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Saint-Benoît-sur-Loire (Municipality, Loiret, France)

Last modified: 2021-06-30 by ivan sache
Keywords: saint-benoît-sur-loire |
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Flag of Saint-Benoît-sur-Loire - Image by Olivier Touzeau, 14 January 2021


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Presentation of Saint-Benoît-sur-Loire

The municipality of Saint-Benoît-sur-Loire (2,017 inhabitants in 2018; 1,827 ha; municipal website) is located 30 km of Orléans.

Saint-Benoît-sur-Loire is the site of the abbey of Fleury, dedicated to St. Benedict.
Fleury, maybe named for a Gallo-Roman estate owned by Florus or Florius, was located in an area called by Camille Julian "Gaul's umbilicus", on the undelimited borders between the territories of the Visigoths, of the Burgundians and of the Franks. In 640, during the regency exerted by Nathilda on behalf of her six-years old son, Clovis II, the Frankish merchant Leodebod swapped his domain of Attigny, located in Austrasia, for agrum Floriacum (the land of Fleury), part of the royal domain. Subsequently appointed abbot of Saint-Aignan, in Orléans, Leodebod established in 651 in Fleury a Benedictine abbey dedicated to St. Mary and a parish church dedicated to St. Peter.
Around 660, abbot Mummolis (632-663) commissioned monks to retrieve the relics of St. Benedict from the ruined abbey of Monte Cassino. Initially kept in the parish church, the relics were transferred to the abbey church after a vision experienced by the abbot; the church was increased and the abbey was renamed for St. Benedict. Merovingian sarcophagi dated to the 7th and 8th centuries indicate that notables asked to be buried close to the saint's relics.

In 750, Pope Zachary and King Pepin the Brief ordered the monks of Fleury to give back the relics, to no avail. At the times, relics were a main source of prestige and income, which triggered a fierce competition between sanctuaries to get them by all means. Pepin sent two of his brothers, Carloman, monk at Monte Cassino, and Remigius, bishop of Rouen, to Fleury. After the monks of Fleury had invoked St. Benedict, Remigius went blind and gave up. In 803, the poet and theologian Theodulf, bishop of Orléans, established with Charlemagne's support a school that became a main center of culture in the Christian world. The bishop erected in nearby Germigny his summer residence, whose oratory has been preserved until now.

From the 9th century onward, the abbey was looted several times by the Norsemen. The "Miracula Sancti Benedicti", a chronicle written in the 11th century by monk Aimoin, reports that the abbey was invaded by Rainaldus' clan during the tenure of abbot Lambert (907-925). The next knight, St. Benedict appeared to Rainaldus and hit his head with his crozier, announcing him his imminent death. Scared, the Norseman immediately went back to Rouen, where he died.
Reformed in 930 by St. Odo of Cluny, the abbey was embellished in 952 by the Breton bishop Mabbo; on his way to his retirement place, Cluny, Mabbo offered to Fleury relics of St. Pol Aurelian. Those relics, as well as those of Sts. Frogent, Maur and Sebastian, were burned down in 1562 by the Huguenots; once again, St; Benedict's relics were miraculously preserved from destruction.

Appointed in 988 abbot of Fleury, St. Abbo, a noted theologian and diplomat, increased the cultural fame of the abbey. He preserved the independence of the abbey from the royal power, opposing to Hugh Capet, and from the episcopal power, recognizing only the suzerainty of the Holy See. Appointed in 996 main counsel of Hugh's son, Robert II the Pious, Abbo was killed in 1004 in the abbey of La Réole during an attempt of mediation.
Abbot from 1004 to 1030, Gauzlin, a natural son of Hugh Capet subsequently appointed bishop of Bourges, erected the big tower that would be named for him, and set up the pavement made of colored Italian marble pieces. Gauzlin rebuilt the abbey church partially destroyed by a blaze in 1067.
A new abbey church, built by abbot William from 1067, was consecrated in 1108 by the bishops of Orléans and Auxerre in the presence of king Louis VI the Fat. His father, Philip I, deceased the same year, was interred in the abbey's crypt. Louis VI, St. Bernard of Clairvaux and Pope Innocent II met in Fleury in 1130.

