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Saint-Saulve (Municipality, Nord, France)

Last modified: 2021-01-30 by ivan sache
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Flag of Saint-Saulve - Image by Olivier Touzeau, 16 July 2020


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Presentation of Saint-Saulve

The municipality of Saint-Saulve (11,353 inhabitants in 2018; 1,204 ha; municipal website) is located just north-east of Valenciennes.

Saint-Saulve was known, according to a widespread tradition, to the Nervians as Brena. This origin was forged in the 14th century by a very imaginative chronicler, Jacques de Guyse (1344-1399), who assigned prestigious founders to several towns and villages: the Roman Emperor Valentinian for Valenciennes; Bavo, Priam's cousin, to Bavay; and Brennus, the semi-legendary chief of the Senones who seized Rome around 390 BC, to Saint-Saulve. Guyse even fooled the revolutionaries, who renamed the town to Brenne Libre (Free Brenne) when toponyms related to royalty, nobility and religion were banned.

Saint-Saulve was indeed already known as Sanctus Salvius in the 9th century, the local monastery being listed on the Treaty of Meersen in 870. St. Saulve, an itinerant bishop coming from Auvergne, was murdered with his disciple near Valenciennes during Charles Martel's rule (-741) and buried in the village that was named after him. He was often mistaken by early chroniclers with two other clerks of the same name, a bishop of Amiens founder of the monastery of Montreuil-sur-Mer, and a bishop of Albi mentioned by St. Gregory of Tours.

St. Saulve's martyr is related in the Passio sancti Salvii episcopi et martyri, written in the late 8th century on the model of the hagiographic accounts of the time. When preaching in the region, Saulve, in search of martyr, deliberately exhibited rich sacred vases and ornaments when invited at dinner by procurator Genardus. The procurator's son, Wingardus, subsequently captured and jailed Salvius and his disciple, whom he let kill upon his father's recommendation. The bodies were buried in a stable kept by a huge bull, which forbid access to the tomb to any animal or human, and had lamps attached to his horns. In a dream repeated three times (as usual), Charles Martel was prompted to investigate the murder. The culprits were soon identified and sentenced by the king himself to enucleation and castration; the servant Winegarius, who had reluctantly committed the crime, was "only" enucleated. Genardus offered all his goods to the church, while his son took the coat in the Saint-Amand abbey. The criminal servant invoked the saint's pardon and recovered one eye, serving as a shepherd in the monastery.
The embalmed and ornamented bodies were to be solemnly translated to the St. Vaast church in Valenciennes, but the nine oxen could not draw the cart. After a few failed attempts, only two oxen were left, which easily drew the cart to the St. Martin basilica, promptly renamed to Saint Saulve. The saint's tomb was later used to solve a dispute between a duke and his two sisters, who complained he had usurped their dowry. Charles ordered everyone to swear on the tomb; as a consequence, the dirty duke immediately "burst in the middle".

The St. Saulve royal abbey and villages are of unknown detailed origin. Earlier historians interpreted "King Charles" mentioned in the Passio as Charlemagne, but chronology indicates it was rather Charles Martel. The saint's elevation (canonization) was proclaimed, according to the tradition, by Charlemagne on 15 October 801. The monastery was transferred in 1103, as a priory, to the Order of Cluny; still prestigious, it was still called an abbey in documents from the 12th century. The monastery was plundered several times, during the Hundred Years' War (1337-1360), the French invasion ordered by Louis XI (1477), the religious troubles (1556), another French invasion (1576), and he siege of Valenciennes by Louis XIV (1656). Eventually abandoned by the monks in 1790, the monastery was subsequently used as a bell foundry, an hospital, and a stone quarry. Its only remains are the entrance gate and walls.

Saint-Saulve is the birth town of Catherine Joseph Rafin (1777-1836), a famous actress under the name of Joséphine Duchesnois.
Protected by Napoléon Bonaparte and Joséphine de Beauharnais (therefore her pseudonym), la Duchesnois was hired in the Théâtre Français from 1802 to 1829. The great rival of the lovely Mademoiselle George, she introduced unprecedented humanity and sensibility in Racine, Corneille and Voltaire's tragedies. In 1807, she played in Erfurt for the German princes and Czar Alexander I, and toured in several European towns upon Napoléon's request. This did not prevent her to come back very often to Valenciennes, Mons and Brussels, increasing her local popularity. She managed in the subsequent decades a famous salon in Paris, highly estimated by celebrities such as Honoré de Balzac, Victor Hugo, Franz List and Marceline Desbordes-Valmore.
To the critic Geoffroy, who stressed her "ugliness" as opposed to mademoiselle George' loveliness, she once answered: "The public, unfortunately, need not your recommendation to notice that I am not lovely, but you, Sir, should known, that a woman is ugly only when she had not have any other possibility".

Ivan Sache, 6 August 2020


Flag of Saint-Saulve

The flag of Saint-Saulve (photo) is white with the municipal logo, which was created in 2020 by the PR Department of the municipal administration.

The logo, elected among five proposals by more than 70% of the voters, was inaugurated on 1 April 1997.
Yellow and white recall the main colors of the abbey's coat of arms, or and azure. The two strips form the two "S" of "Saint-Saulve" and progressively rise from left to right, to the outside and the future. The left stripe is on the inner, heart side. Blue, a moon color, is the color of dream and original waters; accordingly, the blue strip refers to the citizen as an individual and to the town's history. The yellow strip is on the extroversion and sociability side. Yellow is a solar color, representing radiation and future.
The mixture of yellow and blue gives green, a color mediating between warm and cold, top and bottom, reassuring, refreshing, and human, according to Alain Gheerbrant. The green, horizontal stripe counter-balances the two vertical strips. Green is also the color of nature, while the green leaf highlights environment protection, a constant issue for the town. Vert is, of course, also the color of hope.
The blue stripe also symbolizes the Scheldt, both a limit and a junction. between the Nervians and Atrebates civitates, between the German Empire and the Kingdom of France, between the Cambrai and Arras bishoprics, between Hainaut and Ostrevent, between Hainaut and Flanders. The Scheldt is also a way of communication, used by the Northmen and the big modern barges. The yellow strip symbolizes National Road No. 30, which both unites and separates Old Saint-Saulve from the new boroughs. This old "paved road of Valenciennes to Mons" connects the capitals of the French and Belgian Hainaut, being the European axis connecting Paris to Brussels.
The building shown in the background is the Town Hall of Saint-Saulve.
[Municipal website]

The arms of Saint-Saulve, "Per pale, 1. Or, an half eagle sable, 2. Azure semy of fleurs-de-lis or", were assigned by Th. Leuridan (Armorial des communes du département du Nord, 1909) as the arms of the Saint-Saulve abbey, which are fatured in the Armorial Général (image).
The oldest reported use of the municipal arms dates back to 30 June 1895, during the inauguration of the monument dedicated to la Duchesnois.
The arms highlight the dual dependency of the abbey, located on the Scheldt's right bank, therefore in the German Empire, until definitive incorporation to France in 1678, but depending on the Order of Cluny, based in France.
The local legend claims that these were indeed the arms of "Saint" Charlemagne, the abbey's founder, who was assigned in the 12th century a coat of arms "Per pale Germany and France". Such arms are used by the chapter of the cathedral of Aachen, Charlemagne's capital; the abbey of Saint-Amand, located on river Scarpe, then the border between France and the Empire; and the abbey of Saint-Ghislain, allegedly founded by Charlemagne.
[Municipal website]

Olivier Touzeau & Ivan Sache, 6 August 2020