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Montrésor – The Polish cultural treasure in France

The village in the Loire Valley, called Montrésor, is a significant point on the map of Europe for the Polish emigration, since the partitions traversed foreign countries in search of their place. In this little French village, during the time when Poland disappeared from the map of Europe, the Polish language and the most beautiful native traditions were continuously cultivated. Therefore, translation of the word, Montrésor, into Polish as ‘my treasure’ is gaining quite the prophetic meaning.

Castle Montrésor was built in medieval France in 1005 by Fulk Nerra, the founder of many castles and churches in the Valley. Subsequent owners made numerous alterations to the style of the castle until the French Revolution, when the property was almost completely ruined. In 1849, Roza Potocka bought the ruined castle for her son, Xavery Branicki. As rumor goes, she wanted to encourage her son to settle down and start a family. Xavery, however, invested lots of time and effort into renovation and arranging a lavish interior in the castle. He also brought many rich collections of Polish art, ancestral portraits, and other memorabilia.

Branicki, in that way, supported activities of patriotic circles. They created historically valuable collections of traditional Polish memorabilia that were supposed to be a historical continuity of the nation without their country. The castle library also has many valuable materials from the period.

Xavier Branicki married, only at the end of his life, to Pelagia Zamoyska Rembielińska and died childless. The owner of the estate after his death was, subsequently, his brother, Konstanty, and later, members of his family married with the noble families of Potocki, Czartoryski and Rey.

It is not only a museum

Today, the castle, after almost 170 years, is still in the hands of Polish descendants of Branicki’s family and inhabited by Countess Maria Potocki Rey with her son, Konstanty. From the very beginning, Montrésor has also become a haven, where Poles scattered in Europe, were able to stop or find shelter after another historic tragedy. As a result, now most of the villagers have Polish roots. They are descendants of former Polish elites brought up in the spirit of patriotism, and they managed to preserve many beautiful traditions. Currently, the mayor of the town is Christophe Unrug, the grandson of Admiral Unrug, the last commander of the Navy of the Second Republic.

Presently, some of the rooms of the castle are a museum, while the rest is private, where a normal rural life continues. The sleepy atmosphere of the castle is usually animated during Christmas family reunions and ancestral vows.

The valuable collections of the castle museum are Pierre Vaneau sculptures, depicting the victory of John III Sobieski at Vienna, goldsmith souvenirs after Jagiellonian and Vasa dynasties, souvenirs after the January Uprising, a gallery of images of the masters of Italian, Dutch and Polish artists with a patriotic theme, family portraits and Polish trophies. The museum collection also complements the rich library and valuable archive.

Right at the foot of the medieval towers of the castle runs the Rue Xavier Branicki, the street name of the founder of the Polish Montrésor. It leads to the Branicki‘s mausoleum and the cemetery with many graves of Polish insurgents – immigrants.

Castle Montrésor is now, not only a museum, but above all, testimony to the greatness and the tragedy of Poland’s fate.

By Anna Ruszel, Polish Professional Forum in Europe
Photo: Wikipedia, Manfred Heyde