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Dol-de-Bretagne (Municipality, Ille-et-Vilaine, France)

Last modified: 2021-01-31 by ivan sache
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Flag of Dol-de-Bretagne - Image by Ivan Sache, 31 August 2020


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Presentation of Dol-de-Bretagne

The municipality of Dol-de-Bretagne (5,693 inhabitants in 2017; 1,553 ha; municipal website) is located midway (25 km) of Saint-Malo and Mont-Saint-Michel, 60 km north of Rennes.

Dol was already settled in the prehistoric times, as evidenced by the Champ-Dolent menhir. Standing 1 km south-east of the downtown, this is the highest menhir (9.30 m, probably another 5 m underground; 8.70 m in maximum circumference) in the department of Ille-et-Vilaine.
Dol was established in the 6th century by bishop St. Samson (d. 565) with the support of Judual, king of Domnonia. In the aftermath of the invasion of (Great) Britain [French, Grande Bretagne], several people crossed the channel and settle in (small) Britain, today's Brittany [Bretagne]. This massive migration was led by nobles, who established small kingdoms, and monks, who established seven bishoprics. The Seven Saints are still venerated in Brittany; the towns they founded became the seats of the seven Breton bishoprics.
Among them, Samson came from southern Wales; he must have landed in 548 at the mouth of river Guyoult. In search of a place suitable to establish a monastery, he found a well surrounded by brambles; located on a height overlooking the surrounding marshes and a river, the place was deemed suitable. Quite poor, the country was already inhabited by Gallo-Roman families, "in demand" of being evangelized.

The Dol monastery increased in fame after Samson's death due to miracles accomplished by the saint from his grave. In the 9th century, Nominoe (d. 851) a noble from Vannes, proclaimed himself Prince of Brittany and challenged the rule of Charles the Bald (823-877), king of West Francia (840-877. After a two-year military campaign, Nominoe expelled the Franks in 845 and established his rule over the whole Brittany. In 848, he founded his own ecclesiastic province, with Dol as its metropolis; accordingly, Dol became the most important bishopric of Brittany. The archbishops of Tours, heads of the Frankish metropolis, did not accept Dol's secession; the two metropolis were in permanent conflict for the next three centuries. In 1199, Pope Innocent III (1198-1216) ordered the Breton bishops to plead allegiance to the archbishops of Tours, which ended the political and religious independence of Brittany.

From the 9th to the 11th century, Dol was threatened by Normans raids. The clerks left Dol, which was looted some 10 times, bringing with them the relics of Sts. Samson and Magloire (another Welsh saint, said to be Samson's cousin and successor as the bishop of Dol). In the second half of the 11th century, bishop Guinguené established the feudal domain of Dol-Combourg and fortified the town. William, Duke of Normandy (1035-1087) and King of England (1066-1087), in struggle with the dukes of Brittany, besieged twice the town of Dol (1076 and 1086), to no avail.
Dol and Combourg were eventually seized in 1164 by Conan IV, Duke of Brittany (1146-1171), whose power was challenged by the Breton feudal lords. In 1169, Dol was ruined while its inhabitants starved.
In 1203, John Lackland's mercenaries burned down the newly built cathedral of Dol and stole the relics, which were repatriated to the town in 1223 by bishop Jean de Lisanet. The re-emergence of the pilgrimage allowed the funding of the cathedral's reconstruction; in 1265, bishop Étienne was interred in the just completed choir.

Bishop Th&ecute;baud de Moraeacute;ac increased the fortifications of the bishop's castle in the early years of the 13th century. The Moraeacute;ac tower was eventually demolished in 1751. During the War of the Succession of Brittany (1341-1364), the English troops supporting pretender Jean de Montfort (1294-1345) scoured the region of Dol, until expelled by Bertrand Du Guesclin (d. 1380). During the Hundred Years' War, Dol suffered from raids and the interruption of trade and pilgrimages.
In 1404, Bishop Étienne Cœuret initiated the complete revamping of the town's defenses. The castle was completely rebuilt, south of the cathedral. The town was surrounded by a thick wall protected by moats and strong towers, while access to the town was allowed only by two fortified gates.

