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Pernes-les-Fontaines (Municipality, Vaucluse, France)

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Flag and vertical banner of Pernes-les-Fontaines - Images by Arnaud Leroy, 29 January 2005


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Presentation of Pernes-les-Fontaines

The municipality of Pernes-les-Fontaines (10,309 inhabitants in 1999; 5,112 ha, including 2,429 ha of cultivated lands; municipal website) is located on the river Nesque on the edge of the plateau of Vaucluse, 15 km west of Avignon and 10 km south of Carpentras.

The oldest mention of Pernes dates back to 994, as Paternis villa, refering to an estate owned by a Gallo-Roman lord named Paternus. The settlement was then built around a church in the plain. In the 11th century, the settlement moved up to a hillock dominating the left bank of the Nesque and constituted a fortified village called Paternensis castrum, later Paternae and eventually Pernes. On 18 March 1936, the President of the Republic granted the town its current name of Pernes-les-Fontaines.
Until the late 13th century, the Comtat Venaissin belonged to the County of Toulouse. In 1125, the Counts transferred the capital city of the Comtat from Venasque to Pernes. When the Holy See inherited the Comtat in 1274, Pernes remained the capital until 1320, when it was moved to Carpentras.
The black plague caused several damages in Pernes in the 16th-17th centuries: in 1580, the disease killed 2,500. In 1720, black plague was introduced in Marseilles via the ship Le Grand Saint-Antoine; the Parliament of Aix forbid any communication between Marseilles and the rest of Provence, which did not stop the disease. A fortified wall called mur de la peste (Plague's Wall) was built all along the southern border of Comtat Venaissin in order to stop the disease. All the gates of Pernes were locked, except the Notre-Dame's gate, which was thoroughly watched; quarantine buildings were set up, such as the Hope's Barn. These basic prophylactic measures were fairly efficient since only 122 died in 1721, whereas the neighbouring towns lost a quarter of their inhabitants. In 1722, the plague eventually disappeared and the inhabitants of Pernes restored the chapel dedicated to St. Roch, traditionally invoked against plague. Since then, St. Roch has been honored every year on the first Sunday after 15 August.

The Town Hall of Pernes is the former Hôtel de Brancas, once owned by a very famous local lineage. On 25 April 1671, Henri de Brancas, second Count of Forcalquier, Marquis of Céreste, Baron of Castelet, lord of Robion, aged 31, married Dorothée de Cheylus de Saint-Jean, aged 16 and later known as Madame la Comtesse. They settled in Pernes, where they raised seven sons and seven daughters. Their elder son, Louis-Henri de Brancas (1672-1750, aka the Marquis of Brancas), was appointed Ambassador of France in Spain (1705; 1713) and Governor of Nantes and Commander of Brittany (1738); he was named Marshal of France (1740), Grandee of Spain, and Knight of the Golden Fleece. Three of his brothers were also famous captains. Two other brothers were bishops, Henri-Ignace de Brancas, Bishop of Lisieux (1715-1760), and Jean-Baptiste-Antoine de Brancas, Bishop of La Rochelle (1725-1729) and Archbishop of Aix (1729-1770). The seventh brother, Buffile-Hyacinthe-Toussaint (1897-1754) was appointed in 1725 Envoy Extraordinaire in Sweden by King Louis XV and Minister Plenipotentiary in the Congress of Soissons. Count Henri died in Pernes in 1700 and was survived by his wife, who died in Paris in 1734. Louis-Henri de Brancas sold in 1741 the family hotel to the municipality of Pernes.

Until 1850, Pernes, counting then some 5,000 inhabitants, lived mostly from traditional agriculture, producing grains, olives and silkworms. In 1850, pepper disease and the industrialization of silk production in the big towns caused the decline of the magananeries (family silk farms) in Pernes. Louis Giraud (1805-1883), a notary of Pernes, Mayor of the town (1833-1835, 1844-1848, 1853-1865) and General Councillor of the department of Vaucluse for 24 years (1846-1970), convinced in 1849 the villages surrounding Pernes to form a syndicate. A few years later, he promoted the building of the Canal de Carpentras, which was inaugurated by Empress Eugénie on 12 July 1857. The Canal de Carpentras supplies 54,000 ha mostly grown with fruit and vegetables (melons, strawberries, grapes, cherries...) with water from river Durance.

