Last modified: 2006-12-23 by ivan sache
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Flag and vertical banner of Pernes-les-Fontaines - Images by Arnaud Leroy, 29 January 2005
The Provencal town of Pernes-les-Fontaines (10,309 inhabitants in 1999); 5,112 hectares, including 2,429 of cultivated lands) is
located on the river Nesque on the edge of the plateau of Vaucluse, c.
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 XIth century, the settlement moved up to a hillock dominating the left bank of the rivers 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 XIIIth century, Comtat Venaissin belonged to the County of Toulouse. In 1125, the Counts transfered the capital city of the Comtat from Venasque to Pernes. When the Holy See inherited the Comtat in 1274, Pernes remained the capital city until 1320, when it was moved
The black plague caused several damages in Pernes in the XVIth and XVIIth 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, of course to no avail. 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 grange de l'Espérance (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 was eventually suppressed and the inhabitants of Pernes restored the chapel dedicated to St. Roch, traditionally invoked against plague. Since then, St. Roch is honored every year on the first Sunday after 15 August.
The town hall of Pernes is the former Hôtel de Brancas, which belonged to a very famous Provencal family. 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 and had seven sons and seven daughters. The elder son, Louis Toussaint, was appointed Marshal of France, Grand d'Espagne and Knight of the Golden Fleece. Three of his brothers were also famous captains. Two other brothers were bishops: Henri Ignace was Bishop of Lisieux (1715) and Jean-Baptiste Antoine is considered as one of the best Archbishops of Aix. The seventh brother, Buffile-Hyacinthe 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 Toussaint de Brancas sold in 1741 the fmaily hotel to the municipality of Pernes.
Until 1850, Pernes, having then c. 5,000 inhabitant, lived mostly from traditional agriculture, producing grains, olives and silkworms. In 1850, an infectious disease called pébrine and the industrialization of silk production in the big towns caused the decline of the magnaneries (family silk farms) in Pernes. Louis Giraud (1805-1883), a notary of Pernes, often elected Mayor of the town and General Councillor of the department of Vaucluse for 24 years, convinced in 1849 the villages surrounding Pernes to form a syndicate. A few years later, he promoted the building of the canal of Carpentras. The canal was inaugurated by Empress Eugénie on 12 July 1857 and Giraud was awarded the Légion d'Honneu by Emperor Napoléon III on 8 September 1860. The canal of Carpentras brings water from the river Durance and allows the irrigated cultivation of 54,000 hectares, mostly fruit and vegetables (melons, strawberries, grapes, cherries...) for which the department of Vaucluse is now famous.
The economical development of the town started at the end of the XIXth
century. In 1868, Father Michelier founded a manufacture producing
church hosts. The production was recently automatized, so that the
manufacture produces now 14 millions hosts per year for several French
Paul de Vivie (1853-1930) was another manufacturer from Pernes. He opened the bicyle manufacture Le Gaulois in Saint-Etienne in 1882. 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 was not only a brilliant engineer, he was also found of his birth region and of bicycle. In order to associate his two passions, he 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 in 1887, which survived him until 1973. Vélocio was also a pioneer in sport dietetics and 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. He delivered there his first funeral oration for Archbishop Claude Rebé, and was ordained priest on 26 March 1657. Fléchier was received at the Académie Française in 1673, along with the poet and tragedian Jean Racine. Louis XIV appointed him Abbot of 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 Académie de Nîmes and died. Fléchier is considered as the second best French orator after Bossuet; he delivered the funeral oration of Marshal Turenne and Queen Marie-Thérèse d'Autriche. He also wrote the biography of several famous people, such as St. Théodore the Great, Cardinal Commendon and Cardinal Ximenes. Fléchier's birth house 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 maître de musique 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 succed him as maître de chapelle 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: d'or à un ours de sable musclé d'argent (Or a bear sable muscled argent; argent is probably canting for Blanchard, blanc being white in French). During his long career, Blanchard composed 46 motets and trained the philosoph 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. Frizet's hymn is still very popular in Provence and 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.
Source: Municipal website
Ivan Sache, 29 January 2005
The flag of Pernes-les-Fontaines is a banner of the municipal
arms, as can be seen on a slide show.
The municipal arms of Pernes-les-Fontaines are (Brian Timms):
D'azur au soleil d'or accompagné d'une perle d'argent en pointe (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 D'azur à une lettre P d'or entourée de deux branches d'olivier au naturel (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.
A vertical banner of the arms of Pernes-les-Fontaines can be seen on the municipal website.
Ivan Sache, 29 January 2005