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Luxeuil-les-Bains (Municipality, Haute-Saône, France)

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[Flag of Luxeuil]by Arnaud Leroy

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Presentation of Luxeuil-les-Bains

The city of Luxeuil-les-Bains (9,000 inhabitants, Luxoviens) is a thermal spa located in the east of France, on the south-western border of the Vosges mountains. The city developed around an abbey founded by St. Columban in the VIth century.

In his Vita Colombani (Columban's Life), written in Luxeuil c. 640, the monk Jonas claims that Luxeuil was called Luxovium by the Romans, the name of Luxovium being linked to two Celtic words, lixo, the hot water, and liqchoul, the sun's water. After the conquest of Gaul, the Romans indeed built cities around thermal springs for the rest of soldiers, for instance, in eastern Gaul, Luxeuil, Plombières and Bourbonne. Luxovium was in the IInd century a significant city with at least three pottery workshops.
Luxovium was destroyed during the Great Invasions, since the city is no longer mentioned on administrative documents and maps dated from the IVth century.

At the end of the VIth century, the Irish monk St. Columban (c. 540-615) left the monastery of Bangore with 12 disciples and sailed to Gaul, where pagan cults had replaced the Christian religion. Columban reached Metz, the capital city of the Merovingian Kingdom of Austrasia, and asked King Gontran a place to build a monastery. Gontran gave him an isolated and uninhabited plot near a moutain, where Columban founded the monastery of Annegray. Since the first monastery was too small, Columban was given the ruins of Luxovium, where he founded in 590 the monastery of Luxeuil.
In 610, Columban criticized King Thierry, his grand-mother Brunehaut and the local bishops for their dissoluteness and had to exile with a few Irish disciples in Bobbio (Italy), where he died after having founded an other abbey. Columban was succeded by St. Eustace (610-625) and St. Waldebert (625-670), who set up a renowned school in the abbey, which was then protected and funded by King Dagobert and housed between 600 and 900 monks. The Luxovian school contributed to the renewal and rechristianization of the Burgundian kingdom and gave several bishops and abbots to Gaul.

Columban's disciples and students founded several abbeys, so that the influence of Luxeuil extended very far away from the original abbey. There were Luxovian foundations in Franche-Comté (Lure, by St. Desle; Cusance, by St. Ermenfroy), Alsace and Lorraine (Marmoutier, by St. Léobard; Remiremont, by Sts. Amé and Romaris; Moyenmoutier, by St. Hidulph; Sénones, by St. Gondelbert), Ile-de-France and Champagne (Faremoutiers, by St. Fara; Jouarre by St, Adon; Reuil, by St. Radon; Hautvillers, by St. Bercharius), Normandy (Coutances, by St. Potentin; Fontenelle, by St. Wandrille, later renamed St. Wandrille; Jumièges, by St. Philibert), Flanders (Leuconaüs, by St. Valery, later renamed after him; Centule, by St. Riquier; Sithu by Sts. Omer and Bertin; Maastricht, by St. Amand; Stavelot and Malmédy, by St. Remaclus), and also in Limousin and Auvergne.
The most famous Luxovian foundation abroad was the abbey of St. Gall, in Switzerland. Protected by the Carolingian princes, St. Gall was the intellectual center of the German word, renowned for its library.
For a long time, the two Rules of St. Columban and St. Benedict were observed together, one supplying what was lacking in the other. By the end of the VIIIth century, the Rule of St. Columban had given up. It is said that "St. Benedict only reaped where St. Columban had sown". The only Columbanian foundation that has been occupied without interruption down to the present day by the sons of St. Columban and St. Benedict is Dessentis, founded in the Grischun (Szitwerland) by St. Sigisbert.

The abbey of Luxeuil was destroyed by the Vandals in 731. One of the only remains of that period is the Luxeuil minuscule letter, used in the VIIth and VIIIth century as a variant of the Merovingian minuscule. The abbey was rebuilt and destroyed again by the Normans in 888 and the Hungarians in 934. There were less monks in the abbey than in its early ages, but the abbey was placed under the direct rule of the Holy See. A city developed around the abbey. and became a principality in the County of Burgundy, itself loosely dependent on the Holy Roman Empire.
The inhabitants of Luxeuil were granted a chart in 1228, and were allowed to build city walls. In 1291, a magistrat (municipal council) was set up. It was made of 13 members, ruled by four co-quatre with equal power, and placed under the control of the Abbot. In practice, the magistrat was in permanent struggle with the Abbot for the control of the wealthy city, and won in most cases.

