HISTORY

A fortified estate from the 16th century

At the exit of Azoudange, far away, you will find the Romécourt estate. It can be reached by a small road several kilometres long. It is an ensemble consisting of 300 hectares of woods and land and a fortified residence, which has been listed as a monument worthy of protection since 28 December 1976. Let us now rediscover the almost four centuries old history of this historic estate.

In the 16th century, the lands of Romécourt constituted a fiefdom which came under the  diocese of Metz. In 1564, the Cardinal of Lorraine transferred the fiefdom to Michel l’Enfant,  secretary to Marie Stuart, Queen of Scotland and official of the Dieuze salt works. From 1600,  the domain is managed by Pierre Moussin, (Conseiller Auditeur), auditor of the Court of Audit  of Bar. In 1608, he receives a letter from Duke Henri II, who elevates him to the nobility and at  the same time gives him a feudal title to his estate Romécourt. The estate then expanded by  adding the lands and the farm Muhlberg (or written Milbert) and the ban of Mitterking  (Métrequin), a village near Freiburg, which was allegedly completely destroyed during the Thirty  Years’ War. In 1680, Joseph de Martimprey acquired the property.

Where does the de Martimprey family come from? 

Famille De Martimprey de Romécourt
Familly De Martimprey De Romécourt - 1927

A knight crusader ennobled by Saint Louis

By decree of Her Excellency Cambout de Coislin, Bishop of Metz, on 16 June 1701, the Chapel of Romécourt was given its parish priesthood “We hereby grant permission to the parish priest and all his successors to say Mass, teach the catechism, administer the sacraments and perform all other ecclesiastical rituals in the Chapel of Romécourt and Milberg.”

Nevertheless, the introduction of the parish in Romécourt was not
without strong opposition from the parish priest and the parish of Azoudange. They demanded that the new church be annexed to their own. Their requests were not granted. An episcopal decree of 10 June 1722 confirmed the decision of 1701, and the chapel served as a parish until 1793.

By disposal of her Excellency Cambout de Coislin, Bishop of Metz, dated June 16, 1701, the chapel of Romécourt received/got its rectorate “We hereby grant the priest and all his followers’ permission to celebrate the mass in the chapel of Romécourt and Milberg, to teach the catechism and to exercise the sacraments and all other ecclesiastical rituals.”

Nevertheless, when inaugurating the pastorate in Romécourt, there was fierce resistance by the pastor and the parish community of Azoudange. They claimed the new church to be annexed to the church of Azoudange; their request was refused. An episcopal decree of 10 June 1722 confirmed the decision from 1701. The chapel functioned as a parish until 1793.

A victorious ancestor at the battle of Valmy

Blason de la famille De Martimprey de Romécourt
Blason de la famille De Martimprey de Romécourt
One of the buyer’s descendants, Jean Joseph Felix de Martimprey, had decided to pursue a military career. He took part in the Battle of Valmy in 1792. A letter signed by Kellerman honoured him for his services. His long absence, due to his military career, led the Comité du Salut Public de Réchicourt to believe he had emigrated and confiscated his possessions. Thanks to Kellerman’s letter, he was able to reclaim them. But Romécourt lost his status as a parish. The archives are located in the diocese of Metz (see the “Departementales” Moselle archive). As a result, Romécourt was not spared the events that marked our region in the 20th century. We are now in 1909, when Xavier took over Romécourt together with his mother, his brother Hugues and his sister Nicole. In 1921, Jeanne, Xavier’s daughter and the only heiress of the family, is born. She is the current owner of the estate and widow of Jacques Viot, Ambassador of France and President of the Alliance Française, who died on 4 July 2012 and is buried in Romécourt.

VISIT

Bricks and tiles were fired on site

It is worthwhile visiting this ensemble, style renaissance. The original plan view still exists today; it is that of a fortified estate, in the shape of a rectangle (90mx47m) around a central yard with four corner towers defending the entrances. The stones and bricks were stoved on site. One can still find the traces of the furnace in the so-called “Tuileries”. The sandstone of the Vosges is used to consolidate and adorn the building units.

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We enter the property through the East Gate, also known as Gate Germany. The gate is considered to be one of the most successful works of Lorraine art of the 16th century. Access to the inner courtyard is through a lowered gate with a separate door for pedestrians on the side. The external façade, made of sandstone from the Vosges, is richly decorated (pilasters, protruding hubs): rare elements in our region. The room above the archway was the priest’s room. On the left side, you can easily see how the property originally looked like: Walls with double crosses of black bricks, loopholes, control room and corner towers. In the sheltered courtyard there were the residential buildings, sheds and stables.

