A Belgian enclave
You may be aware that
One half Belgian, one half Dutch
The houses are clearly numbered in the conventional way, with one significant addition, the colours of the country of the people living there.
Legend has it thatLegend has it that the giant was slain by a Roman soldier, Silvius Brabo, who hacked off the giant’s hands and tossed them into the Shledt, and so the place was named ‘Hanwerpen’ (hand thrown). This is commemorated by a fine statue of Brabo in the Grote Markt in
(Antwerpen in Flemish) in Antwerp
originated in Roman times. Apparently a
giant called Bruon Antigonus had a castle on the site alongside the River
Sheldt, and he is supposed to have cut off the hand of any passing seaman who
refused to pay him a toll, throwing the severed hand into the river. Belgium
The people of Lier in
The legend of Orval
The Cistercian abbey of Orval in southern
was founded in 1070. and it was destroyed during the French
Round about 1076, the ruler of the area, the Countess Mathilda of
, was seated beside a clear bubbling
spring within the abbey precincts, when she accidentally dropped her wedding
ring into the water. She was distraught that this memento of her deceased
husband seemed to be lost forever and she prayed to the Virgin Mary for its
return. It is said that a trout came to
the surface of the water with the ring in its mouth. Thereafter the valley became known as ‘aurea
vallis’ or Tuscany
– Orval. Golden Valley
The abbey was reconstructed in 1926 and is now famed as a brewery where the monastic community generates its income from a very fine Trappist beer, one of only 6 such breweries in the world.
The emblem of the Orval Abbey, a trout with a golden ring in its mouth, has kept this legend alive over the centuries and the spring still supplies the essential brewing water.
Photograph courtesy of Wikipedia
A town within a town
Beguinages, or Begijnhofen in Flemish, are a type of former religious community which can still be found in many old Flemish towns and are a testimony to the medieval mystical movement which produced them. They are often described as a ‘town within a town’ and nowadays are a great tourist attraction because of their history and interesting architecture.
A beguine was a very devout woman, a widow or a spinster, who did not wish to take holy orders, but nevertheless had a desire to lead an independent but committed life, living in a community with like women, either in groups in large houses or sometimes alone in small ones.
These communities, which began as Catholic lay groups, were started in the 12th century and flourished in the
The beguines became subjected to strict discipline through the church and were headed by the Grande Dame, a type of Mother Superior nominated by the Bishop. They promised to obey the rules of the community but were free to leave if they wished. Two or three times a day they congregated for mass but in their free time they did community work looking after the sick, old and poor people of the town. They wore a greyish-brown habit within the community and a hooded cloak when they went out. They were allowed freedom of movement but were obliged to return to the beguinage in the evening.
Sadly many of these communities were destroyed in the iconoclasm and the religious struggles of the 16th century. Some were rebuilt in the 17th century and are those which we can see today. Very few beguines remain, not many of the young ladies of the modern era wish to live the sober and isolated life.
It is a delight to be able to walk along the streets of these communities, to enjoy the very individual architecture of the buildings and to soak up the peaceful atmosphere which still pervades. No graffiti! and often no cars. The beguinages are now usually owned by the town and used as elderly or student accommodation, and the like. It is a struggle to maintain some of the delightful old houses and if someone comes along prepared to pay the cost of a controlled restoration, then they are allowed to live in the property for life on payment of a peppercorn rent.
We spoke to one lady who had paid for the restoration of two adjoining cottages and she told us that she could live there for the rest of her life and that the property could then be taken over by her daughter. Another elderly women who also lives in one of the larger houses with her grandson, told us that she had been housed by the authorities on a low rental for life, after which the grandson would be able to continue the tenancy at an increased rental. Sadly many of the lovely churches are in desperate need of restoration but many schemes are afoot to that end. Some of the old guesthouses have become restaurants and other buildings are used by artisans, which means that the communities are being preserved as a ‘town within a town.’
The Beguinage church at St Truiden