Last modified: 2008-06-21 by ivan sache
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Municipal flag of Gerpinnes - Image by Arnaud Leroy, 16 October 2005
The municipality of Gerpinnes (12,064 inhabitants on 1 January 2007; 4,710 ha) is located in the region called Entre-Sambre-et-Meuse (between the rivers Sambre and Meuse), 12 km south-east of Charleroi. The municipality of Gerpinnes is made since 1976 of the former municipalities of Gerpinnes, Acoz, Gougnies, Joncret, Loverval and Villers-Poterie.
In the Gallo-Roman times, a wealthy landlord owned in Gerpinnes an
estate stretching over more than 5,000 hectares. The villa and the farm
were built on a one-hectare plot located below a hill, on the
confluency of the brooks Aujette and Saint-Pierre. The villa was
burned down during the Great Invasions in the beginning of the Vth
century and eventually abandoned. Its remains were excavated in 1872. A
new, easy-to-defend villa was built on the hill, on the site of the
current parish church of Gerpinnes. In the beginning of the VIIIth
century, a few missionaries built a wooden oratory near the villa of
Gerpinnes and founded there the Moustier (an ancient French word for
monastery), dedicating their chapel to St. Michel. The chapel was
used as a parish church by the inhabitants of the domain of Gerpinnes.
At the end of the IXth century, the feudal system was set up. Most secondary farms seceded from their ruling estate and evolved independently in feudal domains. The domain of Gerpinnes, with the right of highest justice (that is the right to pronounce the death sentence) was the most important of the region; its territory was more or less similar to the territory of the current municipality of Gerpinnes.
Around 1196, Count of Namur Philippe le Noble granted a chart to the inhabitants of Gerpinnes. Baudouin, Count of Flanders and Hainaut, confirmed by a chart dated 5 May 1201 the privileges granted to Gerpinnes by his brother Philippe le Noble. In 1206, Gerpinnes was granted the same rights as Namur and its inhabitants were nicknamed the bourgwés (local form of bourgeois, "burghers"). The charts says that Gerpinnes belonged to the County of Lomme and was ran by the Bailiwick of Bouvignes.
At the end of the XIVth century, Gerpinnes became a Viscounty, owned by Collart de Rolous at the end of the XIVth century. Gerpinnes and 16 other border villages were disputed between the Principality of Liège and the County of Namur. Prince-Bishop Englebert de la Marck and Count Guillaume I came to an agreement: asked to solve the conflict in 1375, Pope Gregor XI decided that Gerpinnes would belong to the Counts of Namur; they set up a fortress and a garrison to protect the border against the enemy fortress of Florennes. At that time, there was a famous, tax-free grain market in Gerpinnes. Saying of someone Il est allé à la halle de Gerpinnes ("He went to the market of Gerpinnes") meant that he was very happy.
In 1689, the French troops commanded by Marshal de Humière, Commander of the Flanders Army on Louis XIV's behalf, camped out in Gerpinnes after having been defeated in Walcourt on 25 August by the Spanish troops commanded by Prince Waldeck. Humière then moved to Tournai and Lille in order to get rid of the Spanish troops that scoured the north of France during the leave of the Flanders army.
During the Second World War, there was in Gerpinnes a strategic contact center of the Secret Army (anti-German Resistance); the center of the chain was located in the Lambot farm in Tarcienne, whereas link 10 was located in the center of the village of Gerpinnes.
Acoz originally belonged to the Carolingian domain of Gerpinnes. The last lord of Acoz, Jacques d'Udekem, sold the domain and the castle to Édouard Pirmez' widow on 21 July 1816. In 1865, the writer and amateur archeologist Octave Pirmez (1832-1883) excavated a Merovingian necropola with 25 tombs in the wood of the castle; in 1876, he found a Roman treasure with coins bearing the effigy of Emperors Nero, Vespasian, Domitian, Hadrian and Antonin. Pirmez built in 1875 in composite style a square tower he called his "vertical hermitage" or "Octavian tower". He wrote there Les Feuillées and Heures de Solitude. Pirmez is considered as the first modern "professional" writer in French-speaking Belgium and as a precursor of Symbolism. His tower was later ruined and eventually demolished.
Gougnies (c. 1,000 inhabitants) was famous in the XIXth century for its forge and marble quarries, exploited since 1860. The only remains of the quarries are slag heaps, whose material is sold to the Netherlands for the consolidation of the North Sea dykes.
Joncret (550 inhabitants; 316 ha) is scattered over four small valleys. From the main square of the village, famous for its old chestnuts, the spires of ten neighbouring village churches can be seen when weather permits it.
