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Saint-Claude (Municipality, Jura, France)

Last modified: 2010-11-13 by ivan sache
Keywords: jura | saint-claude |
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[Flag of Saint-Claude]

Flag of Saint-Claude - Image by Ivan Sache, 14 April 2006

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Presentation of Saint-Claude

The municipality of Saint-Claude (12,296 inhabitants; 435 m a.s.l.) is located in the valley of Bienne, in the Jura mountains. It is the traditional capital of Upper Jura (Haut Jura).
In the first decades of the Vth century, two local monks called Romain and Lupicin founded a monastery on a rocky spur dominating the confluency of the rivers Bienne and Tacon. The place harboured ruins of a Gallo-Roman temple and was called Condadisco, from Celtic *condat, confluency. The fourth abbey of the monastery, Oyend, increased the monastery and transformed it into a Principality that ruled all Upper Jura. The monastery and the village that developed nearby were known as Saint-Oyend-de-Joux. It became famous for its collection of relics of the local saints.

In the XIIth century, the body of abbey Claude, who had passed away 600 years before, was exhumated intact. The cult of the thaumaturgic abbey developed far away from Jura; the very pious King of France Louis XI was his most famous supporter. The abbey, which adopted the Benedictine rule, and the town started to be known as Saint-Claude. The name was definitively adopted in the XVIIth century, whereas the abbey fell into decline and was secularized in 1742. The only remain of Saint-Claude religious past is the former abbey church, today the cathedral Sts. Pierre, Paul and André, built in the XIV-XVIIIth centuries. In the cathedral, the St. Claude chapel keeps a shrine with the wax replica of the body of the saint; the treasure of the cathedral includes the authentic forearm of the saint, that escaped desecration in 1794, whereas his left little finger is kept in a separate reliquary. When the revolutionaries burned the body of the saint, his forearm and little finger were stolen and hidden by François Joseph Jacquet, whose house was the only one to escape the 1799 blaze. The expiatory chapel of the White Friars was built in 1869 on the site of Jacquet's house.
The Bishopric of Saint-Claude still exists but its seat was transferred to Lons-le-Saunier. The church is also famous for an XVIth century altarpiece offerred by Bishop of Geneva Pierre de Baume and the stalls made in walnut by Jehan de Vitry in 1447-1450.

As early as in the XIIIth century, the town obtained municipal rights from the abbey and developed a very active craft industry: beads, whistles and all kinds of small items made of wood or bones were sold to the pilgrims. They were so famous that they were later named articles de Saint-Claude. The town was the seat of the Grande Judicature, the administrative and legal court of the abbey; very early, Saint-Claude opened a law school were the lawyers to be hired by the Judicature were taught and trained. The most famous of them was Christin, who defended the rights of the serfs of Upper Jura and gained the support of Voltaire.
The French Revolution and the big blaze of 1799 stopped the increase of the population of Saint-Claude; it resumed at the end of the First Empire with the incorporation in 1811 of the neighbouring municipalities of Etables and Vaucluse and the beginning of the industrialization: a paper mill, a coton mill and wire works, powered by the driving force of the watercourses, were set up. In 1855, the production of briar pipes became a monopoly (it employed 4,500 workers in Saint-Claude in 1925), and is still the main fame of Saint-Claude, even if this activity is today restricted to a few craftmen. Cutting of gems started in the XVIIIth century and really developed in the 1880s, and was a main sucess of the cooperative movement (cooperatives Adamas and Le Diamant); this activity is still on in the neighbouring municipalities of Villard-Saint-Sauveur and Septmoncel.

Following the economical crisis of 1930, the Second World War and because of its cramped geographical location, Saint-Claude declined until the 1960s. In 1970, the business park of Plan d'Acier was created out of the city to harbour the metallurgy and plasturgy factories that had succeeded the XIXth-century mills. In 1974, the incorporation of the neighbouring municipalities of Chaumont, Chevry, Cinquétral, Ranchette and Valfin brought 450 new inhabitants and some more space. The new business parks, however, were built farther in the valley of Bienne after the creation of the communauté de communes de Val de Bienne in 1974 by the municipalities of Saint-Claude, Chassal and Molinges. The villages of Choux, Coiserette, Coyrière, Larrivoire, Viry and Vulvoz joined the Community in 2002, followed in 2003 by Avignon-les-Saint-Claude. The valley of Bienne is nicknamed "Plastics Valley".

Saint Claude (c. 607-699) is said to have been born in the castle of Bracon, near Salins, from the Gallo-Roman family of Claudia, which already produced a saint bishop in the VIth century. To avoid confusion, "our" Claude is often called Claude the Thaumaturge. Up to the age of 20, Claude served as a border guard; in 627 he was appointed canon by St. Donat, Archbishop of Besançon. He became a famous professor and ascete, having only a frugal meal per day. Twelve years later, he retired in the monastery of Saint-Oyand, then as famous and wealthy as the monastery of Luxeuil. Aged 34, he was elected leader of the community by the monks. Claude visited in 650 King of Neustria and Burgundy Clovis II, who was under the good influence of his pious wife Bathilde, and obtained from him an annuity, which allowed the development ot the monastery. Claude imposed the Benedictine rule and was compared to the Egyptian monks Antoine and Pacôme the Great. When St. Gervais died in 685, Claude reluctantly accepted the Bishopric of Besançon but he kept an eye on the monastery. Seven years later, he noticed that the discipline had become very lax, abandoned the Bishopric and came back to the monastery, then aged 86.
After his death on 6 June 699, hie body was perfumed but not embalmed. His tomb was forgotten but his fame remained. The famous Archbishop of Mayence and Abbot of Fulda Raban Maur listed him in his Martyrology, written c. 850. As said above, the veneration of Claude started in the XIIth century when his body was exhumated, even if a document states that his body was already kept in the abbey of Saint-Oyend in the IXth century.


Ivan Sache, 14 April 2006

Flag of Saint-Claude

The municipal flag, as shown on pictures taken on 31 October 2004, is vertically divided blue-yellow. The flag is hoisted in different places of the town, along with the flags of France, the European Union and Franche-Comté.
Blue and yellow are the colours of the municipal coat of arms (GASO): D'or au sapin arraché de sinople, au chef d'azur chargé d'un croissant d'argent (Or a fir tree eradicated vert a chief azure a crescent argent).
Brian Timms says that the current municipal coat of arms was designed by Mireille Louis in 1968, whereas a coat of arms dated 1859 shows the tree argent and not eradicated. The original arms are in the Armorial Général (1701) and were probably used before. The eradicated tree is a reference to the clearing of the forest by the two monks who founded the first monastery.

Marc Pasquin & Ivan Sache, 14 April 2006