Last modified: 2008-04-26 by ivan sache
Keywords: walcourt | rochefort |
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The municipality of Walcourt (17,652 inhabitants on 1 January 2007; 12,318 ha), located on the border with the Province of Hainaut, 20 km of Charleroi and 50 km of Namur, is the westernmost municipality of the Province of Namur. The municipality of Walcourt is made since 1976 of the former municipalities of Walcourt (1,969 inh.; 555 ha), Berzée (812 inh.; 612 ha), Castillon (297 inh.; 976 ha), Chastrès (795 inh.; 678 ha), Clermont (745 inh.; 1,313 ha), Fontenelle (156 inh.; 395 ha), Fraire (1,416 inh.; 788 ha), Gourdinne (809 inh.; 553 ha), Laneffe (1,869 inh.; 664 ha), Pry (545 inh.; 694 ha), Rognée (286 inh.; 586 ha), Somzée (1,642 inh.; 604 ha), Tarcienne (2,125 inh.; 927 ha), Thy-le-Chàteau (2,288 inh.; 842 ha), Vogenée (160 inh.; 450 ha) and Yves-Gomezée (1,733 inh.; 1,405 ha).
Walcourt, mentioned for the first time in 1026, is built on a narrow
hill. Like the neighbouring, bigger town of Thuin (Hainaut), Walcourt is a former fortified town (the fortress was suppressed in the XVIth century to allow the increase of the town) with narrow streets with
stairs and terraced gardens. Walcourt is said to have been the
Gallo-Roman "villa walcortensis" (lit., the Walloon's Estate), where St.
Materne is said to have build a chapel in the IVth century, but there
is neither historical nor archeological evidence of these "facts". The
lords of Walcourt appeared in the Xth century as powerful and lawful
vassals of the Counts of Namur; they owned several lands in Lorraine
and protected the Cistercian nuns' abbey of Jardinet, founded in the
XIIIth century by Thierry II, Count of Rochefort and lord of Walcourt, and suppressed in 1796, and the church of Walcourt. In 1363, Wéry VI de Walcourt sold the domain to Count of Namur Guillaume I. Walcourt was then a main fortress defending the southern border of the County.
Transferred, sold, purchased several times, the domain of Walcourt was
eventually reincorporated to the County of Namur, purchased in 1421 by
Duke of Burgundy Philippe the Good. Under the Spanish rule, Walcourt
was transferred to the abbeys of Jardinet in 1686.
Walcourt is dominated by the St. Materne badilica and its famous onion-shaped dome. As said above, St. Materne, Bishop of Tongeren, is said to have build a chapel, replaced by an oratory destroyed by the Northmen, and eventually by a church built in the Xth century by Wéry de Walcourt. The church was completed by Wéry's successor, Oduin and consecrated to Notre Dame of Walcourt by Bishop of Liège Reginhard on 1 June 1026. Partially destroyed by a blaze, the church was progressively rebuilt until the XVIth century. Once a collegiate church, the St. Materne church was erected a badilica by Pope Pius XII on 23 May 1950. The basilica houses a jube offerred by Emperor Charles V and the statue of the Blessed Virgin of Waulcourt, that attracted so many pilgrims that an "hospital" had to be built in the XIIIth century to welcome them.
Paul Verlaine dedicated a melancolic poem to Walcourt, published in the Paysages belges (Belgian landscapes) anthology (1872).
Berzée, mentioned for the first time in 869 on the Lobbes Polyptich, as Berezies, was settled very early, as proved by archeological findings. A Gallo-Roman necropolis with some 700 tombs was excavated, yielding some 2,000 vases, 320 bronze coins, fibulae and rings. Berzée was then linked to the main way Bavay-Trier by a diverticulum, along which
several villae were probably built. The origin of the name of Berzée
is still obscure, and might be based on the Latin word bercae,
"boxwood", or on the word zee, alluding to the river Eau d'Heure,
supposed to have watered the village in the past, or even on ber as
"the bear" (bear bones have actually been found in the village) or "the
The local lords of Berzée, vassals and relatives of the lords of Walcourt, were succeeded from the XVth century onwards by famous lineages, such as Oultremont, Berlo, Namur, Trazegnies and Montalto.
Castillon, mentioned for the first time in 869 on the Lobbes Polyptich, belonged to the Principality of Liège. Mertenne, listed on the Lobbes Polyptich, as Mestines, belonged to the County of Namur but was usurped by Liège in the XIVth century and transferred back to Namur only in 1446. By Imperial Decree, the municipality of Mertenne was incorporated into Castillon in 1809.
