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Sarreguemines (Municipality, Moselle, France)

Last modified: 2018-06-18 by ivan sache
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Municipal flag of Sarreguemines - Image by Ivan Sache, 2 February 2018


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Presentation of Sarreguemines

The municipality of Sarreguemines (21,236 inhabitants in 2015; 2,967 ha; municipal website) is located close to the border with Germany, 80 km of Metz, 90 km of Nancy, 100 km of Strasbourg, and 20 km of Sarrebrück.

In 777, Fulrad, a councillor of Pepin the Short and Charlemagne, bequeathed his goods and domains to the St. Denis' royal abbey. Among Fulrad's goods was a big estate located on the confluency of rivers Sarre (German, Saar) and Blies. The name of Sarreguemines (Saargemund) is related to the roots gemundia (Latin) and Gmund (German), meaning confluency.
The Sarreguemines farm was fortified in order to control the ford on the Sarre and to perceive a tax (tonlieu). Progressively, a small town surrounded with walls developed around a castle built on the hill dominating the river (Schlossberg; lit., the castle's mountain). In 1125, the lord representing the St. Denis' abbey swapped with Duke of Lorraine Ferry III Sarreguemines for lands located near Bitche. Sarreguemines was then the see of a châtellenie, that is an administrative and military division of the Duchy of Lorraine. In the same period, Sarreguemines became an important trade town on the Brabant road, which connected Flanders to Italy via the St. Gothard pass in the Alps. In the 14th century, the town was granted a franchise and became independent of the feudal powers. Jewish and Lombard moneymakers contributed to its development.

In 1523, Sarreguemines had three fairs per year and was very wealthy. However, the town was sacked during the Great Peasants' Revolt in 1525 and, again, during the Thirty Years' War (1632-1662). After the incorporation of Sarreguemines to the Kingdom of France in 1679, an attempt of resettlement of the town failed because of Louis XIV's wars. In 1698, the Duchy of Lorraine was reestablished and Sarreguemines became the see of the Bailiwick of Germany, one of the four administrative divisions of the Duchy, corresponding to the German-speaking part of Lorraine. From 1700 to 1735, the town developed and grew up out of the medieval walls. Lorraine was progessively incorporated into the Kingdom of France; importation of wood from Holland and local textile industry increased the prosperity of the area.

In 1790, Sarreguemines was the capital of one of the nine districts forming the new department of Moselle. In 1800, Sarreguemines was the sous-prefecture of the fourth arrondissement (replacing the district) of Moselle.
In 1815, the Treaty of Vienna placed Sarreguemines on the border with Prussia. Industrialization started in 1830 with the set up of dynastic capitalism. Factories were established on the right bank of the Saar, producing pottery, snuffboxes, cudly toys, safety matches, steam engines and safes. In 1863-1866, the building of the Collieries' Canal (Canal des Houillères) and of the railway speeded up the development of Sarreguemines; the population of the town increased from 6,000 inhabitants in 1850 to 14,000 en 1900. Sarreguemines was then the second most important town in Moselle after Metz.
From 1871 to 1918, Sarreguemines was incorporated to the German Empire as a part of the Alsace-Moselle Reichland. It became a garrison town, with the building of two big barracks for cavalry and infantry. A new court of justice, railway station and hospital were the base of the complete redesign of the town.

In 1918, Sarreguemines was reincorporated to France and took benefit of the neigbouring coal-mining basin. Located close to the border with Germany, the town was included in the "red zone" of the Maginot defense plan in 1930. The increasing threat of war with Germany completely stopped the economical development of the town.
The inhabitants of Sarreguemines were all evacuated to Charente (southwest of France) on 1 September 1939. In the neighbouring village of Frauenberg, the writer Roland Dorgelès (1885-1973) coined the expression la drôle de guerre (the Phoney War), used to designate the period between the declaration of war and the German assault of June 1940. After the defeat of France, Sarreguemines, severely damaged by bombings, was incorporated into the Third Reich.
Liberated by the American forces in December 1944, Sarreguemines was quickly rebuilt (1945-1955) around the remains of its historical center. A new industrial zone was inaugurated in May 1961 with the opening of the Continental tyre factory, while new industries replaced the traditional textile and pottery activities deemed obsolete. The municipality of Sarreguemines absorbed the neighbouring rural municipalities of Neunkirch and Welferding (1964) and Folpersviller (1971). The urban district of Sarreguemines was created in 1972 and was succeeded in 2002 by the urban community of Sarreguemines-Confluences (52,670 inhabitants).

Sarreguemines is renowned for pottery. The first, pre-industrial earthenware factory was founded in 1790 by the brothers Nicolas-Henri and Paul-Augustin Jacobi and their associate Joseph Fabry. Production became industrial in the 1830s under the leadership of Paul Utzschneider and Paul de Geiger. There were 3,000 workers in the factory in the beginning of the 20th century. The Geiger family kept the control of the factory until the end of the 20th century; in 1979, the factory was purchased by the Lunéville-Saint-Clément group, also owner of the historical factory of Lunéville, and production was mostly redirected towards tiles. The factory was renamed Sarreguemines-Bâtiment in 1982.
The former house of the director of the factory was transformed into the Earthenware Museum (website); it includes the wonderful Winter Garten built for Paul de Geiger in 1882. Another museum, housed by the Blies watermill, shows the traditional techniques and tools used in Sarreguemines for earthenware production. One of the 30 original ovens, made of brick and with a conical chimney, can still be seen behind the Town Hall. The casino built in 1890 has been transformed into a restaurant.
Geiger's social capitalism is recalled every year in June on St. Paul's Day. A street festival recalls that Paul de Geiger offered a lunch to his factory workers on his patron saint's day.

