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Bourg-en-Bresse (Municipality, Ain, France)

Last modified: 2019-04-28 by ivan sache
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Flag of Bourg-en-Bresse, two versions - Images by Olivier Touzeau, 2 February 2019


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Presentation of Bourg-en-Bresse

The municipality of Bourg-en-Bresse (Bourg until 31 March 1955; 41,365 inhabitants in 2016; 2,386 ha; Lyon and 110 km west of Geneva.

Bourg probably emerged as a small settlement established in Brou, close to a ford on river Reyssouze. The village increased during the Gallo-Roman period around a fanum (sanctuary), while a fortress, subsequently a feudal castle, was built on the site of the former jailhouse. The development of the medieval town in the 12th century was boosted by trade with Italy.
In 1272, the province of Bresse was incorporated to Savoy; as a border town with France, Bourg was surrounded by a fortified wall, which was dramatically increased in the 14th-15th centuries. At the end of the Middle Ages, Bourg was a wealthy town, counting 3,700 inhabitants, located on a main route of trade; leather and cloth industry was a main source of income. The half-timbered houses still standing in the downtown were built at the time by the town's burghers. The fame of the town was still increased in the early 16th century when Margaret of Austria ordered the establishment of a Royal monastery in Brou.

Incorporated to France in 1536, Bourg counted then 6,000 inhabitants. King Francis I let build a modern wall, with bastions and ditches. After the re-establishment of the Duchy of Savoy in 1560, Duke Emmanuel-Philibert faced the French threat with the St. Maurice Citadel, one of the strongest fortresses of the time. Made obsolete by the return of Bresse to France in 1601, the citadel was destroyed ten years later. Bourg was modernized under the reign of Louis XV; marshes were drained, streets were paved and lit and the walls were destroyed. New buildings, such as the Town Hall and the Meillonnas, Bohan, Belvey and Loras hotels emphasized the prosperity of the town.

The railway station of Bourg was inaugurated in 1857, which fostered the industrialization of the town; the rural boroughs of Bel-Air and Station were urbanized, so that the urban area doubled and population increased to 10,000 in 1850.

The Royal monastery of Brou (website) was erected by Margaret of Austria (1480-1530), daughter of Emperor Maximilian of Habsbourg (1459-1519) and grand-daughter of the last Duke of Burgundy, Charles the Bold (1433-1477), after the death of her husband, Duke Philibert the Handsome (1480-1504). The young widow was named in 1506 Regent of the Low Countries by her father, a title subsequently confirmed by her nephew, Emperor Charles V (1500-1558). Fulfilling the wish made by her mother-in-law, Margaret of Bourbon (1438-1483), to reconstruct the ruined Benedictine priory of Brou, Margaret of Austria personally supervised from Mechelen the building of a religious complex composed of a church and three cloisters (one for the guests, one for the commons, and the greater for the monks), aimed at keeping the three mausoleums of her husband, his mother, Margaret of Bourbon, and herself. From 1505 to 1532, the best masters and artists from all over Europe worked on the building site under the guidance of the Flemish architect Louis Van Boghem (c. 1470-1540).
The Brou monastery was granted Royal protection - and name - by Louis XIV. Registered as a National Monument in 1791, the complex remained a state property except some buildings that were ceded in 1921 to the town of Bourg-en-Bresse to house its museum.

The Brou monastery carries a strong political message.
The recumbent effigies on the tombs are symbols of the princely dynasties that ruled Europe in the 15th century. This representation, inaugurated in the 12th century by the Plantagenet dynasty at the Fontevraud abbey, was magnified by Louis IX (St. Louis), who installed 16 incumbent effigies of French kings in the transept crossing of the St. Denis Royal necropolis, near Paris. The Dukes of Burgundy, Margaret's ancestors, had similar monuments built in Dijon in the 15th century. Margaret expected monuments equal, or even better, than his father's mausoleum in Innsbruck or the tombs erected in the cathedral of Nantes (Brittany) by her rival, Ann of Brittany, for her parents.
Drawn by Jan van Roome (1498-1521) aka John of Brussels, the tombs were sculpted in a Brabantine workshop in the Mannerist style of the time. The incumbent effigies are credited to Conrad Meit (1480-1551), a German sculptor at the Mechelen court, active in Brou since 1526.

On 20 September 2014, the Royal monastery of Brou was elected French Preferred Monument" in the TV program of the same name. In a first step, 160 monuments representing 10 regions were submitted to people's vote; the 10 finalists were then presented in a prime time program concluded by the election of the preferred monument.
During the second edition of the program, held in 2015, the belfry of Arras was elected the preferred monument. The program was then suppressed, leaving more pace for the companion 'French Preferred Village", still broadcasted in 2019.

Ivan Sache, 3 February 2019


Flag of Bourg-en-Bresse

Bourg-en-Bresse jointly use two flags (photo), a banner of the municipal arms, and a Burgundy red flag with the municipal logo in white.

The arms "Per pale vert and sable" are said to have been granted to Bourg in 1382 by Count of Savoy Amadeus VI (r. 1343-1383), aka the Green Count, for the color of the armor he wore during a tournament organized in Chambéry in 1346.
The cross bottony argent is the symbol of the Order of St. Maurice; it is said that the charge was added to the arms in 1560, upon request by the Municipal Council of Bourg, by Duke Emmanuel-Philibert (r. 1553-1580). The Duke was the commander of the imperial troops that defeated the French army in Saint-Quentin (1557); by the Treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis (1660), the Duchy of Savoy, then including Bresse, was re-established under his rule. The arms of Bourg are shown in the Armorial G&ecute;néral (image).

St. Maurice was the leader of the legendary Roman Theban Legion, whose all members were martyred in 287 in Agaunum; the St. Maurice abbey and the town of Saint-Maurice d'Agaune were established on the alleged site of the martyr, located now in Switzerland (Valais), but for long part of Savoy.
St. Maurice was the the patron saint of the Counts, then Dukes, of Savoy. Amadeus VIII, first Duke of Savoy (r. 1391-1440) and one of the most respected princes of the time, was elected in 1440 Anti-Pope as Felix V, by the Council of Basel. To end the schism, he submitted in 1449 to Pope Nicholas V (1447-1455) and retired in the castle-priory of Ripaille located in Thonon-les-Bains, on Lake Léman. Amadeus VIII established on 16 October 1434 the "Noble Association", composed of himself and five experienced knights, Henry du Colombier, Claude du Saix, Nicod de Menthon, Humbert de Glerens, and François de Buxy. On 16 September 1572, the association was officially renamed to the Military and Religious Order of St. Maurice by Pope Gregory XIII (r. 1572-1585), to be merged on 13 November 1572 with the Religious, Military and Hospitalier Order of St. Lazarus of Jerusalem, to form the Religious, Military and Hospitalier Order of Sts. Maurice and Lazarus (website).
Duke Emmanuel-Philibert was appointed Grand Master of the Order on 15 January 1573, a title to be transmitted hereditary forever.

The color of the logo is specified as:
Pantone 227c
CMYK 0-100-7-19
[Logo user's guide]

Olivier Touzeau & Ivan Sache, 2 February 2019