Loverval, which has several woods and brooks on its territory, is considered as the "green lung" of Charleroi. The origin of the name of the village is either "Lovier's valley", Lovier being a German landlord, or, according to the popular etymology, "Wolves' valley", a wolf being a loup in French.
Villers-Poterie was named after its clay soil (Viler le Poterie, 1289), used for pottery. Villers was originally a villare, that is a secondary domain depending on the main villa of Gerpinnes. Villers-Poterie is a main place of the St. Rolende's march (see below).
Gerpinnes is the "capital" of the folkloric marchs of
Entre-Sambre-et-Meuse. These marchs are popular events whose origin can
be traced back to the Whit processions in the Middle Ages. Beside their
religious role, the Whit processions were used to pay the tribute to
the powerful abbeys that owned most of the local parishes. The
processions were escorted by soldiers both for prestige and safety
reasons; at that time, bands of rascals scoured the country and were
extremely eager to rob the pilgrims. In the XVIIIth century, the marchs
were suppressed by the church because they had lost any religious
character and were rather a good opportunity to ridicule the church.
The marchs resumed in 1802 after the signature of the Concordat between
Napoléon I and Pope Pius VII.
The modern marchs are organized like a military parad, with Companies commanded by an Officer and having of course a Colour. The marchers are dressed in historical uniforms, mostly from the First and Second French Empire. Initially, remains of the uniforms of Napoléon's Grand Army were used; when those uniforms became too old, they were replaced by the so-called Second Empire uniforms, indeed uniforms of the first Belgian army (1830) and of the Civic Guard (1850).
The Museum of the Folkloric Marchs of Entre Sambre-et-Meuse, located in Gerpinnes, shows a big collections of items related to these events. The Museum was set up by the Association des Marches Folkloriques de l'Entre Sambre-et-Meuse, which groups 70 Companies and 7,000 walkers.
The Tour Sainte-Rolende or Marche Sainte-Rolende, organized in
Gerpinnes, is probably the oldest and biggest of these marches.
The patron saint of Gerpinnes is St. Rolende, the daughter of Didier,
King of the Lombards. To avoid a marriage of convenience, Rolende
escaped from her father's palace. She died from utter exhaustion in
Villers-Poterie in 774, on her way to Cologne where she had planned to
become a nun. In the chapel of the castle of Villers-Poterie, a stone
still shows the engraved Gothic writing: Hic obiit Virgo Rollendis
(Here died Virgin Rolende). In 1097, Rolende's body was transported to
the church of Gerpinnes and placed into a reliquary. The body released
an odoriferous, miraculous oil. A bad guy once dropped the flask
containing the saint oil to the ground: he and all his descendants were
afflicted with nodules in the fingers, and oil release ceased. The
relics were placed on 13 May 1599 in a new reliquary, made by goldsmith
Henri Libert in Namur for 661 guilders.
The oldest mention of the St. Rolende's procession dates back to 1413, and it was already considered as an very ancient custom. The procession is both a religious and secular event. The event starts indeed at Easter with the ceremony of the "glass breaking", during which the officers commanding the different Companies of the Whit Monday procession are appointed. In each village involved in the procession, every appointed officer publicly drinks bear from a glass called misérable because it is stemless, and breaks it down to the ground. This is an official oath taking.
On the evening of Whit Sunday, the general mobilization is proclaimed, with the curfew set up at 10 PM. The reveille is sounded at 2 AM with drums and fifes and the squads are organized according to the custom. The mass starts at 3 AM in the church of Gerpinnes. Then the procession, often involving more than 2,500 walkers, starts from the church at 3:45 AM, when the Company of Villers-Poterie takes out St. Rolende's reliquary from the church. All along the 35-km route of the procession, the reliquary will be carried on shoulders by pilgrims. All the villages of the former parish of Gerpinnes (Hymiée, Hanzinne, Tarcienne, Bertransart, Les Flaches, Joncret, Acoz, Villers-Poterie, Gougnies, Fromiée and Sartia) are visited by the procession, which ends around 7:00 PM in Gerpinnes with the great parade of the eleven Companies and the solemn return of St. Rolende's relics into the church.
Ivan Sache, 16 October 2005
The municipal flag of Gerpinnes, as confirmed by the municipal administration, is vertically divided green-white.
Armoiries communales en Belgique. Communes wallonnes, bruxelloises et germanophones says that the municipality has no flag but that green and white are the "traditional colours" of Gerpinnes.
Arnaud Leroy, Pascal Vagnat & Ivan Sache, 13 October 2005