Wednesday 15 December 2010

our village

Charnizay December 2010
Another beautiful frosty morning here. 

We've been posting about all sorts from house renovations to things that have caught our interest locally; but we haven't really mentioned our village. We thought it was about time to put that right. For a village of about 500 people there's quite a bit of interesting history.

Charnizay is a small place, perched on top of an outcrop of 'tuffeau blanc' (local chalkstone) above  "l'Aigronne". The Aigronne is small tributary which feeds into the Claise at Grand Pressigny. The village has been here a long time. The earliest recording of the name is in the 10th century as Carnisiacus which had changed to Carnisiaco by 1099 when the village is mentioned in bull issued by Pope Urban II. The name, appropirately, means 'place of stones'. We can attest to that given the amount of calcaire (chalkstone) which was excavated during the digging out of our fosse septique! 

Charnizay later 19th/early 20th century
image from 

But the history of the village goes further back. In the 19th century they found a number of coins dating from the time of the Gauls. The discovery of neolithic tools points towards a much earlier settlement or at least habitation. Just outside the village is a dolmen known as 'les palets de Gargantua'. Our local cafe takes its name from this listed pre-historic monument.

The village doesn't do too badly in the chateaux department: opposite the church are the remains of the original medieval castle. Just a bit of the donjon (fortified tower) remains and forms part of an old farm which the village has recently bought to renovate and turn into a 'salle des spectacles' (cultrual/social centre). The current 'salle des fetes' is a, not very attractive, utilitarian building which is on the small side and no longer meets the village needs. Just outside the village is a 19th C Chateau (manor house). This is in private hands so cannot be visited.

Until the 17th C Charnizay was a manor which formed part of the barony of Preuilly. The manor was held by the Menou family. One of the family rose high in royal service at the turn of the 16th/17th century serving both Henry IV and Louis XIII.

His son, Charles de Menou d'Aulnay is probably the most famous Charnizeen and took part in the 1632 expedition Louis XIII sent out to what was then known as Acadie (now Nova Scotia) in Canada. The intention was to reclaim it from the English who had been given it after the treaty of St Germain-en-Laye. After the leader of the expedition, his cousin, died in 1636, Charles took over as Governor and followed a policy of colonisation. During his governance Port Royal to became the major centre. He died in 1650 when his canoe capsized in the Port Royal river.

Church of St Martin
The Menou family also owned (from 1661) another manor house known as the 'Chateau de Jauget'. This lay just outside the village on the road toward Azay le Feron. The current Chateau de Charnizay was built on the site of this manor. The last descendant of the Menou family died in 1802 and the new owner started building the current house in 1813 having done well during Napoleon Bonaparte's time. From 1844 the chateau belonged to the de Montesquiou-Fezensac family. Robert de Montesquiou was a good friend of Marcel Proust, who often visited the house.

Charnizay's church, dedicated to St Martin, belonged in the 10th century to the Collegiate church of St Martin de Tours. However, a century later they gave it to the Abbey of Preuilly.

So although not on the 'tourist trail' is it an interesting and vibrant, friendly village to live in. The elementary school is flourishing with 100 children and, in addition to the cafe, there is an excellent butcher, a small general store and a post office.

1 comment:

Susan said...

Those Menous were a busy lot. Any family that married into them seems to have adopted the name as part of theirs. I didn't know about the connection to Acadie, so thanks for that snippet. Charnizay may not be on the tourist trail, but it is on the pilgrimage trail, which will be why the church is dedicated to St Martin.