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Damme (Municipality, Province of West Flanders, Belgium)

Last modified: 2019-01-09 by ivan sache
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Flag of Damme - Image by Arnaud Leroy, 10 June 2007

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Presentation of Damme and its villages

The municipality of Damme (10,853 inhabitants on 1 January 2007; 8,952 ha; municipal website) is located in north-eastern West Flanders, 10 km north-east of Bruges. The municipality of Damme was established in 1976 as the merger of the former municipalities of Damme, Moerkerke (including the former municipalities of Hoeke and Lapscheure since 1970), Oostkerke and Sijsele.

After the floods of the 11th century, dykes were built to protect Bruges and its hinterland and to set up new land for agriculture. Following this and the withdrawal of the sea, the channel (Scheure) that linked Bruges to the see silted up. A new canal was dug to link again Bruges with the Scheure. The flood of 1134 formed the Zwin. The dykes on the two banks were linked near "Ten Damme" (the dam); a new canal was dug between Bruges and Damme. There was a lock at the end of the canal, allowing the ships to be transferred. Damme became the outer harbour of Bruges.
Damme was originally called Hondsdamme, but this name has nothing to do with a dog (in Dutch, hond), whatever the municipal arms cant. The name was indeed derived from honte, "a marshy area near the mouth of a river". The legend says that the devil, with the appearance of a stray dog, scared the dyke builders with his yelling. When a dyke once broke, the dyke builders cut the head of the dog, pushed the body in the gap of the dyke and Damme was saved both from the flood and the dog's yelling. Hopefully for the dog, this is only a legend.
To boost trade, Count of Flanders Philip of Alsace granted municipal rights to Damme in 1180. The sea ships sailed up to Damme, where their cargo was transferred to smaller ships and forwarded to Bruges through the canal. Due to overproduction, Damme was also allowed to store herrings and wine. The town grewq uickly, with the building of the church, the market hall, the St. John's hospital, a Beguine convent and several chapels. Damme was then one of the biggest outer harbours of the time. When King of France Philippe-Auguste seized the town on 1213, the whole French fleet, made of 1700 ships, could moor in the harbour. In 1262, the Lieve canal was dug between Ghent and Damme, which entered inside the town via a lock. Damme was not protected by walls; following the conquest of the town by King of France Philippe le Bel in 1297 and its quick reconquest by the Flemings, fortifications were built. A second wall was achieved in the XIV-XVth century.
The entrance of the harbour progressively silted up and the big ships could no longer reach Damme. The main maritime trade moved to other ports with deeper waters, mostly Lamminsvliet (today, Sluis). This was the end of the trade in Damme, which transformed into a military stronghold.
The Eighty Years' War between Spain and the Northern Low Countries broke out in 1568. In 1604, Prince Maurice of Nassau seized Sluis and Aardenburg, so that Damme was located on the frontline. From 1615 to 1620, the Spaniards completely rebuilt the town fortifications as a seven-pointed star. The former harbour was tranformed into an ammunition depot. The town was ruled by a military governor and Damme remained a fortified town until 1760. During the Spanish Succession War (1703-1713), the fortifications of Damme were even increased, which caused their occupation in 1706 by the troops of Duke of Marlborough. Eighty years later, Emperor Joseph II ordered to sell most of those new fortifications.
In 1810, Napoléon I attempted to link Bruges to the Scheldt via a canal. This canal, known as the Damse Vaart, is not completed yet and ends in Sluis. Unfortunately, the canal crossed Damme and several historical buildings, including the grain market and burghers' houses, were destroyed. The three waterways that merge in Damme (the Lieve, the Reie and the Zwin) were filled up with the sand extracted to dig the Damse Vaart.

Moerkerke, mentioned for the first time in 1110, means "the church (kerke) in the marshes" (moeras), even if the church was originally only a chapel. In the past, the domain of Moerkercque was transferred from the local family of the same name to the famous Flemish family van Praet. The Sarepta convent was located in the fields between Moerkerke and Sijsele; it was founded in 1468 by the nuns of St. Elisabeth and abandoned one century later under the pressure of the Geuzen, who burned it down in 1586. None of the seven mills of the village has survived until now. The hamlet Het Molentje (The Small Mill) is named after a mill that worked until 1922. The Schuts mill was destroyed on 12 September 1944 by a Canadian tank since it was used as an observation post by the Germans. There were violent fightings here, known as the battle of Molentje.
Hoeke was once a small town with a town hall and a port on the Zwin, founded in the 13th century by merchants from Hamburg, Lübeck and Bremen. In the 14th-15th centuries, Hoeke had a wealthy market for grain and salted fish. It eventually merged with Monnikenrede and Damme in 1594. However, Hoeke was to small to resist the economic and military competition with Bruges, Damme and Sluis. Invasions, blazes and floods speeded up the decline of the town in the 15th-16th centuries.
Lapscheure was known in the past as Lapiscura, Lappescura (12th century), Lapscura (13th century), Laepscure or Laepscuere (14th-15th centuries), Laepschuere (16th century); the current name appeared in the 17th century. It is related to a barn (in Dutch, schuur) belonging to a farmer named Laepe. In 1110, Bishop of Tournai Balderic transferred to the abbey of Saint-Quentin-en-Vermandois the churches of Oostkerke together with the chapels of Lappescure, Moerkerke, Wulpen on the Cadzand island, and Waescapelle. During the Eighty Years' War, the rebels from Sluis broke the dykes of the Zwin and Lapscheure was destroyed. The inlet called Lapscheurse Gat forms the border between Belgium and the Netherlands. The village was on the front line, which explains the building of several forts, for instance the Sint-Donaas fort, the Frederikfort, and the Sint-Job fort. Lapscheure was seized by the Dutch in 1704 and incorporated to the Netherlands in 1715.

