Andorra was created under a charter granted by King Charles the Great (Charlemagne) in return for the Andorran people fighting against the Moors with Overlordship of the territory by the Count of Urgell. In A.D. 988, the Andorran valleys were given to the Diocese of Urgell in exchange for land in Cerdanya. The Bishop of Urgell, based in Seu d’Urgell, has owned Andorra since then. The principality was given its territory and political form in 1278 with the signing of the first paréage which provided that Andorra’s sovereignty be shared between the count of Foix (whose title would eventually be transferred to the French head of state) and the Bishop of Urgell in Catalonia.
With the passage of time the co-title to Andorra passed to the kings of Navarre. After Henry of Navarre became King Henry IV of France, he issued an edict in 1607 that established the head of the French state and the Bishop of Urgell as co-princes of Andorra. In 1812–13 the First French Empire annexed Catalonia and divided it in four départements, with Andorra being made part of the district of Puigcerdà (département of Sègre). In 1877, an Andorra subject, Tomàs Rossell y Moles, was appointed postmaster and sold postage stamps of both France and Spain to be affixed on outgoing mail according to its destination. Mail bearing French stamps were postmarked at Porté and Spanish mail received the Seu d’Urgell postmark. Then, as now, mail destined for internal Andorran destinations were always conveyed free of charge, requiring no stamps of any kind.
Andorrans were somewhat displeased over the seizure of their postal services by the Spanish (as discussed in yesterday’s post) and subsequent protests led to the eventual signing of a Hispano-French agreement concerning the dual handling of the posts on 30 June 1930. The agreement went into effect on 1 August 1930 and the French Postal Administration of Andorra was officially inaugurated on 16 June 1931 with a Head Office at Andorra la Vella and Postal Agencies at Soldeu, Canillo, Encamp, Sant Julia de Loria, La Massana, and Ordino. No changes took place in this list of post offices until the 1st January 1967 when an additional agency was opened at Pas de la Casa, on the Franco-Andorran frontier, a sizeable settlement having developed here as a tourism and winter sports center. In 1931, the French Administration of Andorra used twenty-two overprinted French stamps from 1900-29. Like the Spanish Administration, France only used overprinted stamps for the first set; with the second set of stamps issued, the name of the country was part of the design of the stamp.
The French Administration is a somewhat heavier stamp issuer than that of the Spanish with a total of 728 — broken down as 656 general issues, one semi-postal, eight air mail stamps, 62 postage due, and one newspaper stamp. Most stamps of French Andorra issued from 1961 onwards also exist in unlisted imperforate and small presentation sheet varieties.
Scott #23 is a beautiful stamp — the fine engraving typical of French colonial and domestic issues, making it a wonderful area to collect. It was released in 1932 as the lowest value (1 centime, listed as gray black in color) in a long pictorial set that would eventually include 58 face different stamps when it ceased in 1944. Perforated 13 and engraved, it portrays the old chapel dedicated to Saint Mary of Meritxell which burned down the night of September 8th and 9th, 1972.
According to legend, during the Feast of the Epiphany (January 6) sometime in the twelfth century, villagers from Meritxell were on their way to mass in Canillo when they spotted a rose growing from the side of the hill. As they approached the rose bush they saw a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. They carried the statue to the church in Canillo and placed it on the altar. The next day when the church was opened they could not find the statue, and feared that it had been stolen, until someone came along and told them that they had seen the statue on the hillside where it was found originally. The statue was then taken to the church of Encamp but, as before, the statue was found under the same wild rose the next day. The villagers of Meritxell took this as a sign and decided to build a new chapel in their town after they found an open space miraculously untouched by the winter snows.
The original chapel was of Romanesque design but was reconstructed about 1658 in a baroque style and included a bell tower of double eye bell gable. The 1972 fire destroyed the church almost entirely, including original documents of the sanctuary. Along with these documents, all the images and altarpieces that decorated the interior of this temple were lost, including the Romanesque wooden carving of the Virgin of Meritxell. The town, shocked by the ordeal, reacted immediately to the disaster, declaring its pain. It took twenty years, but a new chapel of Santa Maria de Meritxell was reconstructed in 1994 incorporating the remains that still stood from the old chapel and including a replica of the original statue. Today, the feast day of Our Lady of Meritxell is the Andorran National Holiday and held annually on September 8th. The statue is actually mentioned in the national anthem of Andorra and “Meritxell” is a popular name among Andorran and other Catalan-speaking women.