A Grim Centenary

July 1 marks the centenary of the first day of the Battle of the Somme, the Anglo-French attempt at breaking through the German front during the Great War, near the River Somme in France. The offensive lasted until November of 1916, and made no appreciable gains in territory – at a cost of well over one million casualties.

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Wikipedia.

Depicted is Edward Luytens’s Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme, dedicated by the Prince of Wales in 1932.

MORE: From the Telegraph: “Somme ‘Iron Harvest’ will take 500 years to clear, say bomb disposal experts on centenary of bloody battle”

Flaggery

As regular readers know, I am a great fan of heraldry, flags, and identifying emblems in general. On a recent road trip from Georgia to Texas and back again, I was pleased to note a lot of historic flags in use.

1. As we passed into Texas on I-10, we saw six flags flying at the Welcome Center, representing the six sovereign entities that have ruled Texas in the past.

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These are, from left to right: the United States, Texas, the Confederacy, Mexico, France, and Spain. Some notes:

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Flag of Texas (Wikipedia).

• Texas, of course, acted as its own country from 1836 to 1845, between its secession from Mexico and its joining the USA. It retains this former national flag as its state flag. The design is wonderfully simple, even striking, and consequently flown quite a lot by Texans (including massive ones at car dealerships). This positively reinforces civic pride, as Roman Mars notes.

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First national flag, CSA (Wikipedia).

• The Confederate Flag flown is the first national flag with seven stars, which is appropriate as Texas was one of the original seven signatories to the CSA in early 1861. Displaying the Stars and Bars helps to avoid the appearance of the ever-controversial Confederate Battle Flag, which appears on the canton of the second and third national flags.

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Second national flag, CSA (Wikipedia).

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Third national flag, CSA (Wikipedia).

• The Mexican Flag (Texas was a Mexican state between 1821 and 1836) is actually the version flown in the 1820s, i.e. this:

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Flag of the Mexican Republic, 1823-1864 (Wikipedia).

And not this:

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Flag of the United Mexican States, from 1968 (Wikipedia).

I appreciate such attention to detail!

• Bourbon France is represented by Argent semé de lys Or, i.e. a white field strewn with gold fleur de lys, one of the flags that the regime used:

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Wikipedia.

The “Six Flags” display is popular in Texas; other royal French flags employed elsewhere include Argent three fleur de lys Or (i.e. a white field with only three gold fleur de lys on it) and Azure three fleur de lys Or (i.e. a blue field with three gold fleur de lys). This last one makes for the best flag in my opinion – you want a dark color to contrast with the sky, and with the fleur de lys, even though this one is technically a banner of arms, and not a flag. Here it is at the Alamo:

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• Finally, there are several options for the flag of royal Spain. The flag displayed, according to Wikipedia, is Spain’s “navy and coastal fortifications flag 1785-1843, and national flag 1843-73 and 1874-1931.”

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Ensign of Spain, 1785-1843 (Wikipedia).

Elsewhere, Texans fly a quartered flag of Castile and Leon:

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Outside the Bullock Texas State History Museum.

An elaborate war ensign:

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From a display at a Spanish mission in San Antonio.

Or, best of all in my opinion, the Cross of Burgundy Flag. It’s simple, distinctive, and historically accurate.

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At Misión San José in San Antonio.

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From a display in Misión San Francisco de la Espada in San Antonio.

2. The Louisiana Welcome Center on I-10 flies two flags, the current Louisiana flag, and the Bonnie Blue Flag (apparently upside down!).

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The Bonnie Blue Flag was used by some Confederates as an unofficial emblem; it is immortalized in a song. What people tend not to realize, however, is that this flag had been used earlier by Fulwar Skipwith’s breakaway Republic of West Florida for a few months in 1810, and the I-10 welcome center is in one of these so-called Florida Parishes.

Interestingly, in the Louisiana State Capitol, the Bonnie Blue Flag is shown as light blue. Apparently this was the actual shade of the flag of the Republic of West Florida. Thus, it appears that the RWF and Somalia have something in common.

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3. To the immediate left of the Bonnie Blue Flag in the photo above is a flag the reader has probably not seen before.

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Flag of Louisiana, 1861 (Wikipedia).

This is the flag flown by Louisiana between its secession from the Union, and its joining of the Confederacy, in 1861. Not a bad design – I wish they had kept it as their state flag, in the mode of Texas.

(You’ll also note the flag of Republican France on the right in the photo above – Napoleon reacquired Louisiana from Spain in 1800, but then sold it to the United States in 1803.)

(You’ll also note the third national flag of the CSA. It would not surprise me if this gets changed sometime soon.)