Chastrès, mentioned for the first time in 869 on the Lobbes Polyptich, as Castritium, was the place of a Gallo-Roman villa, baths and iron industry dated IInd century AD. In 1190, Chastrès (Castrece) was incorporated into the domain of Thy-le-Chàteau, set up by Baudouin V of Hainaut and remained part of it until the French Revolution; the last lord of Chastrès was Joseph de Croÿ (1782).
Clermont, mentioned for the first time in 869 on the Lobbes Polyptich, as Clarus Montus, was already settled in the Prehistoric times, in the Gallo-Roman times and in the Merovingian times (necropolis). The village was transferred to the abbey of Aulne in 1195, with privileges confirmed by the Prince-Bishop of Liège in 1578. Clermont was eventually transferred to the Province of Namur in 1815.
Fontenelle was mentioned for the first time in 1064, when Théodore de Fontenelle was witness of the Prince-Bishop of Liège. Belonging to the County of Namur like Mertenne, Fontenelle was usurped by Liège until 1421.
Fraire, mentioned for the first time in 869 on the Lobbes Polyptich, as Ferraria, is made of the villages of Fraire and Frairoul, depending respectively of the Principality of Liège and of the County of Namur until 1810. In 1384, Jean II de Condé released the "Miners' Chart", establishing the relationships between the iron mines' owners and the workers in the villages of Morialmé, Yves, Fraire, Laneffe, Oret, Hanzinelle and Florennes and in use until 1882. The iron mines contributed to the opening of a railway line in November 1848, which itself contributed to the industrial development of the village, with the set up of foundries, glassworks, coal merchants etc., and caused a dramatic increase of the population. Iron extraction ended in 1876 and the railway line was definitively closed in 1978.
Gourdinne, not mentioned on the Lobbes Polyptich, was, however, listed, as Gurdines, among the possessions of the abbey of Lobbes in the Xth century. Already settled in the Prehistoric times, Gourdinne belonged to the County of Namur but was usurped for a while by the Prince-Bishop of Liège. Iron industry already existed in the village in the XVIth century.
Laneffe (from Romanesque effe, "a pond"), belonged to the Principality of Liège. The rights on the church of Laneffe were fiercely disputed between the abbeys of Waulsort and Aulne, which won the case in 1743. Founded in Laneffe in 1635, the St. Éloi's Brotherhood was confirmed by Pope Urban XIII on 20 July 1640. Still active, the brotherhood organizes festivals dedicated to the saint, including the June festival, during which horses are blessed. The blessing is based on a legend saying that, after his death, Éloi bequeathed his kind horse to the priest of the church where he had been buried; the horse was stolen by a greedy bishop but became so unruly that the bishop gave it back to its legitimate owner. St. Éloi is invoked for the appeasement of unruly draft horses. During the June festival in Laneffe, small breads are also distributed, recalling the saint's generosity at the court of King Dagobert. Small pennants representing the saint, a draft horse and a church are also distributed and hoisted in the stables over the horses' heads.
Pry, mentioned for the first time in 869 on the Lobbes Polyptich, as Perarium, was most probably named after the Latin word petrerium, "stone", referring to the stony soil of the village, exploited in quarries for decades. In 1894-1895, a Merovingian cemetary was excavated, with 300 tombs; the artifacts found there, including a Byzantine jewel, are shown in the Archeology Museum of Namur. The parish church of Pry is dedicated to St. Remfroid, who lived in the IXth century in the north of France. Remfroid went to Rome as a pilgrim with her ten sisters but was the only one to survive and to come back to Denain, where she founded a monastery and ruled it for 25 years.
Rognée, mentioned for the first time in 869 on the Lobbes Polyptich, as Rohignies / Rohensas, was the place of a wealthy Gallo-Roman villa, excavated in the last years of the XIXth century. The village was probably named after a Germanic lord named Roch. Once owned by the abbey of Aulne, Rognée was then shared between the Principality of Liège and the County of Namur, which kept in the village an enclave ran from Thy-le-Château. Extraction of blue stone and breeding of draft horses were the main activities in the village until the 1960s.
Somzée, once written Somezée, belonged to the County of Namur but was usurped for a while by the Principality of Liège. On 16 April 1891, a Royal Decree prescribed the incorporation of the tiny municipality of Saint-Maert (17 houses, 69 inhabitants) to the municipality of Somzée (275 inh.). During the First World War, the Germans burned down 32 houses of the village.
