The history of saint chaffrey chantemerle
Chantemerle, an independent parish of the community of Saint-Chaffrey, located on the road that leads from Briancon to Monêtier, a league from either one. There are only 80 houses, comprising about 375 people. Whatever interest I may have in speaking favourably of the place where I was born, and where those most closely related to me by blood remain, I can state, without fear of being accused of partiality, that Chantemerle is one of the prettiest villages in the vicinity of Briançon, in terms both of its situation and the way in which it is built.
Placed at the heart of a valley plain two leagues long, it could not hope for a more gracious situation in a mountainous region: on one side can be seen Briancon and its fortresses, while on the other stretches the countryside of La Salle et Le Monêtier. It is crossed by the Guisane river, spanning which a stone bridge has been built in a single arch for the communication of the part ‘à l’adrait’ with that ‘à l’envers'.
The Briançon canal passes ahead of it. The land that surrounds it on the ‘adrait’ side offers to the view a vast plain covered with fields; on the ‘envers’ side, the land is on a slope, but from the river to the summit of the Prorel mountain, neighbouring that of Vallouise, there is nothing, in the fair season, that is not covered with greenery. Near the middle of the mountain, eachinhabitant has a hut, or rather a barn, where one person remains for four months over the summer to take care of the cattle that graze there and to house the dairy produce. Further down are small fields, meadows surrounded by trees, groves where, in springtime, birds warble gently and blackbirds never cease their singing, which accounts for the naming of the place Chantemerle. The water of the fountains is always extraordinarily cold; from the fifth of December to the sixth of January, the sun appears and disappears twice a day, hidden by the summit of a mountain for an hour every day.
The village is built like a burg, or a town, that is to say, the houses cling together as they do in the towns, having no other separation than that required by the streets for passage, so that the distance from one end of the village to the other is no more than the range of a rifle shot.
The houses are not badly built, especially those on the ‘adrait’ side, which have been rebuilt following two fires that the inhabitants had the misfortune to suffer in the space of 57 years. The first occurred on the ninth of February 1711, on Saint Appollonia’s feast day: it reduced to ashes the whole of the part of the parish on the ‘adrait’ side, forcing the inhabitants to rebuild their houses from the foundations up. The second, which occurred on the twenty-third of March 1779, was caused, like the first, by imprudence. Sixty-six houses, the same ones that had burnt to the ground in 1711, were destroyed by the flames; the fire spared only those apartments that had been built with masonry vaults. To prevent, if possible, such frequent fires in the parish, which caused the ruin of its inhabitants, it was decided in an assembly held on the twentieth of April 1779, that in future the houses be covered with boards of larch or slate, rather than thatch as previously, and that chimneys should be uncovered and that inhabitants should take care to have them swept four times yearly. If these decisions are exactly observed, it is to be hoped that no such misfortune will ever occur again.
The parish church had also been burnt by the first fire, and it had to be completely rebuilt, as did the high belfry. In the second, the interior was spared, but the roof and the doors were destroyed and had to be replaced in their entirety. The bell tower was very badly damaged, and four bells melted in the heat of the fire. There were 28 quintals of metal in these bells, large parts of which were found among the rubble. This church is very clean and well decorated; the high altar, whose tabernacle came from the collegiate church of Saint-André de Grenoble; it is dedicated to St James the Great, whose feast is celebrated on the twenty-fifth of July; St Andrew the Apostle is its other patron saint.’
Source: ‘Histoire du diocèse d’Embrun’ (‘History of the Diocese of Embrun’) by the very humble and very obedient servant A.C.D.S. in the year 1783.