4. A similar situation prevails in Mississippi. We drove most of the way from Mobile, Ala. to New Orleans, La. along a coastal scenic route. We thus passed Beauvoir, President Jefferson Davis’s retirement home and now Presidential Library. I did not get any pictures, but Beauvoir doesn’t mess around: flying out front are large versions of the Bonnie Blue Flag, the three national flags of the CSA, the Confederate Battle Flag, the current Mississippi flag, and the Magnolia Flag:

Wikipedia.

Magnolia Flag (Wikipedia).

According to Wikipedia, this flag was Mississippi’s official flag from 1861 until 1865; it remained in unofficial use until 1894, when the current state flag was adopted. And we all know the problem with the current flag.

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The Confederate Battle Flag on the canton survived a referendum in 2001, but I would have no problem with the governor changing it by fiat anyway, because Confederate symbols have no place connected to current symbols of sovereignty. Furthermore, the Confederacy lasted all of four years, was in defense of a horrible cause, and went down in flames. (Why not a canton of the Union Jack, or the Cross of Burgundy? Those were also episodes in Mississippi’s history – and probably happier ones.) The Magnolia Flag is a nice design and especially appropriate to the state: eleven states were in the Confederacy, but there’s only one Magnolia State.

In the meantime, when displays of all the state flags are needed, the Mississippi flag should probably be placed a little more discreetly than it was at the Superbowl this year:

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Or at this citizenship ceremony:

immigration5. The City of New Orleans has a nice flag, even if it has gold fleurs de lys on a white background:

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6. In 1965, Thomas J. Arseneaux designed the flag of Acadiana, that is, a flag for those of Cajun ancestry:

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I was pleased to learn about this one, because there is a similar flag in Canada: the flag of Acadia is a French tricolor, defaced with a gold star.

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Wikipedia.

7. We spent the night in Gonzales, Texas, and thereby discovered the existence of the Gonzales Flag.

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Wikipedia.

In 1831, the Mexican government had given the residents of Gonzales a cannon for defense. At the outbreak of the Texan Revolution in 1835, however, the Mexicans sent a force to take it back, and the Gonzalans replied with a suitable Laconic phrase, embroidered on an improvised flag. The Battle of Gonzales was the first military engagement in the Revolution, and inspiring for the Texans, as the Mexicans were forced to retreat without their cannon.

I’m surprised that this flag is not more popular among right-leaning Americans (cf. “Don’t Tread On Me“). Current residents of Gonzales certainly cherish it:

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8. Finally, the Louisiana state history museum exhibits an unofficial flag celebrating Louisiana’s admission as the eighteenth state of the Union in 1810.

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You’ll notice that this flag has eighteen stars – and eighteen stripes! Actually the official flag of the United States stopped with fifteen stars and fifteen stripes when Kentucky was admitted in 1792, but people kept adding both stars and stripes anyway out of pride. Only in 1818 did official word come down that the number of stripes should revert to thirteen, and the number of stars increase to twenty, for the number of states by that time.

New Orleans

Happy to have experienced New Orleans for the first time this summer. The French Quarter is not exactly “family friendly,” of course, but there’s plenty of history to gratify people like me!

The heart of it all is Jackson Square, named after the hero of the Battle of New Orleans in 1815. It features an equestrian statue of the man who would later become the seventh U.S. president:

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I had to wonder: given that Jackson has been removed from the $20 bill, will we see the square revert to its original name?

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At the top of the square, the famous Cathedral-Basilica of St. Louis, King of France:

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I quite liked the historic flags, and the stained glass illustrating scenes from the life of St. Louis, including planning the Sainte-Chapelle and receiving the keys to Tunis while on crusade.

I was pleased to see that the arms of the Archdiocese of New Orleans (left) make an obvious reference to the arms of the French city of Orléans (right, via Wikipedia). The colors are reversed, and the pelican refers to Louisiana.

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Flag of Louisiana, via Wikipedia.

Speaking of the connection between Old Orleans and New Orleans, down the street we find an equestrian statue of Joan of Arc. The original, by Emmanuel Frémiet, can be seen in Paris.

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Joan, of course, raised the siege of Orléans in 1429 during the Hundred Years War. I was pleased to see the coat of arms of Orléans near the plinth, along with those of Lorraine (Joan’s birthplace), Reims (where she presided over the coronation of Charles VII), and Rouen (where the English burned her at the stake for witchcraft).

