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Sarrebourg (Municipality, Moselle, France)

Last modified: 2021-03-28 by ivan sache
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Flag of Sarrebourg - Image by Olivier Touzeau, 19 September 2020

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Presentation of Sarrebourg

The municipality of Sarrebourg (12,331 inhabitants in 2018; 1,640 ha; tourism website) is located 80 km north-east of Metz.

Sarrebourg was built after the conquest of Gaul on the right bank of river Saar. The Roman road heading from Metz to the limes (border) crossed it by a wooden bridge (pons) for which the town was named Pons Saravi. Very quickly the town expanded and enjoyed some prosperity throughout antiquity. The town included at least two necropolises undoubtedly several public monuments (thermal baths, temples), as attested by the prestigious temple of Mithras discovered in 1895, decorated with the magnificent altar offered by Marcellus Marianus. In recent years, preventive excavations have brought to light several blocks of houses.

While the Merovingian period left few remains, texts, namely the cartulary of Wissembourg (713) describe Sarrebourg as a stronghold (Castrum Saraburgum) which minted money.
In the Middle Ages, the city belonged to the powerful bishops of Metz. Jean d´Apremont then Jacques de Lorraine, in 1256 undertook the construction of ramparts (28 towers, four gates), some remains of which are still visible today. In 1464 however, the citizens of Sarrebourg, gathered in the Cordeliers convent, pledged allegiance to the Duke of Lorraine. The town enjoyed some economic prosperity in the Middle Ages. In the southern suburbs, potters produced crockery and stove pots but also statuettes and casts of great artistic quality. Sarrebourg was an important center of Christianization. Monastic and religious foundations thrived: Cordeliers, Order of Teutonic Knights, Dames de Vergaville and Dominican nuns.

During the Thirty Years' War, the town, already very impoverished, was besieged by the Swedes led by the Duke of Weimar. Sarrebourg escaped the fire by paying a crushing ransom. In the Middle Ages, the town had around 1200 to 1400 inhabitants, it lost more than half in the 17th century. After its incorporation to France in 1661, Sarrebourg resumed development, which was confirmed throughout the 18th century. The parish church was rebuilt and enriched with furniture by the local sculptor Dominique Labroise. After the Revolution, the town's economic recovery began at the beginning of the 19th century, with the installation in 1805 of the factory of architectural decorations by Joseph Beunat, which achieved remarkable success.
The construction of the railway in 1852 brought new dynamism to Sarrebourg and its region. In 1871 Sarrebourg was annexed to Prussia and until 1914, the extension of the military function strongly marked town planning.

Sarrebourg is enlightened by the Tree of Life stained-glass window designed in 1976 by Marc Chagall (1887-1985) in the former Cordeliers chapel. Of 12 m in width on 7 m in length, this is Chagall's biggest stained-glass window.
During the restoration of the chapel, Robert Renard, Chief Architect of Historic Monuments commissioned Chagall to design a brand new work, as he had done on 1959 in the cathedral of Metz. Chagall accepted, provided the windows were made by Charles Marcq (1923-2006) at the Jacques Simon (1890-1974) workshop in Reims. Chagall started his collaboration with Simon and Marcq in 1957; most of his prominent windows - for the seat of the UN in New York, the Tudeley church, the Rockefeller chapel in Pocantino Hill... - were designed there.
To design the Sarrebourg window, Chagall produced brand new elements but also reused pieces from the 105 engravings he had made in 1925 for a release of the Bible planned by Ambroise Vollard, eventually published in 1956 by Tériade. The final sketch of the work was presented on 18 April 1974 by Chagall and Marcq to Pierre Messmer, Mayor of Sarrebourg.
[Le vitrail de l'Arbre de Vie de Chagall à la chapelle des Cordeliers de Sarrebourg, 27 June 2016]

Pierre Messmer (1916-2007) and Lieutenant Jean Simon moved to Marseilles after France's surrender on 17 June 1840. With the help of captain Vuillemin, they enrolled on the Italian cargo ship Capo Olmo heading to North Africa. The three men were able to convince the crew, against the officers' orders, to sail to Gibraltar. On 17 July 1940, the ship landed to Liverpool, with some 30 volunteer fighters and airplane spare parts, whose sale allowed the funding of emerging Free France for the next three months. Messmer joined the French Free Forces and fought in Gabon and Dakar. During the Erythrean campaign, his section conquered on 14 March 1941 the Grand Willy hill and on 8 April the Massaoua fortresses, capturing three officers and 70 seamen. He commanded the 3rd Company during the Syrian campaign; promoted to the rank of Captain, he fought in the 1st French Free Brigade in Libya, Bir-Hakeim and El-Alamein. Sent back to London on October 1943 to serve in General Koenig's general staff, he landed in August 1944 in Normandy; on 25 August, he led the HQ brigade, entering Paris with the 2nd Armored Division.
Messmer subsequently served in Calcutta, Indochina and Africa. He served as Minister of Army from 1960 to 1969 and State Minister in charge of Overseas Departments and Territories from 1971 to 1972. In the aftermath of the May 1968 events, Pierre Messmer was Prime Minister from July 1972 to May 1974, incarnating the re-establishment of "law and order".
Known as the "last Gaullist", Pierre Messmer was Representative of Moselle from 1968 to 1988, Regional Councillor and President of the Regional Council of Lorraine from 1970 to 1982, General Councillor of Moselle from 1970 and 1982, and Mayor of Sarrebourg from 1971 to 1989.
[Ordre de la Libération]

In general elections, Messmer was always elected at the first round with more than 70% of the votes, until 1988, when he was defeated by Aloyse Warhouver (b. 1930), a "dissident" centrist who seated until 2002 as an "independent", then as "miscellaneous left", at the National Assembly, supporting François Mitterrand's presidential majority.

Olivier Touzeau & Ivan Sache, 19 September 2020

Flag of Sarrebourg

The flag of Sarrebourg (photo) is white with the municipal coat of arms, "Argent three stag's antlers of three branches bendwise gules ordered in bend sinister.

The oldest known municipal eat of Sarrebourg, dated 1252, features St. Stephen standing on a starry field, holding a palm in one hand and a book in the other. The saint stands under a triangular porch falanked by two towers.
The town's privy seal dated 1269 features the half-antlers. Border stones engraved 1600 and 1773 also feature these charges.
During the First Empire, the municipality of Sarrebourg applied for amended arms, "Azure a bridge argent masoned sable over a river argent in chief three stag's antlers of the same. the shield surmounted by a mural crown supporting a maiden holding in her hands a stag's antler sable. The shield supported by two lions". The pure maiden emphasizes the town's Latin motto, "Urbs cum ipsis hostem repulit et repellet" (The town and its inhabitants repelled and will repel the enemy). The application was not successful, so that Sarrebourg still uses its original arms.
[Union des Cercles Généalogiques de Lorraine]

Although not used, the proposed arms are featured in Traversier & Vaisse's Armorial national de France (1842) and on a Café Sanka card (1932-1937).
[Heraldry of the World]

Olivier Touzeau & Ivan Sache, 19 September 2020

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