September 2011 marked a remarkable achievement in the life of our association. It was indeed during that month that, after several years of sustained efforts, a plaque in honor of our ancestor Pierre Charron was officially unveiled in his native hometown of Meaux (Seine-et-Marne). As the official representative of the association at the inauguration, I am pleased to give our members a detailed account of this exceptional event.
Thursday September 15: time to get ready!
I had arranged an appointment for the thursday preceding the official inauguration of the commemorative plaque with Mr. Pierre Charon, president of the Société historique de Meaux et sa région (SHMR), and retired internal medicine doctor and cardiologist. The object was to get to know one another before the unveiling of the commemorative plaque in honor of our ancestor, Pierre Charron, which was set for Saturday, September 17. During my previous trip to France last year, I had been unable to meet with Mr. Charon because train employees were on strike and several train routes were utterly disrupted.
During the morning, we had an appointment at the office of Cultural Affairs of the city of Meaux with Madame Muriel Héricher, deputy-mayor responsible for culture, for historical heritage, for international relations, and for festivals and ceremonies, and with Anne Berbain, executive assistant for cultural affairs, to discuss the unfolding of the program on Saturday. After the meeting and an excellent lunch prepared by Françoise Charon, wife of Mr. Charon, we went on a tour of Meaux. It was an excellent opportunity to visit the city where our ancestor Pierre Charron was born on October 21, 1635. We were accompanied by the SHMR president and by Josette Vitry, archivist for the SHMR, a retired guide and lecturer for the city of Meaux!
Long-standing inhabitants of Meaux are called Meldois.The name derives from the Meldi, a Gallic tribe that settled in a commune near a meander of the Marne in the Brie plateau. After the Roman conquest, Julius Caesar named it Latinum. Late in the third century, Gallo-Romans built walls around the southern end of the city to protect the inhabitants against barbarian invasions. Vestiges of the old Roman encampment on the right bank of the Marne are still present in the old city of Meaux.
The population progressively increased, such that, in the XIIIth century a new residential market was created on the southern left bank of the Marne through the initiative of the Counts of Champagne. During the turmoil of the Jacquerie in 1358, it was found that the market had been fortified separately from the city. The market fortifications will stand for a long time and will even survive the Hundred Years War and Napoleon’s Campaign of France. But during the XVIIIth century, the walls will slowly deteriorate for lack of occupation and usefulness.
Today, the old market is quieter than ever except on Saturdays when it is as animated as any other large market. Regional producers of fruit and vegetables, and cheese merchants have set up their stands in the covered market. And yes, it's easy to find the famous Brie de Meaux, the pride of locals since 1793, crowned the king of cheeses at the 1814 Vienna Congress. The metal covered market built in 1879 replaced the old wooden building of chestnut and plaster surmounted by a steeple erected in 1773. Several streets in the old market and the old bridge are closed for the day. Consumer products, flea market items and goods of all kinds are up for sale.In the old days, there was only one bridge crossing the Marne on the old roman road between Meaux (Latinum) and Troyes, meaning that it was also the only channel of contact between the two fortified quarters of the city. The old market bridge was built on wooden piles replaced by masonry pillars in the first half of the XVIth century, but the wooden deck was retained. At that time, the mills were on one side of the bridge while the stands and boutiques were on the other side. A postcard of the early XXth century shows the mills still on the bridge but they were destroyed by fire during the night of June 17, 1920.
St. Etienne’s Cathedral located on the right bank of the Marne in the old town was built over a period of almost four centuries. Construction of the cathedral began in 1170 and ended with the completion of the north tower in 1540. The construction site suffered many work stoppages due to political unrest, religious wars, and difficult financial contexts. The architecture of the cathedral reflects the several styles that were built-in, from classical style at the outset to flamboyant gothic. In the XIXth century, important restoration works were undertaken to save the cathedral from ruin. Although he was a protestant, our ancestor Pierre Charron must have known this cathedral which was completed long before his departure for New France.