In the XVth century, the commendatory abbots were instituted, and the discipline and fame of Luxeuil started to decline. In the XVIth century, Emperor Maximilian sued the Abbot in the court of Dôle. The trial lasted 30 years, until the Abbott ceded his rights on the principality against an annuity. In 1534, the inhabitants of Luxeuil gathered on the main square of the city and swore an oath to the Emperor.
In 1634, the St. Hidulph and St. Vanne's reform of the Benedictine order suppressed the commendatory abbots, and the monks were again allowed to elect their Abbot.

At the end of the XVIIIth century, the thermal spa was built and the co-quatre was replaced by a Mayor. The monks were dispersed at the French Revolution but the buildings were not destroyed. However, most of the books of the rich library of the abbey were burned.

In 1914, an airfield was built in Luxeuil. On 18 April 1916, the "American Escadrille ", later called the Lafayette Escadrille was constituted at Luxeuil. The air base was transfered to Chartres in 1922 and reopened in 1937. In 1951, the air base of Luxeuil-Saint-Sauveur (Base Aérienne 116) was founded. Two squadrons [1/4 Dauphiné et 2/4 La Fayette] of Mirage 2000N belonging to the 4th pursuit squadron are deployed at Luxeuil, under the command of the Strategic Air Command.

The St. Columban's former abbey church of Luxeuil, today the St. Peter's basilica was rebuilt in the XIII-XIVth centuries in Burgundian Gothic style on the remains of an earlier church from the XIth century. The church had originally three towers but has kept only the western bell-tower, rebuilt in 1527. The apse of the church was rebuilt by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc in 1860.
Three out of the four original galleries of the abbey cloister have been preserved. The oldest part of the cloister dates back to the XIIIth century, whereas the other parts were revamped in the XV-XVIth centuries.
The Abbot's palace, today the city hall, of Luxeuil dates back to the XVI-XVIIIth centuries. Monastic buildings from the XVI-XVIIIth centuries have also been preserved.

Luxeuil has several beautiful houses built in pink sandstone extracted in the neighbouring Vosges moutains. In the XVth century, Cardinal Jouffroy was Abbot of Luxeuil, Archbishop of Albi (south-west of France) and one of the main councillors of King of France Louis XI (1423-1483, King in 1461). He built a wealthy house in Flamboyant style with a gallery and some elements in Renaissance style, including a corbelled turret crowned with a lantern. Madame de Sévigné (1626-1696), the historian Augustin Thierry (1795-1856) and the writer Alphonse de Lamartine (1790-1869) stayed in that house.
Another old house built in 1473 in Flamboyant style with a polygonal tower is called the Baillif's House. The François I 's house, built in Renaissance style, got its name from an Abbot of Luxeuil and not from King of France François I. The Aldermen's Hotel (Hôtel des Echevins), also from the XVth century, houses today the Adler Museum, which shows remains from the Gallo-Roman city of Luxovium and paintings by Adler and Vuillard.

In the XIXth century, Luxeuil was internationally famous for its lace, called bâtarde, because it used different elements from Italian lace art, mostly from Venice and Milan. A Lace Academy was recently opened in Luxeuil in order to recreate the bâtarde.
The thermal spa was rebuilt in the XVIIIth century with pink sandstone in the middle of a park. It was recently revamped in order to develop the most modern techniques of aquatherapy.
Luxeuil is also renowned for its smoked ham, protected by a quality label. The neighbouring village of Fougerolles is one of the world's capital cities of cherry and produces one of the best kirsches in France.


Ivan Sache, 11 December 2004

Flag of Luxeuil-les-Bains

The municipal flag of Luxeuil, as seen there by Pascal Vagnat, is horizontally divided blue-red with the municipal coat of arms overlapping the two stripes.

The municipal coat of arms of Luxeuil is (GASO):

Coupé: au premier d'azur semé de billettes d'or au lion issant du même, au second de gueules au soleil d'or.

Brian Timms gives:

De gueules à un soleil d'or, au chef d'azur, semé aussi de billettes d'or, chargé d'un lion du même.

In English:

Gules a sun in his splendour or a chief azure billetty a demi-lion rampant or armed and langued gules.

The arms dates from 1534. Before this date, the coat of arms was Azure a sun or, the sun being probably canting the name of the city. Luxeuil is said to come from the Celtic words likchoul, hot water, or likso, water of the sun.
When the city was incorporated to Franche-Comté, the arms of Franche-Comté were added in chief.

However, Timms adds that the coat of arms provided by the municipal administration is rather per fess..., and is blazoned elsewhere as:

Coupé: au premier de Bourgogne-Comté, au second de gueules au soleil d'or.

Ivan Sache, 11 December 2004

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