Last modified: 2022-07-30 by ivan sache
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Flag of Bergerac - Image by Olivier Touzeau, 8 March 2019
The municipality of Bergerac (27,269 inhabitants in 2016; 5,610 ha) is located 120 km west of Bordeaux and 50 km south-west of Périgueux.
Bergerac is located on a strategic place on river Dordogne. In the Middle Ages, Bergerac was the key of Périgord, its bridge being the obligate passage between Limousin, in the north, and Angoumois, Béarn and Languedoc, in the south. The river port of Cadouin was the only convenient way of communication between Auvergne and the Atlantic Ocean; it was used to ship the highly-prized local wines to England, which stirred a big rivalry with Bordeaux.
In 1255, Bergerac submitted to king of England Henry III, ending a six-month siege. As a reward, the new lord cancelled the privilege that banned shipping of wines from ports located upstream of Bordeaux until 11 November; this created months of monopoly after harvest for the Bordeaux winegrowers. A municipality was established in Bergerac, presided by a mayor and managed by "jurats" (burghers and knights). In 1322, King Charles VI the Handsome granted full municipal autonomy to the town, which was to be managed by a college composed of eight consuls assisted by a deliberative assembly of "jurats". The deliberations were recorded in the Jurades register.
The consuls exerted a strong control on wine trade through the Entrée (Entry), a protectionist rule. Wine could be sold in the town only by the local burghers - their own production or that acquired from other burghers. All sold wine had to come from the vinée, the vineyards placed under the jurisdiction of the municipality of Bergerac. Every barrel of local wine, before export, had to be proofed and, once validated, marked with a tower and a griffin's leg. The consuls and the "jurats" assembly also prescribed the ban, that is the precise date of grape harvest in order to preserve quality and prevent competition between growers. Some of these quality rules are still applied by the Consulat de la Vinée, the Bacchic brotherhood of Bergerac wines.
[Very Mag Trip in Perigord Agenais]
The Bergerac and Duras vineyards were established by Gallo-Roman farmers, using the Biturica variety, which is thought to be the origin of Cabernet; they are, however, first documented in written sources in the 12th century. During the Hundred Years' War, the lords of Duras took the English party and exported the local wines to England, which favored the growth of the vineyards. The English were accused "to harvest Aquitaine". Francis I called the Duras wine "a nectar" and encouraged the plantation of new vineyards. At the end of the 19th century, the phylloxera crisis reduced the planted area from 107,000 to 2,180 hectares. In 2014, the two interprofessional councils of Duras and Bergerac merged to form the Interprofession des Vins de Bergerac-Duras (IBVD), covering 17 appellations (official website):
- Bergerac rouge: 3,916 ha, 517 growers;
- Monbazillac: 2,360 ha, 144 growers;
- Côtes de Bergerac blanc: 1,281 ha, 329 growers;
- Bergerac rosé: 957 ha, 307 growers;
- Bergerac sec: 885 ha, 308 growers;
- Pécharmant: 420 ha, 50 growers;
- Duras sec: 416 ha, 109 growers;
- Duras rouge: 203 ha, 119 growers;
- Duras rosé: 138 ha, 47 growers;
- Côtes de Bergerac rouge: 108 ha, 37 growers;
- Montravel sec: 65 ha, 24 growers;
- Rosette: 44 ha, 16 growers;
- Saussignac: 33 ha, 23 growers;
- Duras moëlleux: 30 ha, 33 growers;
- Côtes de Montravel: 29 ha, 15 growers;
- Montravel rouge: 22 ha, 12 growers;
- Haut-Montravel: 2 ha, 2 growers.
On 15 May 1577, King Henry III of Navarre (1553-1510) inaugurated in Bergerac the Peace Conferences that would end the 6th War of Religion. On 20 May 1577, a convention was signed by the representatives of Henry III and of the Protestant princes, which was eventually ratified by the king of France on 17 September 1577. Published in Poitiers, the Pacification Edict was publicly read in Bergerac on 17 October 1577 in the presence of Henry III. Bergerac was among the "safe places" conceded to the Protestants. Henry III, proclaimed king of France Henry IV, used the Bergerac Edict as a basis for the most famous Edict of Tolerance, but never came back to Bergerac.