Oostkerke (lit., "the Eastern church") had one of the earliest religious communities in the region, to which the churches of Moerkerke, Hoeke, Damme, Westkapelle and Lapscheure belonged for long. It was founded by St. Guthago, a monk of royal Scottish or Irish origin, who lived in the 7th or 9th century. Guthago lived as a pilgrim and died near Oostkerke, where he was buried. A chapel was built and the Bishop of Tournai ordered in 1159 the transfer of the saint's relics into a shrine. The towers of the church were used by the seamen as beacons; at the end of the Second World War, they were dynamited by the Germans. Oostkerke had its port, called Monnikenrede, which was suppressed during the digging of the Damse Vaart. In 1974, Oostkerke was elected the most beautiful village of West Flanders.

Sijsele, as opposed to the other villages, is not located in the polders but in the sandy area. It is the most crowdy village of the municipality, with nearly half of the total inhabitants of Damme, and the oldest one. In 1239, Egidius van Breedene transfered a piece of land to Cistercian nuns, who built there from 1247 to 1257 the abbey of Spermalie. The Gueuze sacked the abbey in 1587 and the nuns escaped to Bruges. There was in the past a powerful feudal domain in Sijsele. Jan van Sisjele took in 1302 the French party (Leliaerts); after the Flemish victory, his domain was confiscated by the Count of Flanders until 1360. King Philipp II made of Sijsele a Barony.

Ivan Sache, 10 June 2007

Flag of Damme

The flag of Damme is horizontally divided red-white-red with a black greyhound in the middle of the white stripe.
According to Gemeentewapens in België - Vlaanderen en Brussel [w2v02], the flag, adopted on 20 January 1981 by the Municipal Council, is prescribed by a Royal Decree issued on 13 March 1981 and published on 30 April 1981 in the Belgian official gazette.
The flag is a banner of the municipal arms.

A photo (12 July 2009) shows the flag with the dog slightly different from the image above. On the photo, the dog has the ear and tail pointing up, the penis visible, and a white collar with a ring.

The greyhound shown on the coat of arms and flag of Damme was already portrayed on old municipal seals and counter-seals. To summarize:
- the oldest known greater seal of Damme, used for the first time in 1226, does not show the greyhound, but the matching counter-seal used on subsequent charts (from 1237 to 1249) shows a hound on a dam with waves at its feet. Damme was then called Hondsdamme and already used a "pseudo-canting" seal (since Hondsdamme never meant the Hound's Dam);
- the second greater seal of Damme, used between 1276 and 1384, shows a ship sailing on waves from the viewer's right, a man climbing to the masts' ropes and a flag hoisted over the forecastle and quarter-deck, the flag being horizontally divided with a hound in the middle, and another man onboard;
- the seal ad causas (counter-seal) of 1306, to be used instead of the greater seal for the "ordinary" documents, shows a hound on a wavy terrace, surmounted with a small fleur-de-lis, on a hatched field, the whole surrounded by an octolob;
- the lesser seal used between 1324 and 1382, shows a shield with a hound on a dyke, the whole surrounded by a polylob;
- the seal ad causas used between 1371 and 1553, has a complete new design, showing a big shield, horizontally divided with a hound in the middle stripe, three fleurs-de-lis in chief, the basis of the shield hatcjed, the shield hold by two supporters placed in a vessel sailing on waves and on a field of flowering twigs.

In 1385, the militia of Ghent seized Damme and most probably destroyed all the seals, which were subsequently replaced by the following series:
- the counter-seal used in 1414, shows a hound on a wavy terrace, surmounted with a small fleur-de-lis, the whole surrounded by an octolob;
- the new counter-seal used in 1438, shows a jumping hound on a wavy terrace, surmounted by a fleur-de-lis;
- the third greater seal of Damme, used between 1472 and 1482, shows a rigged ship with a mast and four castles, two of them placed on the ship and the two other "free" from it, sailing rightwards, on a field with branches; over each "free" castle is hoisted a flag horizontally divided with the hound in the middle stripe; a man is standing in one of the castles;
- the last seal (indeed a counter-seal used as the seal ad causas) with the hound, used from 1456 to the 16th century, shows a jumping hound on a wavy terrace, surmounted by a fleur-de-lis.

In 1594, the towns of Damme, Monnikerede and Hoeke merged together and a seal showing elements of the arms of the three towns was designed, as follows:
- Chief: "Gules a fess argent a greyhound courant" (Damme) [the original source uses hazewind, that is "greyhound", instead of hond, that is "hound", used before];
- Dexter: "Argent a rigged ship on the waves and with a gangway, in base a monk sable standing on a terrace vert" (Monnikerede) [the monk, in Dutch, monnik, is canting];
- Sinister: "Gules three crescents argent" (Hoeke).
[De stadszegels van Damme]

Pascal Vagnat, Jan Martens & Ivan Sache, 27 September 2010