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Sancoins (Municipality, Cher, France)

Last modified: 2005-12-24 by ivan sache
Keywords: cher | sancoins | cross (white) | castles: 2 (white) | fleurs de lys: 2 (yellow) |
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[Flag of Sancoins]

Municipal flag of Sancoins - Image by Arnaud Leroy, 24 September 2004

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Presentation of Sancoins

The municipality of Sancoins (3,600 inhabitants; 5,300 hectares) is located in the center of France, on the borders of the traditional provinces of Berry, Nivernais and Bourbonnais. Sancoins is located on a rectilinear road linking Bourges (50 km north-west) and Saint-Pierre-le-Moûtier (17 km south-east), where it joins the main north-south axis N 7. Sancoins is mostly known for its Wednesday's cattle market, the most important in France and probably in Europe.

Sancoins is called Tinconium on the Peutinger's Table, a copy of a map of the Roman ways (III-IVth century) published by the humanist Konrad Peutinger (1465-1547) and kept today in Vienna. Peutinger's Table is considered as the oldest reliable map of Europe. The name of the city evolved to Cenconio (c. 1000), Cenquoins, Cenconqs (carved in 1690 on the lid of the baptismal fonds of the ancient church, destroyed in 1860) and eventually Sancoins.
Julius Cesar is said to have gone through Sancoins after having trashed Avaricum (Bourges), as well as Vercingétorix. Joan of Arc must have gone through the city on her way to Saint-Pierre-le-Moûtier.
In the past, the city was surrounded by walls, whose only remains are the Joan of Arc's tower and the St. Catherine's tower, locally called the Old Prison because it was formerly used as a court.

In the Celtic times, there was already a market near Sancoins. Before the Revolution, a fair was organized each month and a market each Wednesday. In the beginning of the XIXth century, Charolais cattle (plain white) were introduced in the region of Sancoins and the local market increased in size. In the beginning of the XXth century, the market of Sancoins was already of national significance. After the Second World War and the modernization of agriculture and cattle breeding, both supply and demand dramatically increased and the market, located in the center of the street, was deemed too small.
In July 1974, the market was transfered to the 17-ha Parc des Gravelles, located 1.5 km from the former market place. Each Wednesday, about 17,000 animals are traded (2,000 calves, 5,000 broutards [grass-fed calves], 3,000 adult bovines and 7,000 sheep). Yearly, 384,000 living animals are traded, representing 10% of the national exports. Small breeders and breeders' cooperatives are present on the market, which is, however, dominated by wholesalers.

Sancoins is the birth city of the geographer Gabriel Gravier, the sculptor Jean Baffier and the painter Léon Bellot.
The founder of the Grand-Guignol theater in Paris, Oscar Métenier, was also born in Sancoins. His theater, founded in 1897, specialized in horrifying melodramas. Those shows were so popular that the epithet grandguignolesque and the expression c'est du Grand-Guignol are still used to designate horrible events. The theater had nothing to do but the name with Guignol, the traditional, libertarian character of the puppet theaters in Lyon, invented by Mourguet at the end of the XVIIth century.

The most famous child of Sancoins is the writer Marguerite Audoux (1863-1937).
After the death of her mother, Marguerite was abandoned by her alcooholic father and grew up in the General Hospital of Bourges, the capital city of Berry. In 1877, aged 14, she was placed as a farm girl in Saint-Montane. A few years later, she went to Paris where she worked as a home-working dressmaker.

Aged 40, she met Michel Yell in her local post office. Yell was in charge of the packets awaiting delivery. Yell was fascinated by Marguerite and introduced her to his friend Charles-Louis Philippe, who was employed by the municipality of Paris for the measuring of the terraces of the cafes. Both clarks were also poets and members of a circle managed by more famous poets like Léon-Paul Fargue (1876-1947, author of Le Piéton de Paris) and Valéry Larbaud (1881-1957, author of Fermina Marquez and translator of Butler and Joyce in French). Marguerite, although older than most of his friends and not a poet, became a main member of the circle.
In the drawer of Marguerite's sewing machine, Yell found by chance a series of notebooks, which contained the first draft of Marguerite's novel Marie-Claire. Marguerite's vision was severely impaired and it took her years to complete her book, encouraged by her friends. The book was ready for publication in 1910. Philippe, Marguerite main's supporter, died unexpectedly and the book was about to be lost. Fortunately, another friend of Marguerite forwarded the book to Octave Mirbeau (1848-1917, author of violent novels and theater plays exposing the social hypocrisy of his times, and early defender of the Impressionist painters). Mirbeau, then the main authority on the French literature, ordered the journal La Grande Revue to serialize the book and the publihser Fasquelle to publish the book. Mirbeau's power had, however, some limits, and he could not convince the jury of the Prix Goncourt to award the most famous prize of the French literature to a woman. Marguerite was awarded the Prix Fémina.

The book had a great sucess and 75,000 copies of it were sold. It was rapidly translated into several languages. It took Marguerite ten more years to write the second part of her fictionalized autobiography L'Atelier de Marie-Claire. However, a few stubborn critics refused to admit that a nearly blind farm girl from Berry could read and write.
Marie-Claire is a very vivid and deep rendition of the life in the French countryside, and especially the womens' condition, before the First World War, which nearly suppressed a generation of men and dramatically altered the social structure of the country. It is much better than the novels currently published in France by the writers of the so-called Brive's school, which vehiculate nostalgic and conservative, if not reactionary, ideas emphasizing a rural golden age that never existed.

In the small city of Aubigny-sur-Nère, there is a castle that belonged in the past to the Scottish family of Stuart. A room in the castle shows a few souvenirs related to Marguerite Audoux.

Ivan Sache, 24 September 2004

Municipal flag of Sancoins

The municipal flag of Sancoins, as photographied by Pascal Vagnat on the city hall, is quartered blue and red through a white cross. The blue quarters are charged with a yellow fleur-de-lys, whereas the red quarters are charged with a white castle.

This flag is (nearly) a banner of the municipal arms, whose exact design is not ascertained yet.
Brian Timms reports two municipal coats of arms for Sancoins:

  • Parti de gueules un château d'argent accolé de deux tours du même d' azur à une fleur de lys d'or. (Per pale gules a castle argent flanked by two towers of the same azure a fleur de lys or), adopted by the municipality in 1973.
  • Ecartelé au premier et au quatrième de gueules à une fleur de lys d'or au deuxième et troisième d'azur au château d'argent. (Quartered first and fourth gules a fleur-de-lys yellow second and third azure a castle argent), kept in the Departmental Archives.
Timms say that the two caots of arms differ only by the partition. Therefore, one of his descriptions is probably erroneous since the castles are placed on the red field in the first coat of arms and in the blue field in the second arms.

Pascal Vagnat confirms through his local observations that the situation is even more complicated. The municipal shields show the per pale arms, whereas the war memorial and the municipal flag show the quartered arms. The official papers of the municipality use the per pale arms. The Departmental Archives show the two arms. There, the quartered arms have a small white fimbriation around each quarter, which is probably the source of the cross on the flag.

Anyway, the castles are placed on a red field and the fleur-de-lys on a blue field, so Timms' second description must be erroneous.
The castle recalls that Sancoins was formerly a fortified city. The fleur-de-lys recalls that the city pled allegiance to King of France Saint Louis (Louis IX).

Ivan Sache, 9 April 2005