St. Michael

After St. George, what could be more logical a saint to write about than St. Michael? I have been collecting material on this remarkable figure and I want to write at least something about him this summer – even if the conference I wanted to present at rejected my paper proposal (sad face). This post is an attempt at putting some thoughts in order…

St. Michael was one of the most popular saints in medieval Europe, in both Catholicism and Orthodoxy. This is rather odd, because Michael is not a saint at all, but an angel. Saints were human once, and performed some noted service to Christianity; the most prestigious ones were martyred for their faith. Saints are in heaven with God, and in the Middle Ages acquired the function of intercession: you could pray to them, and they would be deputized with answering; they might specialize in providing a particular type of miracle, and amass a particular set of devotees.

Angels are different. In both the Old and New Testaments, angels function as messengers of God. Gabriel, Uriel and Michael are the three best-known. They had never enjoyed a human existence, but were always semi-divine members of the court of heaven. As such, one would think that they would enjoy a Christian cult like that of the most powerful saints, but only Michael seems to have. (One would think that Old Testament prophets like Moses, Elijah, or Isaiah could be Christianized in this way as well, but one generally does not find churches dedicated to them, prayers addressed to them, or accounts of their lives included in saints legendaries.)

Why St. Michael should have enjoyed church and guild dedications, heard Christian prayers, had his own feast day (Michaelmas, September 29), been included in the Golden Legend, etc., is a mystery I’d like to explore more. Gabriel, despite his appearance to the Virgin Mary herself, was nowhere near as popular. The only thing I can think of right now is artistic: St. Michael was often shown battling the devil, as he does in Revelation. I’m convinced that one of the main reasons why St. George was so popular was simply because he was shown fighting the dragon; people loved the action. In England, George and Michael were sometimes paired, each one overcoming his scaly enemy.

This leads to a very important aspect of St. Michael’s patronage: he was a warrior saint. He protected and encouraged “those who fight,” as they fought. This was not entirely a Christian thing to do, but once the Church endorsed crusading (Holy War to liberate Jerusalem from the infidel), it was only natural that different saints should be accepted as specialists in warfare – whether practiced on crusade or not. Once the English managed to monopolize St. George in the context of the Hundred Years’ War (following the Battle of Crécy in 1346), the French turned increasingly to St. Michael. Colette Beaune talks about this in her Naissance de la nation France; the Norman monastery of Mont-St-Michel played a role, as did the foundation of the French Order of St. Michael in 1469.

Depictions of St. Michael followed suit. Normally, he was shown as an angel, dressed in dalmatic. As the Middle Ages wore on, however, he acquired more and more pieces of military equipment, such as helmet, breastplate, greaves, and shield. And on the shield – a coat of arms.

What these coats of arms were will be the subject of another post.

Vive la Résistance

From the National Post:

The incredible life of a fearless agent, smuggler and spy who fought the Nazi occupation of France

Jeannette Guyot, who has died aged 97, resisted the occupation of France by Germany throughout the Second World War and became one of France’s most highly decorated agents.

Jeannette Guyot was born on February 26 1919 in Chalon-sur-Saone, where, after the fall of France in June 1940, she and all her family were quick to join the Resistance. Until August 1941 she worked for Felix Svagrowsky of the Amarante network as a passeur, using a German-issued pass, or Ausweiss, to smuggle people out of the occupied zone to the north and across the Saone river by boat into Vichy France.

In August 1941 she met Gilbert Renault, alias Colonel Remy, chief of the Paris-based Confrerie Notre-Dame reseau (network), and she became one of his liaison officers, carrying mail into Vichy France, while continuing as a passeur. In February 1942, however, she was arrested and imprisoned for three months at Chalon-sur-Saone and Autun. She resisted all interrogation and nothing could be proved against her, but the Germans withdrew her Ausweiss. Unperturbed, she resumed her role as a passeur, accompanying a dozen people a month across the demarcation line.

More on the incredible heroics of this agent at the link.

And Now I Know How Joan of Arc Felt

Interesting story from the Art Newspaper:

France and Britain prepare for battle over Joan of Arc’s ring

Jewel sold in UK for £300,000 last month has left the country—but did it have an export licence?

A dispute may be about to blow up between France and Britain over a ring that once belonged to the Medieval French heroine, Joan of Arc.

The ring sold for nearly £300,000 at the London/Harwich-based TimeLine Auctions last month, but questions have arisen over the legality of its export. If no licence was granted, the British authorities are likely to ask for it to be returned.

Gaëtan Favreau, a spokesman for the Puy du Fou theme park, which acquired the piece of jewellery, tells The Art Newspaper that “the ring is now in France”. He has “touched” the ring and says it “probably has an export licence”. Favreau says there was no attempt to hide the fact that the ring is now in France (invitations to a ceremony to unveil the ring have been issued) and that he believes the ring was there legally.

