The celebration of St Vincent is very much rooted in tradition and it seems to me the format has changed very little over the generations. In general one of the winegrowers in the village, who is a member of the Confrérie or fraternity of winegrowers, offers a barrel of wine for the festivities and most of the village will gather at his place at the start of the day. From here, a procession will weave it’s way through the village to the church. The parade is headed by the members of the brotherhood, and a brass band and inhabitants of the village, often dressed up in traditional clothing will follow. A statue of St Vincent, the barrel of wine as well as a wee tower of brioches, are carried through the village. A church service, where the village gives thanks for last vintage and prays for a good vintage this year follows. During the service, the barrel of wine and the brioches are blessed and the services often resembles a party as there is a lot of music and songs performed by the brass bands and or a choir. After the service, the parade continues direction village hall, where the mayor will discuss highlights of the year that was, before the head of the Confrérie hands out several viticultural awards. After the speeches it’s time for a wee drink – which once upon a time came from the blessed barrel, but since has been replaced by bottles of Champagne and a piece of the blessed brioche. Festivities continue with an elaborate lunch and a dinner dance which goes on till the wee hours of the morning.I was invited to attend the St Vincent in Hautvillers, my village, but unfortunately I had to miss the event as I was teaching. However, I was lucky enough to attend the St Vincent of the Archiconfrérie des Vignerons de la Champagne about 2 weeks ago.
The Archiconfrérie is the brotherhood of brotherhoods (or the arch-fraternity). It first saw the light in 1931 in Epernay, and its aim was to gather everybody involved in the Champagne industry across the whole region. The Archiconfrérie de la Champagne thus brings together village confréries of wine growers as well as representatives of the Champagne Houses. Maurice Vollereaux and Evelyne Roques-Boizel, the co-chairmen of the organization, represent their respective family and stand together in all their tasks. They symbolize the unity of all the players in Champagne.Early 1990’s the celebration of the St Vincent de l’Archiconfrérie became a wee bit grander and a few years later it was decided to celebrate the event every second year in another capital city of the region, and in alternative years in Epernay (capital of Champagne as a Wine growing region). This year the event took place in Chateau-Thierry in the Aisne and the town put on a wonderful show. 90 different Confrérie’s followed the Archiconfrérie from the station to the place St Jean, where a family photo was taken in front of the statue of Jean de la Fontaine, a famous French writer. The parade then continued to the beautiful Saint Crépin Church, where the Bishop of Soisson, Laon and St Quetin, Monsigneur Hervé Giraud, together w two other priests, welcomed a full church to participate in the St Vincent Mass. The service was very colourful and beautifully animated by the Harmonie des Tonneliers (band) and Charlie Par Choeur (choir). As in a normal St Vincent mass, the barrel of wine and the brioches were blessed and everybody sang for a great vintage. But what stood out the most for me was the huge number of young people present in the church to celebrate their heritage. It shows that the tradition of St Vincent is still very much alive and important in Champagne! After the service, everybody gathered in the local sport centre, where after a welcome and a warm thank you to the city of Chateau-Thierry by Evelyne Roques-Boizel and Maurice Vollereaux, several officials held speeches before silver and golden medals were awarded for service to the Champagne Region. The most interesting speech in my opinion was the one delivered by Jean-Luc Barbier, president of the CIVC, who spoke about the Champagne’s challenges and opportunities in 2012 and 2013..
After the prize giving, everybody was invited to have a piece of the blessed brioche and a coupe of Champagne to cheer in the new year – which may be difficult but also very exciting!