The south-western part has kept its original dimensions; originally there were two bread ovens. The fountain in Renaissance style (with a depth of more than 15m) is framed by two Corinthian style semi-columns, which are decorated in the middle with a ribbon in the shape of a lion. A rope was inserted into the mouth of the lion to lower the water buckets and bring them back up.

In 1997, a fire ravaged the manor

The entrance to the manor or main house is also framed by two Corinthian semi-columns, surmounted by a large lintel doorway pierced by an opening in the shape of a cattle eye.

The windows on the first floor are framed by decorative mullions. The fire in January 1997 seriously damaged the main house and many of the furniture, paintings and other objects.

The West Gate, also known as the Gate of France, is surmounted by the only window on this façade that is still preserved in its original form. On the park side, the pond probably still contains the family weapons that were buried there after the revolution.

The western outer façade, like the southern one, with its loopholes, is still almost in its original state. However, in the 18th century, additional windows were built into these facades, which originally had very few windows, especially on the ground floor. In the south, the window decoration on the first floor is in the style of Louis XIII; it therefore differs from that of the courtyard windows. An external fan-shaped staircase leads to a classical style porch.

The chapel has kept its defensive character

The chapel (it can be visited on request and accompanied) is located in the north-east wing. It has preserved its defensive character, as the embrasures in the walls make clear. The windows on both sides of the choir are original, the others were added in 1867. The colourful stained-glass windows on the left show Saint Luis and Hugues de Martimprey, who accompanied the King on his crusade and was raised to nobility in recognition of it; on the right, “Saint Adelaide and Saint Charles Borromée”. The badges under the ceiling show the coat of arms of de Martimprey. The main altar in the style of Louis XIV is decorated in the middle with a cross of the Order of the Holy Spirit (Maltese cross with dove). The carved and gilded wooden shrine is in the style of Louis XIV. Above it is an oil painting: Saint Luke, patron of the chapel, paints the Virgin and Child and at her feet the bull, her symbolic animal. On the altar, a polychrome, gilded wooden statue: The Virgin Mary and Joseph. The second altar, made of carved and polished wood, is in Renaissance style. An eagle flying over it symbolizes John the Baptist. The painting depicts the ecstasy of St. Anthony from Padua; the decorations date from that time. The landscape painting is a votive offering to Saint Anne and Saint Joachim (painted in 1532) as a sign of gratitude for the birth of a son. The landscape shows the castle de Martimprey near Gérardmer; of the castle only, the chapel is still preserved.

An oak from the property of Victor Hugo

In 1860, an English-style park replaced the vegetable and fruit garden, which until then had been located to the south and west of the main house. The park consists almost exclusively of forest tree species. The original acorns from one of the old oaks come from the estate of Victor Hugo in Guernsey (acorns brought by Madame Viot). The gorges were created to extract the earth necessary for the production of bricks and tiles. One of the gorges flows into a small, fairly deep pond. Opposite the outside staircase, an avenue leads to a martyrdom from 1745, La Belle Croix (described in the work Cross and Martyrdom of the Canton of Réchicourt, published by SHAL, Société d’Histoire et d’Archéologie de Lorraine, Sarrebourg).

Guest rooms and a guesthouse for visitors

All in all, a beautiful story; that of a carefully preserved piece of jewellery passed down from generation to generation of the de Martimprey family since 1680. The estate, which once housed more than 50 people living in self-sufficiency, has not died. The restoration of the main house after the fire in 1997, the replanting of the avenue de la Belle Croix after the devastating damage caused by the storm in 1999, the restoration of the roof of the chapel, the renovation of the lead glazing, all these works (carried out by Jeanne and Francois Viot, who runs the estate with his aunt) speak for themselves. In the summer of 2004, two guest rooms (B&B) were installed in the listed well annex. In April 2020, a holiday home was opened in the fully renovated former farmhouse. A dynamic administrator couple, Mr and Mrs Mayeur, manage the daily business. The upkeep of the property, the reception of guests and breakfast in the dining room are just some of the tasks the couple conscientiously devote themselves to. Madame Viot, now 98 years old, still spends the summer in the place of her childhood, a childhood which she tells us in a book worth reading (A Childhood in Lorraine. Almost forgotten memories 1921 – 1929, published by Paraiges). That is why it is worth making a small or large detour to Romécourt. All in all a nice story; that of a carefully kept jewel, transmitted since 1680 from generation to generation. The property, occupied earlier by more than 50 people in self-sufficiency, is not dead.

Text by Pascale Marcel published in the review Au pays de Sarrebourg. Headings and photos have been added by the family (April 2020).
Thanks to the SHAL section of Sarrebourg.

THE INTERVIEW

Jeanne Viot, the dean of Romécourt, tells about her childhood in Romécourt and her family the De Martimprey.

THE BOOK

Jeanne Viot recalls her childhood memories at the Domaine de Romécourt.

Le livre

REPORTAGE