A refuge for the homeless. A market town. A specialist in ribbon manufacture. The hub of a thriving coal mining industry. Even the centre of a thriving bicycle industry! This is Saint-Étienne.
The city of Saint-Étienne is located in eastern central France, about 50 km southwest of Lyon. The area was first settled by Hungarian refugees in the early 9th century. But the city itself, named after Saint Stephen the martyr doesn't appear in historical records until the middle ages. It was then known as Saint-Étienne de Furan (after the River Furan, a tributary of the Loire). It was at that point just a small borough surrounding a church dedicated to Saint-Étienne (Saint Stephen).
By the 16th Century the city had a thriving arms manufacturing industry. It also made a name for itself as a market town. In fact its arms industry was so strong that during the French Revolution the city's name was changed for a time to Armeville, which in English means Arms Town. But the city wasn't all weapons of war. During the 17th Century it was also famous for ribbon and passementerie manufacture. If you're wondering what passementerie is (I certainly did when I first read the name!), it is the art of making elaborate trimmings and edgings for clothing and furniture.
Throughout its colourful history Saint-Étienne has also been the centre of a large coal mining industry, being that it is located right in the middle of the Loire coal mining basin. And to top off this city's diverse industry, it now is a known bicycle manufacturer.
On 5 October 1942 France issued its second set of Coat of Arms semi-postal stamps (the first set was issued on 15 December 1941). The second set consisted 12 stamps, each featuring a French Provincial Coat of Arms. Each stamp had a 7f surcharge that went to the National Relief Service. The Saint-Étienne Coat of Arms stamp was designed and engraved by Pierre Gandon. This was Gandon's second Coat of Arms stamp. Click HERE for my blog on his Rheims stamp.
The Coat of Arms of Saint-Étienne has been in existence since as early as 1667. There are three key aspects to this Coat of Arms. The palm fronds, the three crosses, and the crown. The palm fronds and the crosses pay homage to Saint Stephen, the city's namesake. Saint Stephen was stoned to death in Jerusalem in 36 AD. He is widely considered to be the very first Christian martyr. The palm fronds in the Coat of Arms represent the traditional martyr's palm frond. The crosses represent Christianity, and at the tips of each cross one often finds little circles depicted. In this stamp small squares are depicted. These are representations of the stones used to slay Saint Stephen. Surmounting the palm fronds we find a crown. This is a representation of the willingness of the local population to be placed under the influence of the king.
As an interesting side-note many artistic representations of Saint Stephen depict him with three stones and the martyr's palm frond.
Until next time...