Tarcienne was mentioned for the first time in 1228, when Lambert de
Tarcienne and his brothers shared the village with the priory of
Oignies. A farm rebuilt in the XVII-XIXth centuries encompassed a
former donjon, probably from the late XIVth century, and still bearing
the engraved name of Johan de Tarsinez. There are, however, very few
historical records on the village, which is supposed to have belonged
to the domain of Thy-le-Château, and therefore to the County of Namur.
Known lords of Tarcienne are Ferdinand-François de Croÿ, Charles-Ignace
de Colins (1672) and Guillaume-Alexandre de Melun. The castle built by
Colins in 1674 in medieval style was recently saved from destruction by
its today's owners, the Roosens family.
The military cemetary has the tombs of 394 French and 178 German soldiers, killed during the battle that took place near Tarcienne on 23-24 August 1914; Prince Friedrich von Sachsen-Meiningen was killed there on 23 August.
Thy-le-Château, mentioned for the first time in 869 on the Lobbes
Polyptich, as Tier, and in 1380 as Thier-le-Chasteau, got its name from
thier, "a hill". Added in 1380, "-le-Château" distinguishes the
village from Thy-le-Baudouin. This castle (in French, château) is
said to have been built after the Crusades on the model of the castle
In 1188, Count Baudouin V of Hainaut seized the castle of Thy from the Count of Namur; two years later, the domain of Thy was granted to Guillaume, Baudouin's brother. The domain of Thy included Chastrès, Court-sur-Heure and, subsequently, Gourdinne, Somzée, Fairoul and Tarcienne.
Founded in 1763, the Société de Thy ran a forge and a foundry. The company thrived in the XIXth century after the opening of a railway to Charleroi; the seat of the company was eventually transferred to Marcinelle in 1893. In 1904, the Piret family founded the S.A. des Usines Métallurgiques de Saint-Éloi; during the First World War, the Germans seized the factory and Piret founded another rolling mill in Bonneuil-sur-Seine, near Paris, where most of the workers of Thy were transferred. The Compagnie Générale des Aciers was founded in 1905. In the 1930s, some 540 tons of steel were casted every month by some 1,000 workers. The Compagnie Générale des Aciers disappeared in 1970, followed by Saint-Éloi in 1987, while the railway line was closed in 1989.
Vogenée, mentioned for the first time, as Wadignies, in 1210, got its name from a Merovingian lord named Wado. The place was settled much earlier, as proved by the Cheslé fortress, a small shelter built by the Gallo-Romans in the IIIrd-IVth centuries against the invaders and common in the south of the Province of Namur.
Yves-Gomezée was formed in 1825 by a Royal Decree merging the former municipalities of Yves and Gomezée, beforehand in permanent struggle
for the maintenance of the roads, the cemetary, the church, the school,
Yves was mentioned for the first time in 1010, as Iuvo, a name built on the Germanic word awjo meaning "a wet pasture" or "a river". From the XIIIth century onwards, Yves was an important domain of the Principality of Liège. Gomezée, mentioned for the first time as Gomenceias in 1018, was most probably Gummund's estate. The "Sept-Ponts", lit. "Seven Bridges", is a seven-arched bridge stretching across a road, an aquaduct supplying water to the foundries and rolling mills, and the Eau d'Yves brook. In the XIXth century, there were 84 drinking establishments but also private houses signalled by a broom branch placed above the entrance door.
Source: Municipal website
Pascal Vagnat & Ivan Sache, 17 December 2007
According to Armoiries communales en Belgique. Communes wallonnes, bruxelloises et germanophones, the municipal flag of Walcourt is
vertically divided white-blue, with, in canton, a red eagle with a red
beak, tongue and claws.
The colours of the flag are those of the municipal arms.
The arms of Walcourt, as shown on the municipal webiste, are "Azure a
castle argent masoned sable on a rocky terrace argent in sinister an
escutcheon argent an eagle gules langued and armed azure".
According to Servais, these arms were granted by Royal Decree on 14 December 1874. The oldest known municipal seal shows a castle and an escutcheon with the arms of Namur. After the purchase of the town by Emperor Charles V, the lion was remplaced by an Imperial eagle. In the today' s arms of Walcourt, the escutcheon shows the arms of the Counts of Rochefort, lords of Walcourt. The very same eagle appears on the municipal banner of arms of Rochefort.
The Gelre Armorial shows "Or an eagle gules membered langued and beaked azure a label of the same" for Wéry, lord of Walcourt (Die He. v. Walkuert, #1058, folio 84v) and for Thierry of Walcourt (He. Dirc v. Walcourt, #1737, folio 3v).
Pascal Vagnat & Ivan Sache, 17 December 2007