Since I am writing about St. Etienne’s Cathedral, I would be remiss not to mention Jacques- Bénigne Bossuet (1627-1704), also known as l’Aigle de Meaux (The Eagle of Meaux). In 1670, he was named tutor to the crown prince, son of Louis XIV, a position he held for 10 years. He was also elected to the French Academy in 1671, and appointed bishop of the cathedral of Meaux in 1681. Theologian, orator, historian, independent cartesian philosopher, he fought Protestantism and Jansenism. He died in Paris in 1704.
Saturday, September 17, 2011: unveiling of the commemorative plaque
Our host Pierre Charon made arrangements for us to meet around 12h30 at the restaurant La Péniche moored at a Sadi-Carnot dock on the left bank of the Marne. To underline the unveiling event, the SHMR was the host to none other than Québec’s delegate general in France, Michel Robitaille, and his wife, Marie-Dominique Decninck, who graced us with their presence that day. Also present at the luncheon were Mrs. Françoise Charon, Messrs. Denis Vassigh and Pierre Chéret, respectively vice president and secretary of the SHMR, Josette Vitry, archivist of the SHMR, Jean-Francois Viel, our designated genealogist in France, Mr. Émile Ducharme, doyen of our association, his niece Marie-Nicole Ducharme, my friend and genealogist Jean Pierre Desjardins, and myself.
After a hearty lunch, we had an hour of leisure time before the official ceremony for the unveiling of the commemorative plaque. We seized the opportunity to wander in and around the covered market of Meaux. Even on a cloudy day such as today, people are swarming all over the stalls, as much in the covered market as in the nearby streets.
Around 4 pm, we gathered at the Médiathèque du Luxembourg located on Cornillon Street where our ancestor owned property inherited from his family. I could finally lay my eyes on our plaque which was temporarily installed. This marble slab, 75 cm by 150 cm, weighs between 150 and 175 kilos which raised questions about the strength of the bakery wall, its proposed final destination, across the street from the Médiathèque, and as a consequence, about the safety of pedestrians passing by daily on this street. So, for the occasion, the city of Meaux had the plaque reproduced on plexiglas and had it installed temporarily on the bakery wall. During the next few weeks, the city will be looking for an expert to assess the suitability of the wall to support such a load. It is possible that another nearby location may have to be chosen for the final installation of the marble plaque. We will keep you informed as the results become available.
As it was, all those present at lunch gathered on the esplanade of the Médiathèque. A small crowd of about sixty people made up of Meldois and tourists had joined the group. We were pleasantly surprised by the presence of Estelle Charron, a member of our association, and her husband Daniel Ashby, who happened to be traveling in France at the time. Then we were joined by the deputy and mayor of Meaux, Jean-Francois Copé, Mrs Héricher and Mrs Berbain whom we met the previous Thursday, Régis Sarazin, Mayor of Nanteuil-les-Meaux (the city where our ancestor Pierre Charron was baptized), Mr. Laurent Guillaume, President of the twinning committee of Meaux1, several members of the SHMR, and Olivier Girault, the craftsman who engraved our plaque.
Following the welcoming remarks by Mr. Charon, it was my turn to thank those responsible for this remarkable achievement. Short speeches were made by the deputy-mayor of Meaux, Madame Héricher, and then by the deputy and mayor Jean-François Copé who was presented with a hardcover special edition of our publication Les familles Charron de Meaux et les familles alliées (Charron families of Meaux and allied families).
Cocktail snacks and champagne were on the menu at the reception concluding this emotionally charged and prideful day. Such an achievement was made possible by the determination of the Board of Directors and all the members of l'Association des Charron et Ducharme inc., illustrating once again our device, Fierté et Ténacité (pride and tenacity).
Translation by Mr. Fernand Charron
Unveilling of the commemorative plaque (Video) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Z1zu1RzaL4