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Abbeville (Municipality, Somme, France)

Last modified: 2021-06-27 by ivan sache
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Flag of Abbeville - Image by Olivier Touzeau, 19 July 2020

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Presentation of Abbeville

The municipality of Abbeville (22,837 inhabitants in 2017; 2,642 ha; municipal website) is located 40 km north-east of Amiens.

Abbeville was already settled in the late Paleolithic, as evidenced by cut flints. The site was inhabited in the Neolithic, as evidenced by the findings of Boucher de Perthes (see below) in La Portelette, and in the Gallo-Roman and Merovingian periods. The settlement must have remained modest, since it was not served by the dense road network of the time.
Abbeville emerged as Abbatis Villa (The Abbot's Estate), a domain owned by the powerful St. Riquier abbey (Centula). Around 990, King Hugh Capet "acquired" the domain from the monks and transformed it into a stronghold. His third son, also called Hugh and also Protector of the abbey, was appointed governor of the royal castle, indeed a wooden keep surrounded by wooden fences and ditches, erected on a moat overlooking river Scardon.
Abbeville became in the 11th century a port town, trading via river Somme with Amiens and the coastal towns of Le Crotoy and Saint-Valery. On 19 June 1369, King Charles V rewarded the inhabitants' loyalty by the grant of the chief of France (Azure semy fleurs-de-lis or) and the motto "Fidelis" (Latin, "Loyal").

The St. Vulfran chapter was founded in the 12th century. The canons claimed that the body of St. Vulfran, bishop of Sens, was brought to Abbeville by a Count of Ponthieu. The chapter was so healthy that the collegiate church was known as "the senior daughter of the Bishopric of Amiens". The cornerstone of the new St. Vulfran collegiate church was laid on 7 June 1488 by Mayor Jehan Postel, on behalf of King Charles VIII, Count of Ponthieu. On 31 August 1488, the canons announced that money shortage would delay the building. The towers were completed in 1532 only. The building site was closed again in 1539 and the not achieved church was walled. In 1621, after the Wars of Religion, the mason's guild was allowed to resume the building of the choir, whose foundations had been laid in 1573. The achievement of the church was decided in 1661, the apse's upper windows were equipped with glass-stained windows in 1691.
Since then, the church, erected on a marshy soil, has been submitted to several restorations. In 1852, based on a report submitted by Viollet-le-Duc, the mayor of Abbeville closed the church. Several statues were removed for the sake of safety. Victor Hugo described the church as "an old facade ravaged by the North wind and the moon". Beside its emblematic towers, culminating at 55.80 m, the most striking parts of the church are the gates of the western entrance of the church, decorated in "stone lace" characteristic of the Gothic flamboyant style.
[Picardia, l'Encyclopédie picarde]

On 1 July 1766, François-Jean Lefebvre, Knight of La Barre (1745-1766) was executed in Abbeville; he had the tongue cut, the head cut and the body burned down after having been sentenced six months earlier to death in a rigged trial. A young libertine, the knight did not hide his support to Diderot's Encyclopédie and used to replace his church missal by a book by Voltaire. After a crucifix erected on a bridge had been slashed with a knife and garbage had been dumped on a statue of Christ in the cemetery, the Church required the perpetrators to be arrested. Since he refused to wear off his hat when crossing a procession, La Barre was arrested, tortured and sentenced for "impiety, blaspheme, execrable and abominable sacrileges".
Voltaire soon provided evidence that the trial was rigged and described the case in the article "Torture", contributed in the 1769 edition of his Dictionnaire philosophique. Like Calas and Sirven, La Barre became an emblematic symbol of religious intolerance and of the arbitrary, abusive justice exerted during the Ancient Regime. Knight of La Barre was rehabilitated by the Convention on the 25 Brumaire of Year II (15 November 1793).
[Picardia, l'Encyclopédie picarde]

