Commune of Saint-Omer
Notre-Dame Cathedral of Saint-Omer
|Elevation||0–27 m (0–89 ft)
(avg. 6 m/20 ft)
|Land area1||16.4 km2 (6.3 sq mi)|
|- Density||962 /km2 (2,490 /sq mi)|
|INSEE/Postal code||62765/ 62500|
|1 French Land Register data, which excludes lakes, ponds, glaciers > 1 km² (0.386 sq mi or 247 acres) and river estuaries.|
|2 Population sans doubles comptes: residents of multiple communes (e.g., students and military personnel) only counted once.|
Saint-Omer (Sint-Omaars in Dutch), a commune and sub-prefecture of the Pas-de-Calais department 68 km (42 mi) west-northwest of Lille on the railway to Calais. The town is named after Saint Audomar, who brought Christianity to the area.
The fortifications (which had been improved by Vauban in the 17th century) were demolished during the last decade of the 19th century and boulevards and new thoroughfares built in their place. However, a section of the ramparts remains intact on the western side of the town, converted into a park known as the "jardin public". There are two harbours outside the city and another within. Saint-Omer has wide streets and spacious squares, but little animation.
The old cathedral belongs almost entirely to the 13th, 14th and centuries. A heavy square tower finished in 1499 surmounts the west portal. The church contains Biblical paintings, a colossal statue of Christ seated between the Virgin Mary and St John (13th century, originally belonging to the cathedral of Thérouanne and presented by the emperor Charles V), the cenotaph of Saint Audomare (Omer) (13th century) and numerous ex-votos. The richly decorated chapel in the transept contains a wooden figure of the Virgin (12th century), the object of pilgrimages. Of St Bertin, the church of the abbey (built between 1326 and 1520 on the site of previous churches) where Childeric III retired to end his days, there remain some arches and a lofty tower, which serve to adorn a public garden. Several other churches or convent chapels are of interest, among them St Sepulchre (14th century), which has a beautiful stone spire and stained-glass windows.
A collection of records, a picture gallery, and a theatre are all situated in the town hall, built of the materials of the abbey of St Bertin. There are several houses from the 16th and 17th centuries. The Hôtel Colbert, once the royal lodging, is now occupied by an archaeological museum. Among the hospitals the military hospital is of note as occupying the well-known college opened by the English Jesuits in 1593, now part of the Lycée Alexandre Ribot. The old episcopal palace adjoining the cathedral is used as a court-house. The chief statue in the town is that of Jacqueline Robin.
Saint-Omer is the site of a beer brewery. Founded in 1866, the brewery is still sited in the streets of old Saint Omer. It was purchased by Andre Pecquer in 1985, who cut the range of products and invested in up-to-date production facilities.
Now they specialise in the light French lager-style beer that appeals to modern tastes. They produce 600 million 25cl green bottles a year.
Over 40% of their output is exported, primarily to the United Kingdom.
At the end of the marsh, on the borders of the forest of Clairmarais, are the ruins of the abbey founded in 1140 by Thierry of Alsace, where Thomas Becket sought refuge in 1165. To the south of Saint-Omer, on a hill commanding the Aa, lies the camp of Helfaut, often called the camp of Saint-Omer.
On the Canal de Neufossé, near the town, is the Ascenseur des Fontinettes, a hydraulic lift which once raised and lowered canal boats to and from the Aa, over a height of 12m. This was replaced in 1967 by a large lock.
During the Second World War the area was chosen as a launch site for the V-2 rocket. The nearby blockhouse at Éperlecques and underground complex of La Coupole were built for this purpose and are open to the public.
Omer, bishop of Thérouanne, in the 7th century established the monastery of St Bertin, from which that of Notre-Dame was an offshoot. Rivalry and dissension, which lasted till the French Revolution, soon sprang up between the two monasteries, becoming especially virulent when in 1559 St Omer became a bishopric and Notre-Dame was raised to the rank of cathedral.
In the 9th century the village that grew up round the monasteries took the name of St Omer. The Normans laid the place waste about 860 and 880, but ten years later found town and monastery surrounded by walls and safe from their attack.
Situated on the borders of territories frequently disputed by French, Flemish, English and Spaniards, St Omer long continued subject to siege and military disaster. In 1071 Philip I and Count Arnulf III of Flanders were defeated at St Omer by Robert the Frisian. In 1127 the town received a communal charter from William Clito, count of Flanders. In 1340 a large battle was fought in the towns suburbs between an Anglo-Flemish army and a French one under Eudes IV, Duke of Burgundy in which the Flemish force was forced to withdraw.
In 1493 it came to the Low Countries as part of the Spanish dominion. The French made futile attempts against it between 1551 and 1596, and again in 1638 (under Cardinal Richelieu) and 1647. But in 1677, after seventeen days' siege, Louis XIV forced the town to capitulate; and the peace of Nijmegen permanently confirmed the conquest. In 1711 St Omer, on the verge of surrendering to Prince Eugene of Savoy and Marlborough owing to famine, was saved by the daring of Jacqueline Robin, who risked her life in bringing provisions into the place.
The English College of St Omer was established by Fr Robert Persons SJ, an English Jesuit, in 1593 to educate English Catholics as a result of penal laws against Catholics in England at the time. The college remained in St Omer until 1762 when it migrated to Bruges and then Liège before finally settling at Stonyhurst, Lancashire, England in 1793 where it continues to this day.
St Omer ceased to be a bishopric in 1801.
Saint-Omer is the seat of a court of assizes and tribunals, of a chamber of commerce, and of a board of trade arbitration. Besides the Lycée Alexandre Ribot, there are schools of music and of art.
The public library of Saint-Omer holds, in its rare books section, one of the three French copies of the 42-line Gutenberg Bible, originally from the library of the abbey of St Bertin. The other two copies are in Paris.
During the First World War on 8 October 1914, the British Royal Flying Corps (RFC) arrived in Saint-Omer and a headquarters was established at the aerodrome next to the local race course. For the following four years, Saint-Omer was a focal point for all RFC operations in the field. Although most squadrons only used Saint-Omer as a transit camp before moving on to other locations, the base grew in importance as it increased its logistic support to the RFC. Many Royal Air Force squadrons can trace their roots to formation at Saint-Omer during this period. Among which are No. IX Squadron RAF which was formed at Saint-Omer, 14 December 1914 and No. 16 Squadron RAF which was formed on 10 February 1915.
Saint-Omer is not completely homogeneous when it comes to ethnic, linguistic and immigrant communities. Haut-Pont is a heavily West Flemish section of Saint-Omer proud of its' Flemish/Belgian roots. In the Southeast of the cathedral is a Turkish neighborhood, but the majority of the local Turks are members of the Christian faith (i.e. Greek Orthodox, Eastern Rite and Catholic converts) other than practising Islam, who arrived in France after World War I to escape religious persecution. Genealogists studied how thousands of locals have British, Dutch, German, Austrian, Hungarian, Czech, Slovak and Polish relatives, as a result of the region's mining and glass manufacturing industries (the now closed Luminix factory).
Saint-Omer was the birthplace of:
Saint Omer is twinned with: