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Saint-Affrique (Municipality, Aveyron, France)

Last modified: 2017-03-18 by ivan sache
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Flag of Saint-Affrique - Image by Ivan Sache, 15 November 2011

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Presentation of Saint-Affrique

The municipality of Saint-Affrique (8,112 inhabitants in 2008, 11,096 ha; municipal website) is located in Rouergue, 80 km south of Rodez. The big municipal territory includes the town of Saint-Affrique and the neighbouring villages of Bedos, Bournac, Boussac, Le Cambon, Crassous, Saint-Étienne-de-Naucoules, Savignac, Tiergues, Truans, Vailhauz,y and Vendeloves.

Saint-Affrique is named for a St. Africanus; according to the local tradition, Africanus, Bishop of Comminges, a region located south of Toulouse, was expelled around 470 by the Visigoths and moved northwards to a settlement where the pagans welcomed him and converted to the Christian religion. The settlement, originally named Vicaria curiensis, was renamed Saint-Affrique. However, a recent study (1995) by Jean Poujol seems to indicate that Saint-Affrique appeared, as Vicaria Sancti Affricani, between 868 and 942. Poujol believes that Saint-Affrique was founded by the lords of Caylus to increase their political power; at the time, Caylus was indeed locked between the Viscounty of Millau and the County of Toulouse.
In 1238, the lord of Caylus revolted against his suzerain, Count Raymond VII of Toulouse, who seized the castle of Caylus, built on a rock dominating Saint-Affrique, and demolished it. The same year, the Count granted "customs" to the inhabitants of Saint-Affrique. After the incorporation of the County of Toulouse to France, Saint-Affrique became a Royal town ran by four Consuls elected each year. In 1369, King Charles V expelled the English, who had occupied the town for eight years, and confirmed the privileges granted to the town.
On 24 September 1572, Charles IX ordered the murder of the leaders of the Protestant party in Paris, which turned in the massacre known as the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre. Aware of the event on 14 September 1572, the inhabitants of Saint-Affrique confirmed their support to the crown but adopted a tolerance pact, stating that "All the inhabitants of whatever religion [Catholic or Protestant] shall form a single body, so that who will offend the one will offend the other, and that the one will be under the guard and protection of the other".
In 1628, the town, then a Protestant stronghold, was besieged by the Prince of Condé and the Duke of Épernon; the whole population, including the women and the young girls, fought to obtain the lift of the siege after seven days of resistance. The Treaty of Alès, signed in 1629, suppressed all the "safety places" formerly granted to the Protestants; accordingly, the walls of Saint-Affrique were demolished by order of Cardinal of Richelieu in 1632, except two towers preserved up to now.
In 1854, the cholera claimed 172 lives, that is, nearly 10% of the population of the town, which prompted the building of a new cemetery and the set up of several small statues of the Virgin in the town. In 1889, the centenary of the French Revolution was celebrated with the erection of a replica of the Statue of Liberty on the main square of the town. Stolen in 1942 by the Germans, the statue was replaced only in 2006 by a modern statue made of iron by André Debru.
In the beginning of the 20th century, dairy industry, linked with the Roquefort cheese, superseded the traditional textile and leather industries.

Saint-Affrique is the birth town of the mathematician Émile Borel (1871-1956), a pioneer of probability theory. Among the concepts and theorems he developed are the Borel algebra, the Borel measure, the Borel's lemma, the Borel-Kolmogorov paradox, the Heine-Borel theorem, the Borel-Cantelli lemma, the Borel summation and the normal number theorem. One of the most famous mathematicians of his time, Borel presided the French Society of Mathematics, the French Academy of Sciences and the UNESCO Science Committee.
Borel was Mayor of Saint-Affrique in 1927-1941, then joined the anti- German Resistance, and was again Mayor in 1945-1947. A friend of Paul Painlevé, Borel was also MP in 1924-1936 and a short-lived Minister of the Navy (1925).

Saint-Affrique is the birth town of General Édouard de Curières de Castelnau (1851-1944). Chief of Staff of Joffre in 1911-1914, Castelnau was one of the authors of the Strategic Plan No. 17, aimed at the reconquest of Alsace-Lorraine. The Plan failed in August 1914 following heavy losses in the Battle of Morhange. Castelnau subsequently organized the defense of Nancy, and was nicknamed the "Savior of Nancy" after the Battle of Grand-Couronné (31 August-11 September 1914). In September 1915, Castelnau commanded the victorious attack in Champagne and Joffre appointed him as his assistant. Castelnau organized in February 1916 the defense of Verdun, appointing General Pétain as the commander of the defenders. When Nivelle was appointed Generalissimo, Castelnau followed Joffre in disfavor. In December 1917, Foch succeeded Nivelle and appointed Castelnau Chief of the Eastern Group of Armies.
A fervent Catholic, Castelnau opposed to several politicians of the 3rd Republic; his religious exaltation probably prevented him to be awarded the title of Marshal of France. In 1924, he founded the Catholic National Federation to struggle against the anti-religious policy of the Cartel des gauches (Left-wing coalition) government.
Another soldier born in Saint-Affrique is Pierre-Auguste Sarrus (1813-1876), mostly famous as the musician inventor of the sarrusophone, patented by Pierre-Louis Gautrot in 1856 to replace oboe and bassoon in the wind bands.

Ivan Sache, 15 November 2011

Flag of Saint-Affrique

The flag of Saint-Affrique (photo, La Dépêche du Midi, 17 July 2001) is vertically divided yellow-blue, the colors of the municipal arms.

The arms of Saint-Affrique are "Or a cross flory azure a crescent of the same a chief azure three fleurs-de-lis or".
The fleurs-de-lis in chief and on the cross recall that Saint-Affrique was a Royal town. The cross and the crescent may recall that the power on the town was once shared by the Bishop of Vabres and the lord of Caylus. The current design of the arms was adopted on 22 February 1963 by the Municipal Council.

Pascal Vagnat & Ivan Sache, 15 November 2011