Some who left were extremely successful like the peddlers that became bourgeois merchants in Vienna, Austria; or the great scientist Alexis Bouvard, who fled to Paris on foot and later became Director of the Paris Observatory, and whose astronomical calculations led to the discovery of Neptune!
Others, with a more adventurous spirit, tried their luck on distant shores, in Mississippi or New Caledonia, Alger or St Petersbourg…
Many workers, employees and civil servants left for Paris but they never forgot their alpine valley.
Faithful to their vows, members of the religious community also left on missions to far distant lands. Many of them went to South America. Here one can trace the steps of father Firmin Mermoud, who after his training in Jerusalem was sent to Chile in 1910 . After 10 years spent in various parishes near Valparaiso, he died suddenly at the age of 38.
Past and present
It is here that the past and the present meet: Antoine, back from Chile mid-September 2014, recounts his emotional search for traces of his great-great uncle:
“Santiago is a huge place! It was here that I started to investigate, looking for Firmin Mermoud’s tomb, Father Firmin who preached in Chile.
At the Basilica of Our Lady of Lourdes in Santiago, a vault is dedicated to the Brothers of the Assumption where I thought I might find “El Padre Firmin. I asked a lady who asked another lady, who called brother Ramon, who spoke very good French. Brother Ramon led me to the presbytery where the names of priests are engraved on a marble slab including my uncle’s, Firmin Mermoud! But his body wasn’t there. Ramon said that his body must have been buried in the Catholic cemetery in Santiago, in the ‘La Asunción Agustinos’ crypt, with the other brothers of the order. The guardian of the cemetery guided me to the crypt. I couldn’t have found it on my own, the cemetery is immense!
Unfortunately, only those priests who died after 1950 were buried in the crypt. I made one last attempt to find Father Firmin across the street, in the public cemetery. It’s so big you can drive around it in a car! The archives manager pointed me towards the French pavilion where French soldiers where buried during the 2 world wars. There was still no trace of Firmin Mermoud.
Chances are he was probably buried near Valparaiso, where he lived his last days.
I’ll go there next time but what a wonderful experience I had searching for a parent on the other side of the world”.
If you want to learn more about these emigrants, a local heritage association “ Mémoire, Histoire et Patrimoine “ has published a brochure entitled “Contaminards de par le monde” This illustrated document is for sale at the Tourist Information Office.