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Domfront (Municipality, Orne, France)

Last modified: 2005-12-24 by ivan sache
Keywords: orne | domfront | castle (grey) |
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[Flag of Domfront]

Municipal flag of Domfront - Image by Arnaud Leroy, 13 April 2005

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Presentation of Domfront

Domfront (4,3888 inhabitants) is a former fortified border city located on the border of Normandy and Maine. The city was built on a sandstone spur dominating the river Varenne, which flows through the Norman hills in a gorge located 70 m below the spur. One of the most powerful donjons in France, now ruined, was built in Domfront, watching the road linking Caen, the capital city of Normandy, to Maine and Anjou.

Domfront was formerly named Domfront-en-Passais. The city is named after an hermitage built by St. Front in the forest of Passais in the middle of the VIth century. Passais is the country watered by the rivers Mayenne, Varenne and Egrenne. Passais is famous for its pear trees and Domfront is the capital city of poiré, a cider made with fermented fresh pear juice, Calvados du Domfrontais, made with 2/3 of cider and 1/3 of poiré, and pommeau.
In the past, Domfront had a lukewarm reputation because of the saying: Domfront ville de malheur ! arrivé à midi, pendu à une heure ! seulement pas le temps de dîner ! (Domfront, city of sorrow! arrived at noon, hung at one! even no time for a lunch!). The saying recalls the sad end of a Protestant who was recognized, arrested and hung in Domfront in 1574 during the Religious Wars.

In the beginning of the XIth century (around 1010), Guillaume Talvas, Duke of Bellème and later Count of Alençon built a wooden fortress, around which the city of Domfront developed. The castle was occupied by Duke of Anjou Geoffrey Martel in 1048 and seized by William the Bastard (later the Conqueror) in 1051. In 1092, the inhabitants revolted against their lord Roger de Montgomery and asked Henry Beauclerc (1069-1135), William the Conqueror's fourth son, to be their lord. Henry built a stone castle around 1100; the wall of the castle surrounded an area of 1.5 ha that included several buildings. Beauclerc later built similar castles in Normandy, in Caen, Arques and Falaise. He was crowned King of England as Henry I in 1100 and Domfront was incorporated to England. In the middle of the XIIth century, Domfront was visited by Henry II Plantagenet (1133-1189, Duke of Normandy in 1150, Count of Anjou in 1151, Duke of Aquitaine in 1152 and King of England in 1154), his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122-1204, Queen of England in 1152) and their brilliant court. In August 1162, the last attempt of conciliation between Henry II and the Pope's legates failed in Domfront.

In 1356, the city, which had been reincorporated to France with Normandy in 1204 by King Philippe-Auguste, was seized and reincorporated to England. The English left the city ten years later against the paiement of a ransom. The English reconquered the city in 1418 and left in 1450, when they eventually left Normandy.
In 1574, Domfront experienced its longest siege. Count Gabriel de Montgomery (1530-1574), leader of the Huguenot party, entranched himself in the fortress and had to surrender to Marshal de Matignon, the chief of the Catholic Army, who promised to spare his life. However, Montgomery was beheaded a few months later on the Place de Grève (now Place de l'Hôtel-de-Ville) in Paris upon Catherine de Medicis (1519-1589)' order. Before taking the Huguenot party, Montgomery was the chief of King Henri II (1519-1559, King in 1547, married with Catherine of Medicis in 1553)'s personal guard; he accidentally killed the King during a tournament in 1559.
In 1608, Sully (1559-1641) ordered the suppression of the fortress of Domfront. The only remains of Henry Beauclerc's castle are two walls of the donjon, two round towers, and the ruins of the St. Symphorian's chapel, in which Eleanor of Aquitaine's daughter was christened. Only 13 out of the 24 towers of the wall have been preserved.

The Romanic church Notre-Dame-sur-l'Eau (Our Lady on the Water) was built around 1020 by Guillaume Talavas on the right bank of the river Varenne. In 1836, the clueless engineer building the road between Domfront and Mortain required the suppression of four out of the seven bays of the nave and of the aisles. The church was damaged again in 1944 and restored.
The church was a main place of pilgrimage on the road to Mont-Saint-Michel. A legend says that St. Thomas Becket (1118-1170), Archbishop of Canterbury, celebrated the Christmas mass in 1166 in this church. Kings of England William the Conqueror and Henry II, as well as Kings of France St. Louis (Louis IX) and Louis XI prayed in the church; Louis XI, famous for his miserliness, even made a donation to the church.


Ivan Sache, 13 April 2005

Municipal flag of Domfront

The flag of Domfront, as observed there by Olivier Touzeau, is white with the municipal greater coat of arms. VILLE DE (city of) is written in yellow over the shield, whereas DOMFRONT is written in red below the shield.

The municipal coat of arms of Domfront is:

De gueules au château de trois tours d'argent, ouvert et ajouré du champ, maçonné de sable, posé sur une terrasse de sinople. (GASO)

Heratlas gives a shorter blazon:

De gueules à la pointe de sinople au château à trois tours d'argent, translated into English as:
Gules on a point vert a castle triple-towered argent.

Brian Timms gives a blazon similar to GASO's:

De gueules, à trois tours jointes, chacune avec sa porte ouverte, d'or, maçonnées de sable, sur une terrasse de sinople, translated into English as:
Gules three towers conjoined or pierced and masoned sable a champagne vert.
The only significant difference is the colour of the castle. Timms is probably erroneous in saying or: the coat of arms shown on the municipal website has the castle argent.

Timms says that in the XIVth century, the arms were:

De gueules, à une tour d'argent maçonnée de sable, crénelée de cinq pièces percées du champ
and that the present arms were fixed during the course of the XVIIth century, probably by the Armorial Général.

The castle on the coat of arms refers of course to the former fortress of Domfront.

Olivier Touzeau & Ivan Sache, 13 April 2005