Humbert, explains the arms as follows.

The topography of Échenoz-la-Méline is defined by three main elements:
1. A hemmed in valley between two steep sides, Cita and Beauregard.
2. A stream, Méline, aka Devil's Brook.
3. The site of Solborde, the grotto and the Twelve Apostles' Rocks.
The V-shaped chief of the shield represents the steep sides. The two symbols are, in base, a reverted trident (or devil's tail) representing the Méline, in chief, a twelve-cogged wheel or a twelve-rayed sun representing the Twelve Apostles' Rocks, the blue center standing for the Marian grotto.

Three explanations are commonly proposed for the etymology of Échenoz-la-Méline.
1. The etymological dictionary of the French municipalities defines Échenoz as derived from "esche" and "naud", "a steep-sided valley planted with oaks".
2. The most accepted etymology refers to "echenal" / "écheneau", "a man-made channel" [French, "chenal"]; accordingly Échenoz-la-Méline could read "The Mills' Channel", "mélin" being an old form of "moulin", "a mill". The valley was indeed once famous for its flour mills.
3. Échenoz could mean "a marsh", associated with the Méline, whose name would be associated with the devil (often presented in French as "le Malin", "the Malignant"). The arms emphasize the three possible etymological meanings : the V-shaped chief for the steep-sided valley, the wheel for milling industry, and channels in the devil's tails.

The arms also mirrors the history of the village.
The Prehistoric times could have been represented by a cave bear and a five-meter long lizard, Eurysaurus raincourti, whose remains have been found in the cave of La Baume, which contributed to the fame of the village among paleontologists. The use of the beasts as supporters was turned down because it would have required cumbersome graphic research.
In ancient times, whatever the period, the Mélinois (inhabitants of the village) kept defending their rights and independence spirit. The main activity was farming, complemented by wine-growing; the most prosperous industry was milling. On the arms, the trident's sharp heads and its placement, pointing to the valley of Vesoul, highlight the Mélinois spirit. The trident morphs into a fork blade to honor farmers while the sun is the cog of milling industry.
In modern times, the municipality evolved along three axes: the village, the road and a secondary spread. The municipality opens to the valley, whose water is controlled. Associative life grows. Here the trident represents the road map, energy, a channel's fork of tamed water. The sun cog represents fervent assemblies.

The arms also represents the community's spiritual nature. The trident points downward, with reverted heads, meaning that the devil has been defeated by the assembly of the sun, the Virgin and the Twelve Apostles, that the industry cog tames water's malignancy, and that associative fervor repels obscurantism.
Placing the shield with the base pointing to the Méline valley introduces an oddity: the V-shaped chief does no longer represents the Cita and Beauregard steep sides but opening to the valley of Drugeon and Solborde, which complements, or rather initiates, Moat Hill in Vesoul. Philosophically speaking, the arms also mean that the Mélinois are interested to the past and their origin while the valley opens to a shining future.
[Municipal website]

The Solborde cave, located in a semi-circular cliff (cirque), is the source of a resurgence that joins with another one from the Devil's cave, located in a neighboring cirque, to form river Méline. The two cirques are separated by a protrusion of the cliff known as the Twelve Apostles' Rocks.
The Solborde cave was transformed in a Marian grotto in 1663 after the discovery of a statue of the Blessed Virgin that had remained hidden there for ages. Since then, the statue has accomplished innumerable miracles, as evidenced by the ex-votos kept in the neighboring chapel. On 15 February 1566, King of Spain Charles II, then ruler of the region, granted a charter to the inhabitants of Échenoz-la-Méline, recalling that the statue was respected by "an infinity [of people] from the Low Countries, Germany, France, Switzerland and Lorraine".
[Municipal website]

The designer of the arms claims that Cuvier described for the first time the cave bear from bones found in La Baume, which is not true. In contrast, the plesiosaur Eurysaurys raincourti was actually described and named in 1878 by Albert Gaudry after samples found in the cave. The loss of Gaudry's original material prevented reassignment of the fossils, so that Eurysaurys is considered as a nomen dubium (doubtful name).

Olivier Touzeau & Ivan Sache, 22 February 2022