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Sérignan-du-Comtat (Municipality, Vaucluse, France)

Last modified: 2015-05-02 by ivan sache
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Flag of Sérignan-du-Comtat - Image by Ivan Sache, 30 August 2014

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Presentation of Sérignan-du-Comtat

The municipality of Sérignan-du-Comtat (2,435 inhabitants in 2011; 1,982 ha; municipal website) is located 35 km north of Avignon and 10 km north-east of Orange. The municipality was known as Sérignan until 19 January 1944.

Sérignan emerged in the 13th century around a castle erected by Guillaume I des Baux (c. 1155-1218), Prince of Orange and Vice Roy of Arles. Sérignan subsequently became the capital of one of the first three baronies of the Comtat Venaissin.
The most famous owner of the barony was Diane de Poitiers (1500-1566), the favourite of King of France Henri II from 1547 to 1559, who inherited Sérignan from her father Jean de Poitiers (1475-1539), Count of Valentinois and lord of Saint-Vallier. The Poitiers family emerged in Dauphiné, and had nothing to do with the town of Poitiers, the capital of Poitou. They became lords of Sérignan in the early 15th century when Louis de Poitiers (d. 1428) married Polissena Ruffo di Crotone, Dame of Sérignan. After her disgrace, Diane appears to have stayed once in the castle of Sérignan, in 1565. She was succeeded as the Baroness of Sérignan by her daughter Françoise de Brézé (1518-1574), who married in 1538 Robert IV de La Marck (1521/13-1556), Duke of Bouillon.

Sérignan gained a world fame as the site of the Harmas, the estate where the naturalist Jean-Henri Fabre (1823-1915) lived from 1879 to his death. Acquired in 1922 by the National Museum of National History (official leaflet), the Harmas was registered in 1998 as an historical monument. Re-opened to the public in 2006 after a complete restoration, the Harmas is made of the house, preserved as it was when inhabited by Fabre, a wild garden (in Proven¨al, harmas), an orchard, a vegetable garden, and an arboretum. The collections kept in the Harmas are made of more than 1,500 items, including two letters written by Darwin to Fabre, Fabre's herbarium (14,000 samples grouped in 82 volumes), and 600 water-colours representing local mushrooms. The Harmas attracts every year more than 35,000 visitors, 15% of them being foreigners (especially from Japan).

Appointed school teacher in the town of Carpentras in 1842, Jean-Henri Fabre (Jean-Henri Fabre e-museum) used to give his classes of natural history outdoors, basing his teaching on direct observation rather than on reading and lecturing. Appointed teacher of physics in Ajaccio (Corsica) in 1849, Fabre studied the local flora under the guidance of the noted botanist Esprit Requien (1788-1851). Back to Avignon in 1853, where he taught physics and chemistry, Fabre defended in Paris in 1855 two theses in botany and entomology; two prominent French zoologists, Henri Milne Edwards (1800-1885) and Isidore Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire (1805-1861), were members of the jury that validated the theses.
Fabre registered in 1860 three patents improving the extraction of alizarin from madder. This was a national issue since alizarin was used to dye in red the trousers wore by the soldiers of the French Army. Accordingly, Fabre was introduced in 1867 by the Minister of Education Victor Duruy to Emperor Napoleon III, who granted him the Légion d'Honneur. Pushed by Duruy, Fabre organized in Avignon evening classes for adults; his popular and innovative educational methods triggered a strong clerical and conservative opposition. Upset, Fabre resigned in 1870, moved to Orange, and decided to carry on his work off from the official system.
Fabre eventually acquired the Harmas estate on 4 March 1879. He organized it both as a family home and a working place, with a library, rooms for his collections, a laboratory, and, last but not least, a wild garden surrounding the house where he could observe the local fauna. Fabre's methods and findings were quickly recognized by the scholars of the time. Charles Darwin quoted him three times in On the Origin of Species, nicknaming him "the Inimitable Observer". The English philosopher John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) planned to publish with him a Flora of Vaucluse, which aborted because of Mill's death.
Fabre was interested in every aspect of natural history but has remained famous as an entomologist. He reported the results of his field observations in the series of books called Souvenirs entomologiques (Vol. 1, 1879; Vol. 2, 1882; Vol. 3, 1886; Vol. 4, 1891; Vol. 5, 1897; Vol. 6, 1900; Vol. 7, 1901; Vol. 8, 1903; Vol. 9, 1905; Vol. 10, 1907), which were fully or partially translated in several foreign languages. Written in a vivid style, bare of scientific jargon, Fabre's reports are extremely precise and accurate; some of his records, especially on parasitic wasps, could be confirmed only decades later, using modern techniques of imaging. The emphasis he put on the life and behaviour of insects made of Fabre a recognized precursor of ecology and ethology.
Fabre published more than 70 school manuals covering a wide rang of topics (from "Agricultural Chemistry", 1862, to "The Sky", 1893). In spite of Fabre's opposition to the system, his manuals remained in official use in the public education system until 1909, when they were deemed obsolete.
Fabre lived in the Harmas in a relative poverty but was rewarded in his very last years by several prizes and medals granted by French and foreign scientific societies. Fabre's Golden Jubilee was celebrated on 3 April 1910, while he had been nominated in 1904 for the Nobel Prize in Literature. In 1911, the famous writer Edmond Rostand dedicated him the sonnet Fabre des insectes. The next year, the Provençal poet Frédéric Mistral published an article entitled "The Starving Genius". Fabre was indeed a member of the Félibrige movement founded by Mistral and wrote several poems in Proven¨al; the most famous of them is La cigalo et la fournigo (Souvenirs entomologiques, 5, 13), which "rehabilitates the cicada libelled by the writer of fables" (La Fontaine, La cigale et la fourmi). The pilgrimage to the patriarch of Sérignan became a must; in 1913, President of the Republic Raymond Poincaré amended the program of his official visit to Provence to meet Fabre at the Harmas.

Ivan Sache, 30 August 2014

Flag of Sérignan-du-Comtat

The flag of Sérignan-du-Comtat (photo, Town Hall) is white with the municipal arms in the middle.

The arms of Sérignan-du-Comtat, adopted in 1981, are "Gules a letter 'S' argent orled by six bezants of the same placed 3 + 2 + 1, the chief chequy gules and argent 3 x 8".
The letter "S" stands for "Sérignan". The bezants are taken from the arms of the lords of Poitiers, "Azure six bezants argent placed 3 + 2 + 1, a chief or". The chief is derived from the arms of the Dukes of Bouillon, "Gules a fess argent".

Ivan Sache, 30 August 2014