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Cancale (Municipality, Ille-et-Vilaine, France)

Last modified: 2023-08-24 by olivier touzeau
Keywords: cancale |
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Flag of Cancale, current and former versions - Images by Olivier Touzeau, 12 October 2021

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Presentation of Cancale

The municipality of Cancale (5,293 inhabitants in 2007; 1,300 ha; unofficial website) is located 15 km east of Saint-Malo, at the western end of the Bay of Mont-Saint-Michel.

Cancale, allegedly founded in 545 by St. Méen (the Welsh monk Conald Mewen), was mentioned for the first time in 1032, as Cancavene, when Duke of Brittany Alain III transferred the domain of Cancavene, the port of Porz Pican and the St. Méen church to the abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel. The name of Cancavene was probably derived from two Breton words, conq, "a cove", and aven, "a river". In the Middle Ages, Cancale belonged to the lord of Plessis-Bertrand, whose castle, located in Saint-Coulomb, was destroyed at the end of the 16th century. The last lord of Cancale, Magon de la Lande, was beheaded in 1793.

At the end of the 17th century, Vauban, considering Cancale as the weakest point in the defense of Saint-Malo, ordered to build new batteries. In 1704, Siméon Garengeau planned to build a small fortress on the Rimains islet, located off Cancale, which was not done. On 4 June 1758, during the Seven Years' Wars, an English fleet made of 115 vessels bombed Cancale and the coastal defenses, allowing the landing of 20,000 soldiers commanded by the Duke of Marlborough, who besieged Saint-Malo and burned the privateers' ships moored in Saint- Sevran. Two weeks later, the assaulters withdrew short before the arrival of the French troops commanded by Duke d'Aiguillon. On 13 May 1779, following the failed French landing in Jersey, six English frigates shot more than 2,000 bullets against Cancale and burned three ships in the port. Following the latter attack, the States of Brittany decided to build a fortress on the Rimains islet. Much bigger than Garengeau's proposal, the fort, achieved in 1786, could house 200 men serving 26 cannons; the most powerful fort in the region, it dissuaded the English attempts of attack and was never involved in war acts.

Cancale is the cradle of the cancale oysters ("horse-foot" flat oysters [Ostrea edulis]), originally picked up from deep-sea, natural banks located off the town. In 1545, King Francis I, fond of fine food, granted to Cancale the titles of town and official oysters' supplier of the court; fresh oysters were served at the Royal table twice a week. Francis I's successors, Henry IV, Louis XIII and Louis XIV, maintained the privilege, increasing the fame of Cancale.
The oyster resource became endangered, since more than 100 million oysters were extracted each year from the natural banks. In 1759, Louis XIV, also fond of oysters, regulated collect, which was forbidden during the summer months to allow reproduction and growth of the young oysters. The ban is the remote origin of the "r-month" urban legend, which claims that oysters are edible only during months having a "r" in their name, therefore not in May, June, July and August.
In modern times, oyster collect in Cancale was strictly regulated by the Maritime Affairs administration; on the April fishing day, the boats rallied in the port of La Houle and rushed together to the banks, which was called "the caravan". The local boats specifically designed to bring back the oysters to Cancale, were called bisquines, a name coined around 1820 in official marine registers. Improved all along the 19th century, especially after the organization of the first regatta on 31 August 1845, the bisquines were progressively abandoned when oyster fishing declined.
The small port of La Houle, often flooded until the building of a sea dyke in the 18th century, was a main center of trade of oysters, which were painfully washed and prepared by women, as recalled by the beautiful statute "The Oysters' Washers", and immediatly shipped, mostly to Paris and London.
In the 1920s, oyster fishing declined and was superseded by oyster- farming. In the same period, the oyster swimming larvae of the bay were all suppressed by a mysterious disease. Today, the larvae are imported from disease-free areas in South Brittany and "sown" in the parks set up close to the shore. Some 520 concession owners grow oysters on a 375-ha area dedicated to ostreiculture. Attempts of reintroduction of the flat oysters in the bay have been made since the 1980s, with some promising results.

In the middle of the 19th century, a fishing port developed in Cancale, where a fleet of some 50 terre-neuvas was registered, maintaining a tradition dating back to Jacques Cartier. Terre-neuvas were huge three-masters involved in the "grande pêche" (grand fishing) of cod on the Grand Banks of Newfoundland (Terre-Neuve). The joint fleets of Saint-Malo, Saint- Servan and Cancale represented one third of the French terre-neuvas. The local fisher Ernest Lamort (1890-1958), nicknamed "The Seamen's Friend", founded the first seamen' professional union in France.

Cancale is the birth town of St. Jeanne Jugan (b. Joucan; 1792-1879). Raised in a very poor family, Jeanne refused marriage and moved to Saint-Servan, when she started to collect money for the poors she housed in her small room; her local group, named in 1842 "The Poors' Servants", was renamed in 1849 "The Little Sisters of the Poor" and approved as a congregation on 9 July 1854 by Pope Pius IX. The congregation manages today 208 houses in 31 countries. Jeanne was canonized on 11 October 2009 by Pope Benedict XVI.
The less-known Marguerite Le Pastour (1720-?) escaped her parents' house in Cancale dressed as a man and fought in the French and Austrian armies; she was appointed executioner in Lyon, where it took 27 months to find out she was a she-executioner. Jailed for a while, she married in Lyon and came back to Cancale for the rest of her life.