Bergerac is wold-famous for Cyrano de Bergerac, hero of the theater play written in 1897 by Edmond Rostand (1868-1918). Big-noised Cyrano is commemorated by two statues in the town, although he, as a totally fictitious character, could never have visited it. The true Savinien de Cyrano (1619-1655), a philosopher and libertine, added "de Bergerac" to his name when enrolled in the Regiment of the Royal Guards. However, Bergerac here does not refer to the town but to a domain he owned near Paris. Savinien de Cyrano, completely overshadowed by the fictitious Cyrano, was a writer of merit, though; his novel Histoire comique des États et empires de la Lune et du Soleil is considered as one of the earliest science-fiction works.
[L'ABC de Rivière Espérance]
Ivan Sache, 15 May 2022
The flag of Bergerac (photo,
photo) is white with the municipal logo, which features a stylized version of the municipal coat of arms, "Per pale, 1. Azure three fleurs-de-lis in pale, 2. Gules a dragon or".
The arms are based on a seal used in 1322; that year, pressured by King of France Charles VI the Handsome, the lord of Bergerac, Renaud de Pons, signed the "Statutes and Customs of the town of Bergerac", which granted to the inhabitants of the town "a Consulate, a community, a town corps, a seal, a house and a common chest".
The arms of Bergerac are shown in the Armorial Général with the second quarter azure instead of gules (image).
[Armorial des villes et villages de France]
The dragon represents lo coulobre, a beast featured in the third hagiography (vita) of St. Front, erroneously credited to bishop Sebaldus and written in the second half of the 11th century (see below).
The beast lived near Lalinde in a druidic cave located on a steep slope. The beast was a huge grass snake (French, couleuvre) with a big mouth, horns and ears, claws and wings. The beast was so huge than when it used to drink water from the river its tail lied on the top of the cliff. Everytime it drank, it aspired also big stones, which formed the Gratusse fall.
The dragon used to attack people, especially boatmen sailing on the Dordogne. Upset, the inhabitants of the region asked St. Front to get rid of the beast. Front crossed the river, did a sign of the cross at the entrance of the dragon's cave, and ordered it to avoid any place inhabited by men or women. The beast dived into the Dordogne and swam back to the ocean.
The legend is a convenient explanation of the dangerous Gratusse fall, where several boatmen drowned. Variants report that St. Front used a sword to kill the monster, which he threw down to the river.
[La légende du Coulobre]
St. Front is celebrated by the Roman Catholic Church as the first bishop of Périgueux and evangelist of Périgord (3rd century). There is no historical evidence of his real life, as it is the case for several local saints of the period.
St. Front's cult was first documented, locally, in the 7th century; he is, however, unknown to Gregory of Tours, the 6th-century historiographer and hagiographer of Frankish Gaul. The hagiography of St. Gaugericus of Cambrai briefly mentions the tomb of St. Front, venerated in a church "on the territory of Périgueux". St. Front was first mentioned in detail in a manuscript redacted in Lyon, probably in the early 9th century. His first hagiography, redacted in the 8th-9th centuries includes a long record from another hagiography, that of the Egyptian monk St. Frontonius of Nitria. St. Front's cult in Périgueux might indeed have been "organized" in the 6th century by bishop Chronopus; at the same time, Bordeaux, also lacking a local patron saint, was placed under the patronage of St. Severin by bishop Bertechramnus. At the end of the 10th century, paid by the church of Périgueux, cleric Gauzbertus wrote a new hagiography of St. Front; in fact, he only added a new final chapter describing a miracle operated on the saint's tomb. The restyled hagiography might have been ordered by bishop Frotarius when establishing a new monastery that required saint relics. Front's life was added several convenient, stereotypical episodes in a third hagiography erroneously credited to bishop Sebaldus, written in the second half of the 11th century. Father Dupuy, who published the first history of Périgueux in 1629, "validated" all the hagiographic details of St. Front's life; this was debunked only in 1882 by Albert Dujarric-Descombes (1848-1926), a founding member of the Société historique et archéologique du Périgord.
[C. Higounet & A. Higounet. 1978. Origines et formation de la ville du Puy-Saint-Front de Périgueux. Annales du Midi 90:138-139, 257-274]
Olivier Touzeau & Ivan Sache, 15 May 2022