I love this town, which is about a fifteen minute drive from where we live here in Normandy, France.
The town itself is wonderfully ancient, with touches of the medieval about it. Considering so many small towns took a hammering under the liberation by the allies at the end of the war this is something I am truly grateful for.
This is largely thanks to the wartime mayor who, in 1944, approached the US commander in charge of the operation in the area. They were on the verge of bombing runs to ensure no Germa soldiers remained when the mayor approached the leader and persuaded him that there were no German soldiers left. He put his life on the line to save the town by offering to ride in the front of a military jeep with him through it to show him that this was true. when the Germans withdrew from Villedieu, they left a sniper who shot some of the first US soldiers to enter Villedieu, before being neutralised. Villedieu was thus saved from major destruction.
Nevertheless the commander had been right to be so concerned; on their retreat the German command had left behind a lone sniper who had managed to kill numerous soldiers of the liberating forces until he himself was eliminated.
Historically the town was a centre of metal-work, especially the brass and copper pans and basins from which the poêles in its name derives. It is also famous for its specialised manufacture of large church bells, which was started by immigrants from Lorraine around 1780. For this reason the villagers were traditionally called Sourdins, from the french word deaf sourd. The hammering of copper pans and bells inevitably took their toll.
Villedieu, town of God, owes its name to the religious order Knights Hospitaller which we now know as the Knights of Malta. Henry I, who was at that time King of England and Duke of Normandy, granted Villedieu to this order in the 12th century.
They were alternatively know as Order of Knights of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem during the time of their establishment and were originally an early modern Catholic military order who were headquartered in the Kingdom of Jerusalem until 1291, on the island of Rhodes from 1310 until 1522, in Malta from 1530 until 1798 and at Saint Petersburg from 1799 until 1801.
The Hospitallers arose in the time of Henry, early 11th century, during the great monastic reformation. Considering their journey through different countries it is considered that the advanced coppersmithing technology was presumably imported from the Middle East by the Knights.
By the early 14th century, the Corporation of the Coppersmiths of Villedieu was officially recognized by the Kings of France.
In contrast to the people of the surrounding area the people of Villedieu were strong supporters of the French Revolution. This is thought to be primarily because the Revolution abolished customs duties between French regions; before the Revolution, copper pans exported from Villedieu to Brittany, 50 km (31 mi) away, faced higher import duties than copper pans from Portugal.
Their support wasn’t just in principle either – they physically fought for the republican movement.
The Chouannerie was a royalist in 12 of the western départements of France, particularly in the provinces of Brittany and Maine, against the First Republic during the French Revolution. The inhabitants of Villedieu fought with the Chouan troops, and were overcome. However they escaped thanks to their women who threw stones, flowerpots and chamber pots from second-story windows at the pursuing Chouans. The general heading the Chouan troops was getting ready to bombard Villedieu and set it on fire. However, like the war time mayor, a delegation of the town’s women negotiated with him successfully. As a result the inhabitants were given a short time to hide their valuables prior to the Chouan soldiers then plundering the town for food and clothing.
The moral here; don’t mess with the women Villedieu des Poêles .
I often find my way into the village as they have plenty fo amenities like large supermarkets, industries, a large outside market as well as a hospital, opticians and other essential services. These shots below are from one of my favourite parts in the town, the beautiful river that winds through it. There are ducks on it and, as you can see on the photos below, they managed to get out and wander all of the road. Traffic slowed for them and people shoot them out of the way. So lovely.
The town has small, courtyard like roads veering from the main walks. I’m not sure if you are allowed to go in them, but there are certainly little restaurants and shops down some of them. Each has their name on an arch way and a brass plaque in its entrance.
I think you’ll agree from the photos I’ve added it’s a study town, even on a rainy day like the one I took these photos on.