The first trace of humans and the first community
The earliest trace of human life in the Val de Bagnes dates back to the 4th Century BC. Four tombs were found at Dzardis, near the vliiage of La Villette. One of them can be seen in the Bagnes Museum. These remains are not unique: there are also undated tombs in the Verbier region and stone "cupules" or basins throughout the territory. They all point to a long period of human inhabitation. However, the first mention of an organised society is not found until 1219. A century later, writings prove the existence of a "community". The Bagnes society, with its organisation, power structure and territory were born.
Domination of the Saint-Maurice Abbey and revolutionary ideas
According to one theory, Bagnes was linked to the Saint Maurice Abbey from the 4th Century. However, the oldest document in which the Abbey is explicitly mentioned dates from 1150. The abbot was given rights to the Bagnes Valley by the Count of Savoy. The Abbot was remplaced in 1475 by the Bishop of Sion, allowing the latter to profit from the region's natural riches, notably the Bruson silver mine. Bagnes did not escape the periods of witch-hunts during the 14th and 18th Centuries. The Counter-reformation was marked by the construction of several chapels (17th Century). Intellectual life seems to have pervaded the region during the 18th Century with the building of a college by Father Bourgoz. Revolutionary ideas entered the alpine valley where, aside from the sometimes murderous struggles between conservatives and radicals, free thinkers, independent from the church, found a home with the construction of a free school (1900).
Building of the dam and the development of Verbier
The 19th Century was one of a growing movement towards the lower ground, which began to industrialise. The valley saw depopulation, despite the development of tourism around the resort of Fionnay (1890). This rural society in crisis evolved sharply during the 1950s. Verbier, which had already laid its foundations in the 1930s, saw continual growth, made possible by the revenue generated by the hydraulic energy production of the Mauvoisin dam. The construction and tourism sectors replaced agricultural activity, which is still present due to a strong desire to keep the local identity alive. During the last decade of the Twentieth Century, Verbier added an artistic component to its sporting image thanks to the Verbier Festival.
The Bagnes Coat of Arms
History of the Coat of Arms
The oldest representation of the Bagnes coat of arms known today is seen on a silver coin minted in 1498 by the Bishop of Sion. The vague forms seem to depict three figures emerging waist-high from a wooden tub used for domestic use. The first clearly rendered version of the coat of arms is the work of Johannes Stumpf, in 1544. Still in a wooden tub, with handles added, two women are sitting, their left arms resting on the rims. This version undoubtedly served as a model until the 19th Century, a period of several innovations. According to an unreliable report, Schiner mentions a single bather (1812) whilst Wick refines the morphology and hairstyles of the bathers to fit the fashion of the times (1864). In a less realistic version, the official letterhead of the municipality showed two children in a wicker tub, under a sun and two points of a diamond. On the municipal administration building, a bas-relief showed, at the beginning of the 20th Century, a flag (red), as seen on a 1597 version, whereas the current background is clear blue.
Origin of the design
The variety of different versions doesn't answer the great question posed by the communal coat of arms: were baths at the origin of the design? One thing is for sure: from 1465 to 1548, in three chronicles pertaining to Valais where other baths are referenced, baths in Bagnes are not mentioned. The first person to put forward this theory to explain the Bagnard coat of arms was Simmler, in 1574. The "discovery" of the Alps in the 18th Century was accompanied by a flood of stories. Marc-Théodore Bourrit decided Simmler's theory was a fact. Gilliéron and Bridel followed in his footsteps and prided themselves on finding the water source where these baths, now held to be a historical fact, were found.
Etymology of the name of Bagnes
The divergent views on this subject, underlining the absence of documents proving the existence of the baths, do nothing to stop the myth spreading. Maurice Casanova, after an etymological study linking the name Bagnes to the Gallo-Roman Bannius, from the name of a landowner in the Le Châble region, shows how the legend of the baths was born, once the name of the village of Bagnes was replaced by Le Châble.
This legend will surely never disappear, especially if Bourrit's interpretation is retained. For him, the destruction of the baths and the fact that they were not rebuilt proves the wisdom of the Bagnard people, refusing immoral luxury, preserving its haven of peace, this new Eden.