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Avranches (Municipality, Manche, France)

Last modified: 2003-06-14 by ivan sache
Keywords: manche | avranches | crescents: 2 (white) | dolphin (white) | castle (white) |
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[Flag of Avranches]by Arnaud Leroy

Source: Pascal Vagnat

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Presentation of the municipality

Avranches is a city of c. 12,000 inhabitants (20.000 with the outskirts), sous-préfecture of the department of Manche. The city is built close to the mouth of the river Sée, on the Bay of Mont-Saint-Michel.

Avranches was named after the local Gaul tribe of Abricantes, mentioned for instance by Pliny the Elder. The bishopric of Abrincensis was founded in the VIth century. Church St. Gervais was listed in a deed by Merovingian King Dagobert (637). In 708, Bishop St. Aubert (celebrated on 10 September) started the building of the Abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel. According to Le roman en vers de la conquête de la Bretagne, the castle of Avranches was built by Charlemagne, but there is no historical evidence of that fact.
In 867, the Viscounty of Avranches was annexed by Solomon, Duke of Brittany. In 936, Duke Alan Barbetorte transfered the Viscounty to William Long-Sword, Duke of Normandy. Hugh 'Lupus' (1050-1101), i.e., the Wolf,or more probably the Fat, Viscount of Avranches and Count of Chester (England), was one of William the Conqueror's brother-in-arms.

During the Normand ducal period, the Romanic cathedral and the episcopal palace were a famous center for teaching. The Italian theologians Lanfranco of Pavia and Anselmo of Aosta, later appointed Archbishop of Canterbury, taught in Avranches. In 1172, King of England Henry II Plantagenet made amends to the Pope's legates in front of the cathedral in order to expiate for the infamous murder of Thomas Becket. The last Viscount of Avranches, Ranulf III, died in 1236 without male descendants, and King of France St. Louis bought the city. King Charles V eventually incorporated Avranches to the Kingdom of France in 1378.

In the XVIth century, Avranches supported the ultra-Catholic League and refused to acknowledge Henri IV as the King of France. The royal troops led by Duke of Montpensier seized the city in 1590. In 1639, Duke of Richelieu imposed the gabelle (salt tax) in the area of Avranches. In the neighbouring Brittany, Duchess Ann suppressed the gabelle in the XVIth century, thus causing smuggling in the border areas. The Nu-Pieds (Barefoot), led by Jean Quétil, revolted in Avranches and were eventually slaughtered by the royal troops in 1639. Even during these troubled times, the fame of Avranches did not decrease. Bishop Daniel Huet (1630-1725) was considered as one of the most educated men of his times. During the French Revolution, Avranches was fiercely disputed between the Chouans (Royalists) and the Blues (Republicans). In 1794, the Bishopric was suppressed and the cathedral collapsed. St. Aubert's relics were dispersed, and only his head was preserved in the St. Gervais church.

In the XIXth century, Avranches increased in size and population. Avranches had "its" Napoleonian hero, Roger Valhubert, who died during the battle of Austerlitz (1802).

During the Second World War, Avranches was bombed by the American Air Force in June 1944. The legendary Operation Cobra, led by General Patton, caused the Avranches breakout (percée d'Avranches) and the liberation of the city on 31 July 1944. Avranches was then used as the starting point for the liberation of Brittany and the rest of North-West Europe.

The great wealth of Avranches is a huge collection of ancient manuscripts and books, kept in the former episcopal palace. More than 200 manuscripts from the Abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel (from VIIIth to XVth centuries) and 14,000 books (from XVI to XIXth centuries) miraculously escaped destruction during the Second World War. The rest of the Mont-Saint-Michel collection disappeared during the bombings in Saint-Lô.

In his book Les quatre vents de l'esprit, Victor Hugo wrote the poem Près d'Avranches (Near Avranches), starting with:
"La nuit morne tombait sur la morne étendue ("The dismal night fell onto the dismal are)
and refering later to the Mont-Saint-Michel:
Saint-Michel surgissait, seul, sur les flots amers." (Saint Michel lommed up, alone, on the bitter waves")

The local gastronomic speciality is the boudin blanc d'Avranches (white sausage).


Ivan Sache, 4 November 2002

Description of the flag

The flag of Avranches is red with the municipal coat of arms placed in the middle of the flag and surmonted with the city name in white Capital letters.

The coat of arms of Avranches can be blazoned as follows:

Azure, a city gate beneath two crescents and a dolphine reversed all Argent

According to Heratlas, these arms appeared on the Armorial of Avranches in 1214.

Ivan Sache, 4 November 2002