During the Wars of Religion (1562-1598), the Duke of Mercœur (1558-1602) attempted to establish an independent Breton state. Charles d'Espinay, Bishop and Count of Dol, was a fierce supporter of the Holy League set up by the nobility against King Henry III (1574-1589). On 7 January 1591, Antoine d'Espinay, the bishop's brother and military governor of the town, was killed in an ambush. The bishop took the sword and promised to led the town's defense until his death, which occurred a few months later. King Henry IV (1589-1610), upset by the support of Dol to the Holy League, ordered in 1601 the dismantling of the town's fortifications.
Philippe Thoreau, brother of bishop Mathieu Thoreau (1661-1692), when appointed governor of Dol, built the first public fountain in the town. Short before the French Revolution, the walls and gates, deemed obsolete and of too expensive maintenance, were partially demolished, while streets and squares were increased and paved.

In November 1793, in the aftermath of the siege of Granville, the rebels of the Catholic and Royal Army, led by Henri de La Rochejaquelein (1772-1794), fought the Republican troops led by General Westerman; the battle lasted three days, first in the marshes surrounding the town and eventually in the downtown, causing the death of 15,000 to 20,000.
The last Count-Bishop of Dol, Urbain-René de Hercé (1767-1790), joined the rebels after the suppression of the bishopric, serving as a chaplain. Captured in Quiberon, he was sentenced to death and shot on 38 July 1795 (ironically, St. Samson Day) in Vannes.

In spite of its long and painful history, Dol has kept its original, medieval structure and several historic landmarks, whose preservation has been a local concern since the 19th century. The downtown is still structured by the main street that once connected the two entrance gates of the town. The description of the town made by Victor Hugo is not obsolete: "Lined on the right and left by pillared houses, Dol is not a town but a street. The rest of the town is nothing but a network of smaller streets connecting to this diametrical main street like brooks flowing into a river." The Petits Palets house, dated to the 12th century, is among the oldest houses in Brittany.
The main street is called Grande rue des Stuarts, recalling that Dol is the remote cradle of the Stuart dynasty. Its root, Walter FitzAlan (d. 1177) was the grand grand son of Alan, a Breton knight recorded as "dapifer dolensis" (Seneschal / Stewart of Dol).

Ivan Sache, 31 August 2020


Flag of Dol-de-Bretagne

The flag of Dol ((photo, photo, photo, photo, photo) is quartered yellow and blue by an off-centered white cross outlined in black. The canton is charged with three blue square diamonds, placed 2 and 1, each inscribing a white vertical rectangle featuring a black ermine spots.

The flag (Melen ha glaz; Breton, yellow and blue) was designed in 1988 by Claude-Henry Galocher (d. 2002), founding member of Association François-Duine, a cultural circle established in 1954 and named for the Dol-borne hagiographer and folklorist François Duine (1870-1924).
Yellow represents the old Armorican people.
Blue is the traditional color of the Franks, representing their power. White and red are the colors of Brittany.
The cross represents the merging of peoples, the town of free Celts, and the town highlighting the legitimacy of kings Judal, Nominoe and Alan.
The three mascles are taken from the arms of the town.
[Ouest France, 20 June 2019; Ouest France, 4 August 2020]

Ivan Sache, 31 August 2020


Banner of arms of Dol-de-Bretagne

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Banner of arms of Dol-de-Bretagne - Image by Ivan Sache, 31 August 2020

The town of Landerneau, located near Brest, used to display a series of banners of arms of Breton towns, Dol-de-Bretagne included (photo), along river Elorn that crosses the town.
The arms of Dol-de-Bretagne are "Or three lozenges azure each charged with a billet argent superimposed with an ermine spot sable. A chief azure three fleurs-de-lis or. These arms are registered in the Armorial Général (Vol. 9, Brittany, folio 1556, "The Town of Dol"; image).

Ivan Sache, 31 August 2020