The French

Church of Cedofeita
Photo:  Município do PortoCC BY-NC-SA - Some Rights Reserved

The Legend

Portugal did not exist as a free and independent country and Porto already kept close cultural, friendly and commercial relations with France. Curiously, the most ancient material proof of this relation is of a religious nature. It is the case of the old Cedofeita church, a venerable Romanesque relic, to which the cult to S. Martin, bishop of Tours, is attached. According to an old legend, Theodomir, a Germanic king, sent emissaries to France to bring him the bishop’s relics with which he wanted to try the cure of his sick son. In case of a miracle he promised to convert to the catholic faith and to build a church in honour of St. Martin, in the exact place where he would hear of his son’s recovery. This happened at the entrance of Porto and that is where a church was built, in a short period of time, “cito-facta”, which means “cedo-feita” (soon done, done fast or rapidly), which led to Cedofeita, the designation still given to the quarter where the small temple stands.

The Pilgrimages

Pilgrimages were one of the other great medieval means that contributed greatly towards the development of the relations between the French and the city of Porto. From the mid-10th century on, the prestige of St. James of Compostela, as a Christian sanctuary, and the fame of the miracles that occurred there, started to be known beyond the Pyrenees and the French pilgrims started to join the devotees that every year made for the tomb of the Apostle. Most of them had to pass through Porto, and in the city’s inns and hostels they found the fire, the water and the salt needed for their survival. The pilgrims came from the farthest places in Northern Europe. They gathered in France and split into four main routes: the first, starting in Orleans, passed by Blois, Tours, Poitiers, Saintes, Bordeaux and Dax; the second left Vézelay and followed through Bruges, Limoges and Périugueux; the third started in Le Puy and passed by Conques, Cahors, Moissac; and the fourth, went through Arles, Montpellier, Bézieres, Narbonne, Carcassonne and Toulouse. Thanks to the pilgrimages, there was a continuous transfer of cultural and religious values from people to people. Songsters and poets of different languages and representing various nations followed the ways to St. James, spreading the medieval poetry, and the French epic would leave its signs in Porto, mostly the one from the William of Orange’s cycle, with the “Chanson de Guillaume”, “La Prise d’Orange” and “La Chanson d’Aliscans”.

The Cult to Our Lady of Vandoma

The origins of the cult to Our Lady of Vandoma in the city of Porto are also closely attached to France. Traditionally it is said that towards the late-10th century a fleet of Gascons cast anchor at the mouth of the Douro. They came from Gascony, in France, and were led by Moninhos Viega. With them came Onego or Nonego, who was the bishop of Vendôme, in France, and who became the 14th bishop of Porto. He brought the image of Our Lady of Vendoma with him and placed it on an oratory on top of the main entrance of the city, which thus became known as Porta de Vandoma (Vandoma’s Door). The image of the city’s patron saint is now kept at the Cathedral and still appears in the city’s coat of arms. Our Lady of Vandoma is Porto's patron saint.

The Time of the Great Crusades

The time of the great crusades was also decisive to the expansion and consolidation of the relations between the French and the Porto inhabitants. The expedition that occurred between 1140 and 1142 and went through Porto, to take in fresh water, was made up of mostly Frenchmen. They ended up by helping the first Portuguese king, Afonso Henriques, to siege Lisbon for the first time. Five years later, the Portuguese monarch was in Porto, preparing a new expedition to the south of the territory, which was still occupied by the moors, when a new crusade, also with a greater number of French, entered the Douro seeking shelter from a storm. Warned by the king of the arrival of the French, the city’s bishop contacted them and asked for their help to conquer Lisbon from the unfaithful.

Centre for Trade

The peaceful fleets that left France’s harbours and sailed to Porto for clearly financial reasons must not also be forgotten. The Portuguese salt export to France dates back, at least, to the 13th century. At that time, the city of Porto was the main outward trade centre and it was through the Douro’s bar that the salt to France left the country in exchange for “the import of wheat in equal amounts”, as ordered by the Portuguese king João I in 1399.
In course of time, the French came to Porto especially as merchants, silk manufacturers, “refined hats” factory masters, stamping masters and booksellers. In 1452, the Portuguese king Afonso V proclaimed various laws conceding enticing privileges to the French and Bretons that came to settle in the Portuguese kingdom. Many of those that were attracted by the benefits must have settled in Porto. Of all the ships that entered the Douro’s bar between 1577 and 1578, seven were French. Their cargo comprised, among other small goods, cloths and bread. Ten years later, six merchants who declared goods at the Customs were French. Canvases, pitch, mustard, hemp, and shovels were the main goods acknowledged. On the other hand, it is known that many citizens from France settled and married in Porto. In 1605, João de Merena de Luna, a Frenchman, married at the St. Nicholas Church the widow Ana Reimonda. A few years later this same João de Merena, who was regarded as an “honourable man”, was appointed “lingoa” (interpreter) of the Porto’s French residents. Maria da Cruz, daughter of Pedro Framengo and Maria Cristóvão, married at the same church the French Estêvão da Cruz, a merchant from Bayonne. And in 1606, Miguel Bon, a French pedlar, married to the Portuguese Ana da Costa, baptised his son André at the Cathedral.

Urban Traffic

In Porto, the French name Ripert is associated to the urban traffic. It designated a sort of tramcar, open at the top and pulled by horses. In the late 19th century this sort of transportation united several parts of the city. The vehicles caught one’s eye for their novelty and shining look, due to the coating of different layers of varnish. The French Antoine Ripert was the inventor of the “Ripert car” and the founder of the “Empresa Portuense do Carro Ripert” (Porto’s Ripert Car Company), that explored the several lines under the administration of another Frenchman, Henrique Latourrette. The horses that pulled the cars were the famous “Percherons”, also French.

The French presence in Porto in the end of the eighteenth century

In the late eighteenth century there was still a strong French representation in the life of the city. João Pedro Salabert was a merchant with a “refined hats factory”. Cláudio Ruelen was master of a cotton cloth factory. At a Vicente Pedrossem da Silva’s factory worked master Pedro Lamberte, a Frenchman. The French Luís Retord was master of the factory “that polished cloths”. Also famous in Porto were the Clamouses, a family of French origin. They practised the commercial activity as “wholesale merchants”. For about one hundred years the Clamouses held the position of French consuls in Porto.

Published 13-09-2013
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