Ivan Sache, 22 August 2010

Flag of Cancale

The flag of Cancale (photo, photo, photo, photo, photo, photo), used since the 2010s, is light green with the municipal coat of arms surmounted by a golden crown, and, above, forming an arch, the name of the municipality in Taranis font. Beforehand, the municipality used a similar flag (photo) with a darker shade of green, no corwn above the shield and the name of the municipality written horizontally in a different font.

The arms of Cancale, "Azure a three-master or with masts argent on a sea vert orled by ten oysters or a canton argent a double-headed eagle sable", were designed in 1910 by a local scholar, Priest Joseph Mathurin, who submitted them to the municipality in a letter dated 4 April. Reported on 7 June in the daily Le Salut, the letter has not been kept in the municipal archives.
The adoption of the arms might have been postponed due to the social crisis that broke out in Cancale in 1910-1911; after a seaman's strike, the shipowners delocalized their fleets in other ports. Mathurin's design was rediscovered during the interbellum, being featured on the War Memorial erected in 1929. Slightly redesigned in the next years by Joseph Pellerin, the arms were placed in the parish church and on the facade of the new post office built in 1935.
The good priest did not care much about the rule of tinctures and used non-stereotypical elements, a bisquine sailboat instead of a nave, and oysters instead of scallops.
[Cancale et à l'entour]

Joseph Mathurin (1868-1943) was born in a seafarers' family, known in Cancale since 1564. Ordained priest in Rennes in 1891, Mathurin was appointed teacher in Vitré for a short period. In 1893, he was named vicar in Dinard, then in Rennes (1901), and eventually appointed parish priest in Fougères (1922-1930).
On 8 September 1923, Mathurin organized in Fougères the Coronation of Our lady of the Marshes, a religious festival authorized by Pope Pius XI that attracted, according to Ouest-Éclair, more than 50,000 "foreigners", brought by special trains from Vitré, Saint-Malo, Coutances, Vire and Mortain. The next year, he initiated the Pardon (traditional Breton pilgrimage) of Our Lady of the Marshes, which would be celebrated until 2016.
As a scholar, Mathurin published several monographs in journals of the societies of local histories, in parish bulletins, and in the weekly La semaine religieuse de Rennes.
[Racines et Histoire]

The canton charged with a double-headed eagle sable armed and beaked gules is a reference to the castle of Plessis-Bertrand, located just west of Cancale.
The castle of Plessis-Bertrand was erected in Saint-Coulomb by Bertrand III du Guesclin (c. 1200-c. 1260); it was destroyed around 1590 by the inhabitants of Saint-Malo. Bertrand III's elder son, Pierre II, inherited the domain of Plessis-Bertrand, which he transferred to his son, Pierre III, whose daughter Tiphaine transferred the domain and title to her second husband, Pierre de Tournemine. Bertrand III's junior son, Bertrand IV, was the direct ancestor of the famous Constable Bertrand V du Guesclin (1311-1320). The oldest known member of the du Guesclin family is Richer (d. c. 1050), owner of the castle of Guarplic; the castle was probably suppressed in the 13th century and replaced by Plessis-Bertrand.
"Argent a double-headed eagle sable armed and beaked gules" were the arms of the senior branch of the du Guesclin family, lords of Plessis-Bertrand. The junior branch added a bend gules as the mark of cadency.
[ Racines et Histoire]

The latter arms are featured in the Armorial Général for Bertrand du Guesclin, Chief of the House (image), and for Julienne du Guesclin, widow (image).

Ivan Sache, 14 October 2021

Yacht clubs

Association des Plaisanciers du Littoral Cancalais


Burgee of APLC - Image by Ivan Sache, 22 August 2010

The burgee of the Association des Plaisanciers du Littoral Cancalais (APLC), the association of local, non-professional fishers, (webs), is white with a green cross and the letters "A", "P", "L" and "C" in the respective quarters of the flag.
The colours of the flag must have been taken from the coat of arms / flag of Cancale.

Ivan Sache, 22 August 2010

Club Nautique de Cancale

[Burgee of CNC]

Burgee of CNC - Image by Ivan Sache, 31 October 2010

Club Nautique de Cancale (CNC) was founded in August 1959 by Dr. Albert Roellinger to organize regattas; in 1960, a sailing school was founded with the support of the Youth and Sports Service of the Department of Ille-et-Vilaine. The club was officially registered in November 1963 and opened its club house on the port of Port-Mer. The sailing school was subsequently transfered to the municipality; the club has today sections for catamarans, dinghies and cruise boats.
The burgee of the CNC (image) is light blue with a white-light blue-white cross.

Ivan Sache, 31 October 2010

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