However, the official guidance states that for items which may be of national importance (including those closely connected with the UK’s history) the time taken to issue a licence “will normally be 28 working days”. A licence is required for antique items, such as the ring, if they are worth over £39,219 and have been in the country for at least 50 years.

The ring came up for sale at TimeLine Auctions on 26 February, with an estimate of £10,000-£14,000. Competition was fierce, and it sold for £297,600 (with buyer’s premium). The buyer was the Puy du Fou Espérance Foundation, which supports a historical theme park near Nantes, in western France. Puy du Fou attracts around 1.5 million visitors a year.

The silver-gilt ring was made in France in around 1400 and was given to Joan of Arc by her parents as a devotional object for her first communion. Joan of Arc inspired the French side in the Hundred Years’ War between England and France. At the age of 19 she was tried by a pro-English bishop and burned at the stake in 1431. The ring had been seized from her in prison and taken across the Channel as war booty.

The ring was acquired by Cardinal Henry Beaufort, who was present at the trial and execution. It then descended through the Cavendish-Bentinck family (the Dukes of Portland) and remained with them for nearly five centuries. In 1914, Lady Ottoline Morrell (née Cavendish-Bentinck) gave it to her lover, the artist Augustus John, who wore the ring for years. He later sold the ring and it then went to Frederick Oates (the keeper of the London Museum and of the King’s Armouries), James Hasson (an art historian and author of a romanticised account of the ring, The Banquet of the Immortals) and Cyril Bunt (a library employee at the Victoria and Albert Museum). Bunt’s son Robert, who lives in Essex, sold the ring at TimeLine Auctions.

This means that the ring has been in the UK for nearly 600 years, way over the 50-year-period for which an export licence is required. TimeLine’s managing director, Brett Hammond, tells us: “We handed over the ring to the buyer’s solicitors in London on 3 March. We also gave them a letter, which they signed for, advising them that the ring would need a UK export licence.” Obtaining the licence is the responsibility of the exporter, not the auction house.

If it turns out that the ring has gone to France without an export licence, the UK authorities are likely to demand its return. To export it would then mean going through the normal procedure. If an export licence was subsequently deferred, a UK buyer would have an opportunity to match the price.

It sounds to me like they got away with it. Of course, the fact that it wasn’t acquired by a proper museum, either in England or in France, is somewhat disconcerting, but Puy du Fou sounds like an interesting home for it. But note that the “acquisition has been welcomed by the Far Right in France. Marine le Pen, leader of the Front National, has thanked Philippe de Villiers, the founder of the theme park, for bringing it back to French soil.” Oh dear – maybe they’d better give it back after all!

More From Amiens

From Culturebox, via my friend Mike Ryan:

The Jewels of the Amiens Cathedral Treasury Are Brought To Light

After twenty years of work, the treasury of the cathedral of Amiens is once again accessible to the public. It features a collection of exceptional richness, both artistic and historic, made up of devotional items and reliquaries considered masterpieces of medieval goldsmiths.

Amiens Cathedral, constructed between 1220 and 1269, is home to many jewels. The treasury has been closed for the past twenty years while its liturgical objects have been worked on. One may now see them in all their restored splendor, including chalices, crowns, processional crosses, jewels and priestly vestments, objects that bear witness to the great skill of medieval craftsmen.

The showpiece of this collection is the skull of St. John the Baptist, Christ’s cousin, which was acquired in 1206 by crusaders. Fifteen years later, to provide it with a home befitting its importance, Amiens cathedral was begun in earnest. And to welcome pilgrims from across Europe, it had to be the biggest cathedral in France.

The treasury has been completely redesigned to welcome the public who may view these exceptional pieces behind glass – but only twenty people at a time, and for a maximum of forty minutes. With over half a million visitors in 2015, one will need patience in order to take this plunge into history.

Illustrations (and the original French text) are at the link.

Paris

Generally I don’t like participating in Media Events, but the recent attacks in Paris have shocked me more than most jihadist activity in recent years. One thing to think about, though, if you’re going to Do Something about it on Facebook: the French tricolor is symbol of France – but a secular, republican symbol, like Marianne or the Coq gaulois. By all means change your profile picture if you wish, but be aware that it is somewhat incongruous to display a French flag with “pray for France” written on it. 

(St. Louis, St. Joan or St. Denis might be better choices here. Or Charles Martel himself!)

Given that the attacks took place in Paris, the arms of Paris might also be a good choice to show at this time. The motto, translated as “She is tossed by the waves, but does not sink,” seems especially appropriate.

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Via Wikiwand.com