The economic development of the town started at the end of the 19th century. In 1868, Father Michelier founded a manufacture producing church hosts. The production (14 million hosts per year) was recently automatized and transfered to L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue.
Paul de Vivie (1853-1930), a manufacturer from Pernes, opened in 1882 the bicyle manufacture Le Gaulois in Saint-Étienne. He invented or improved several components of the bicycle, such as the pedal and gear mechanisms, the equiangle frame, the linkless frame and the derailleur. Vivie invented cyclotourisme, bicycle touring, which became his own philosophy ("Spend a day in open air, enjoy the safe pleasure of fulfilled effort, admire beautiful nature, far from the human pettiness"). Vivie, nicknamed Vélocio, launched in 1887 the review Le Cycliste, which survived him until 1973. Also a pioneer in sport dietetics, Vivie created cyclists' mass events such as the Diagonale and Pâques en Provence, which celebrated its 75th anniversary in Pernes in spring 2003. Vélocio is also celebrated every year by the Journée Vélocio, set up by three of his friends in 1922.

The orator Esprit Fléchier (1632-1710) was brought up in Pernes by his uncle, Reverend Father Hercule Audiffret, Director of the College of the Brothers of the Christian Doctrine in Tarascon. He joined this Brotherhood in 1648 and was appointed Professor of Rethorics in Narbonne in 1652. Fléchier delivered there his first funeral oration for Archbishop Claude Rebé; he was ordained priest on 26 March 1657.
Fléchier was installed at the French Academy in 1673, along with the poet and tragedian Jean Racine. Louis XIV appointed him Abbot of the St. Séverin's abbey in Paris and Ordinary Chaplain of Madame la Dauphine. Fléchier was later Bishop of Lavaur and Bishop of Nîmes (1687), where he founded the Academy of Nîmes and died.
Fléchier is considered as the second best French orator after Bossuet; he delivered the funeral oration of Marshal Turenne and Queen Maria Theresa. He also wrote the biography of several famous people, such as St. Theodoros the Great, Cardinal Commendon and Cardinal Ximenes. Fléchier's birth house in Pernes is now the Museum of Provencal Traditions.

The musician Esprit Antoine Blanchard (1696-1770) was born in Pernes. Young Blanchard had a wonderful voice and was enrolled in the choir of the St. Sauveur's chapter in Aix. He learned there theology, Latin and musical theory, and met the famous musician André Campra, who became his best friend. Aged 21, Blanchard was appointed cantor of the chapter of the famous St. Victor abbey in Marseilles; he later got the same position in the cathedral of Toulon, the municipality of Besançon and in the cathedral of Amiens. In 1783, Campra, old and infirm, asked Blanchard to succeed him as cantor of King Louis XV in Versailles. In 1748, the king appointed him Maître des pages de la chapelle. Blanchard was nicknamed Abbot Blanchard but married in 1754 and got three children. Louis XV ennoblished him in 1764 and granted him arms, "Or a bear sable muscled argent"; argent is probably canting for Blanchard, blanc mening "white" in French). During his long career, Blanchard composed 46 motets and trained the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, once musician in the cathedral of Annecy. In 1763, a young musician aged 7 attended a motet concert by old Blanchard; the young musician was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The legend says that the main source of inspiration and musical accuracy of Blanchard was the "song" of the several fountains of his birth town.

Pernes is the birth town of the Félibre poet Malachie Frizet (1849-1909). In 1877, Frizet became vice-editor of the Félibre review Lou Provençou. He wrote the hymn Provençaou et Catouli (Hymn to Our Lady of Provence) for the inauguration of a chapel, and was awarded the first prize, a golden flower given by the founder of Félibrige, Frédéric Mistral. Frizet did not keep the flower but offered it to the Blessed Virgin, clipping the flower on the blue caot of the statue. Still very popular in Provence, the hymn was even sung into the basilica Notre-Dame in Lourdes. Frizet later abandoned poetry and became a journalist in Montpellier, where he directed the Royalist newspaper L'Eclair in 1883.

Ivan Sache, 29 January 2005


Flag of Pernes-les-Fontaines

The flag of Pernes-les-Fontaines is a banner of the municipal arms, "Azure a sun in his splendour or in base a plate argent".
These arms were granted in 1566 by Bartholomeo Thurellus, President of the Apostolic Chamber of Carpentras. Beforehand, the arms of Pernes were "Azure, a letter 'P' or surrounded by two olive branches". The letter "P" seems to have been the source of mockery and the inhabitants asked for new arms.
The flag is also used as a vertical benner.

Ivan Sache, 29 January 2005