Jacques Boucher de Crèvecœur de Perthes (1788-1868) was the son of the Customs Director in Abbeville, an amateur botanist who met noted scientists of the time, such as Cuvier and Lamarck.
Boucher de Perthes succeeded his father in 1825 and was elected president of the Société d'émulation, newly formed by local scholars. He soon joined excavation campaigns led by a friend of his father, Casimir Picard, a pioneer in scientific archeology. In 1837, Boucher de Perthes initiated works of his own, searching the alluvial deposits of river Somme and the building site of the canal connecting Amiens to the Channel.
In 1849, Boucher de Perthes published the first volume of Antiquités celtiques et antédiluviennes. His claim that the cut flints had been manufactured by human beings contemporary with big mammalians whose remains were found nearby were not accepted by the ultra-conservative French Academy of Science. A few years later, his retirement offered to Boucher de Perthes the opportunity to tour Europe, to visit archeological sites and museums, and to meet historians and naturalists. The second (1857) and third (1864) volumes of Antiquités celtiques et antédiluviennes were better accepted, as was the concept of "antediluvian" or "Prehistoric" man.
Boucher de Perthes was awarded the Légion d'Honneur in August 1863. The same year, he presented a human jaw found on the site of Moulin-Quignon, which initiated a big controversy; English naturalists pointed out that the fossil was not of human but of animal origin. It was eventually proven that the jaw had been doctored by quarriers in search of a bonus. In his last years, Boucher de Perthes contributed to the organization of the Musée des antiquités nationales in the former royal castle of Saint-Germain-en-Laye (inaugurated in 1867, renamed to Musée d'Archéologie nationale in 2009). Some of his collections were transferred there, while most of them, kept in Abbeville, were completely destroyed in 1940 during the German air raid.
[Picardia, l'Encyclopédie picarde]

During the First World War, Abbeville, located quite far from the frontline, was used to station troops and establish military hospitals, mostly British. On 25 March 1918, Marshal Haig, General Foch and General Wilson met in Abbeville to prepare the conference to be held the next day in Doullens, which set up the unique command of the allied forces on the western front. On 1 and 2 May 1918, the War Supreme Council had its 5th session organized in Abbeville.
On 20 May 1949, the German Air Force raided the town, suppressing three-quarters of the towns; 2,400 buildings were destroyed while another 3,600 were damaged. The Town Hall, the belfry and the St. Vulfran collegiate church were ruined. The town was liberated on 3 September 1944 by Polish troops.
On 8 May 1948, Mayor Max Lejeune welcomed President of the Republic Vincent Auriol and Minister of Reconstruction René Coty, who laid the cornerstone of the new town. The inauguration of the new Town Hall on 9 October 1960 was the final event of the reconstruction.

Max Lejeune (1909-1995), was elected Representative for the Front Populaire in 1936. After the liberation, he became the "boss" of the department of Somme and would remain so for the next 50 years: Representative (1945-1977), Senator (1977-1995), Mayor of Abbeville (1947-1989) and President of the General Council of Somme (1947-1988).
During the Fourth Republic (1946-1958) and the first two years of the Fifth Republic (1958-1959), Lejeune was eleven times Minister, often for very short periods because of the political instability of the time. Quite influential, he supported French Algeria and the Suez Canal invasion.
Member of the non-communist left, Lejeune rejected the Union of the Left set up in 1971 and founded on 1973 the Mouvement démocrate socialiste, subsequently renamed to Parti social-démocrate, absorbed in 1995 by the Union pour la démocratie française coalition.

Olivier Touzeau & Ivan Sache, 1 November 2020

Flag of Abbeville

The flag of Abbeville (photo) is white with the municipal logo.

The logo is the vivid and colorful emblem of a town proud of its past and of its region and looking to the future. It features characteristic elements of the town:
- the shape of the Bay of Somme, represented by the triangle;
- the bird, representing the town, taking off, to represent the town's dynamism;
- the colors: blue for the sea and green for the plain.
[Municipal website]

Olivier Touzeau & Ivan Sache, 1 November 2020