In 1562, Odet of Coligny, abbot of Vézelay and Fleury, converted to the Protestant religion but kept the abbey's earnings. The treasures, St. Benedict's shrined dated to 1207 included, were melted down in Orléans. Prior Antoine Faubert saved the relics, while the lawyer Pierre Daniel acquired a part of the abbey's huge library. Cardinal of Richelieu, appointed abbot in 1621, introduced the St. Maur's reform and walled the crypt. The archbishop of Bourges was appointed abbot of Fleury in 1771.
The restoration of the abbey church, initiated in 1840, would last more than 150 years. In 1944, Benedictine monks from La Pierre-qui-Vire reconstituted original capitals from scraps. The abbey church was erected a basilica minor on 11 July 1949 by Pope Pius XII, while the monastery, suppressed after the French Revolution, was rebuilt in 1954.
[Les très riches heures de Fleury]

The poet and painter Max Jacob (1876-1944), one of the founders of French modern poetry, retired in 1935 in Saint-Benoît-sur-Loire. Hired as a pilgrim's guide, Jacob welcomed in Saint-Benoît his old friends from Paris, such as Paul Éluard, Jean Cocteau, Pablo Picasso and Marie Laurencin. He also initiated there the birth of the Rochefort School founded in 1941 by young artists.
In spite of his conversion in 1915 to the Catholic religion, Max Jacob was targeted by the antisemitic laws issued by Pétain's regime. While most mmebers of his family were arrested and deported, Jacob refused the help of the anti-German Resistance and preferred "to die as a martyr" than leaving. Arrested on 24 February 1944, he was jailed in Orléans and transferred on 28 February to the camp of Drancy, north of Paris. Several intellectuals, noted collaborationists included, attempted to prevent Jacob's deportation to Auschwitz. The poet died in Drancy on 5 March 1944. He was officially recognized "mort pour la France" on 17 November 1960.
Like all prisoners deceased in Drancy, Max Jacob was interred in the Ivry cemetery. His remains were transferred on 5 March 1949 in the cemetery of Saint-Benoît-sur-Loire.
[Abbaye de Fleury]

Ivan Sache, 30 June 2021


Flag of Saint-Benoît-sur-Loire

The flag of Saint-Benoît-sur-Loire (photo) is white with the municipal coat of arms, "Azure a cross argent charged with five roses gules cantoned in chief with two fleurs-de-lis or in base with two croziers addorsed of the same issuant from the base".
These were the arms of the abbey of Fleury, as featured in the armorial (La description des villes et villages de France) redacted in 1669 by Father Pierre de La Planche, priest and librarian at the Paris Oratoire.
[Loiret Departmental Archives]

The flowers (fleurs) make the arms canting and recall the traditional etymology of Fleury.
The aforementioned "Miracula Sancti Benedicti" report that St. Benedict's relics, which had been transferred to Orléans during the Norsemen's invasions, were brought back to Fleury on a 4 December. The shrine was placed on a boat without either sail or oars, which broke the ice. When the boat landed in Saint-Benoît-sur-Loire, welcomed by bishops, abbots and monks, the neighboring bushed and tree miraculously flourished.
Fleury fleurit, admirable spectacle dans le pays
Quand le Père fait son entrée [...]
De là vient son nom, car auparavant il s'appelait
Le Val d'Or du fait de sa fertilité

(Fleury flourished, admirable spectacle in the country
When the Father comes back [...]
Thereof comes its name, since beforehand it was called
The Golden Valley, thanks to its fertility).
[Fleurs d'hiver]

The convenient etymological explanation does not hold, since the abbey has always been documented under the name of Fleury. The story appears to have been modeled on the report of the transport of the body of Saint-Martin on river Loire from Candes to Tours on a 11 November, with a similar ecophysiological effect on neighboring vegetation.

Olivier Touzeau & Ivan Sache, 30 June 2021


 
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