The Carnival of Sarreguemines takes place every year in the two weeks before Mardi Gras. Its traditional elements are the Kappensitzung, the cavalcade and the masked ball Balla balla. It ends on Ash Wednesday with the sentencing of Prince Carnival.
Sarreguemines hosts every year the Mir Redde Platt festival, dedicated to the Frankish (Platt) language still spoken in the region and in the neighbouring Luxembourg.

Ivan Sache, 6 February 2005


Flag of Sarreguemines

The flag of Sarreguemines (image; use confirmed by the municipal administration) is a banner of the municipal arms, "Per pale, 1. Or a cross double traversed gules, 2. Gules an alerion argent".

The arms of Sarreguemines were first featured on a plate describing the official entrance of Henri II the Good (1563-1624), Duke of Lorraine (1608-1624), in Nancy in 1610 (L’ordre tenu au marchez parmi la ville de Nancy, capitale de la Lorraine, à l’entrée en icelle du Sérénissime Prince Henri II du nom, par la grâce de Dieu, 64e duc de Lorraine et 31e marquis... le 20 avril 1610, one of the twelve plates engraved by Matthieu Mérian after drawings made by His Highness' Councillor, Claude de la Ruelle and printed in Nancy in 1622 by Hermann de Loye). The representative from "Geminde" bears arms divided per pale, charge dexter with a Cross of Lorraine and sinister with an alerion.
The Cross of Lorraine, then believed to be the genuine representation of the Cross of Jerusalem, appeared on the arms of René of Anjou (1409-1480), Duke of Lorraine (1431-1453); it was used as a symbol of resistance against Burgundy The very same arms were granted by the herald of arms to the representative of Sarreguemines who attended the funeral of Prince Léopold-Clément (1707-1723), celebrated on 12 July 1723 in Lunéville.

Mayor Jean Cristall let engraving on 2 September 1704 on the four sides of the municipal fountain the coat of arms of Lorraine, which Duke Leopold (1679-1729) would impose in 1707 to the prévôtés of Sarreguemines, Amance, Boulay, Château-Salains, Hattonchâtel, Prény, and Sainte-Marie-aux Mines. The seal used in 1709 in Sarreguemines features a simple shield flanked on each side by a Cross of Lorraine.
In 1844, the Mayor of Sarreguemines informed the librarian of the Palais Royal that the arms of the town featured three "larks" (French, alouettes, probably mistaken for alérions) placed on the same line. The préfet of the departement of Moselle confirmed in 1853 that these were the "simple arms of Lorraine". These arms were featured on the student's uniforms, on municipal buildings, on the society's banners and on local earthenware.

The old arms were revived in the 19th century by two local heraldists, Jean Cayon (1810-1855; Armorial des villes, bourgs et communautés de la Lorraine et du Barrois, 1853) and Constant Lapaix (Armorial des villes, bourgs et villages de la Lorraine, du Barrois et des Trois-Évêchés, 1877). In 1887, Nicolas Box, author of Notice sur les pays de la Sarre, asked Mayor Freudenfeld to officially readopt the arms. The archivist Henri Lempfrid, however, rejected them as a "whim". His successor in 1898, Henri Grossmann, provided evidence that Box' request was legitimate.
On 8 June 1909, Mayor Zoepfel, based on recommendations made by Grossmann, then Director of the Secondary School of Wissembourg, Max Besler, Director of the Secondary School of Sarreguemines, and the archivist Rosenkraenzer, asked the préfet to re-establish the old arms. In 1912, E. Cavalier, archivist of Lorraine, assisted by the scholar Léon Germain de Maidy (1853-1927), found the old arms of Sarreguemines in a manuscript written in 1723 by Damier Bugnon, First Geographer and Engineer of His Royal Highness, kept at the Nancy municipal library (Armoiries nouvelles dans le manuscrit nobiliaire de Lorraine, liste ou estat des prévostés avec leurs armes fixéz à chacune par le hérau(t) d’arme(s) à la cérémonie de la pompe funèbre de feu Mgr le prince Léopold-Clément en 1723). The arms, redesigned by Pr. K. Eyth, from Karlsruhe, in compliance with the rules of German heraldry (the alerion with a beak, eyes, two legs and wings pointing downwards), were granted on 31 March 1913 by Emperor Wilhelm II. In 1919, following the return of Sarreguemines to France, Mayor Henri Nominé re-established the original design from 1610, with minor variations in the alerion.
In 1942, the German authorities planned to suppress the Cross of Lorraine and to restore the alerion's beak and legs; considered as not kriegswichtig, the project was postponed "after the war" in 1943, and therefore never implemented.

The greater arms of Sarreguemines have the shield surmounted by a three-towered mural crown; in base hangs the Cross of War 1939-1945 with palm, awarded by Decree on 30 June 1948. In 1949, the municipal artist Georges Hermann redesigned the alerion in a more elegant and modern way.
[Historical account by the local historian Henri Hiegel (1910-2001), municipal website]

Pascal Vagnat & Ivan Sache, 2 February 2018