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Braine-l'Alleud (Municipality, Province of Walloon Brabant, Belgium)


Last modified: 2007-10-20 by ivan sache
Keywords: braine-l'alleud | eigenbrakel | lions: 3 (yellow) | barbencon |
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[Flag of Braine-l'Alleud]

Municipal flag of Braine-l'Alleud - Image by Arnaud Leroy, 4 March 2006

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Presentation of Braine-l'Alleud

The municipality of Braine-l'Alleud (in Dutch, Eigenbrakel; 37,512 inhabitants on 1 January 2007; 5,199 ha) is located halfway (15 km) between Brussels and Nivelles. The municipality of Braine-l'Alleud is made since 1976 of the former municipalities of Braine-l'Alleud, Lillois-Witterzée and Ophain-Bois-Seigneur-Isaac. The municipal territory is made of an horizontal plateau (125-150 m a.s.l.) with a few hills and cut by the valley of Hain, a river tributary of the Canal of Charleroi.

The site of Braine-l'Alleud was already settled in the Prehistoric times. In 1131, the parish of Braine is listed in a document prescribing the transfer of a domain called Dudinsart by Duke of Brabant Godefroid I to the abbey of Gembloux. The free rural community that gave its name to the town already existed in 1218.
Braine is the former name of the river Hain. An alleu, aka franc-alleu (alloeuf in 1131; aloe, c. 1080; from Frankish *al-ûd, "complete property"; or [Littré] from Germanic hlot, lot, "spell") was an hereditary domain owned in complete property, free from any tax, as opposed to a fief, a censive or a tenure. The owner of an alleu was called an alleutier (1534); he was a free man, as opposed to a vassal or a tenant. The corresponding epithet is allodial (1463), from medieval Latin allodialis, which explains the final "d" in Braine-l'Alleud. The legal character of an alleu was its allodialité (1590). In an act dated June 1197, Duke of Brabant Henri mentions his alleu in Braine, and the place was probably renamed Braine-l'Alleud to make a difference with the two other places called Braine, Braine-le-Château (Kasteelbrakel) and Braine-le-Comte ('s Gravenbrakel).
The free alleu was ran by a specific administration (échevinage), which followed the urban Law of Brussels, whereas the neighbouring échevinages followed either the rural Law of Uccle if located in Brabant,n or the Law of Mons if located in Hainaut. The region of Braine was particularly parcelled out in the Middle Ages. The main domain of Braine-l'Alleud was owned by several famous families, including Brabançon, Enghien, Grez, Witthem, Hohenzollern, Lorraine, Vaudémont, Rohan and Soubise.

Braine-l'Alleud is the birth town of three famous Belgian clergyman and an Olympic champion.
Adrien Croquet (1818-1902) is known in Braine as le Saint de l'Orégon. After having spent 12 years in Braine as a poor vicar living among the poor, he entered the American College in Leuven on 1859, and was sent to Oregon the same year. On 25 September 1860, he settled in the Indian reserve of Grand Rond and spent there most of his life. He died, however, in Braine, "too far from his dear flock".
Clément-Michel-Gilain Renard (1829-1904) was ordained priest in 1852 and served in Orp-le-Grand, Genval and Brussels. He contributed to the improvement of the workers' status and ran several newspapers. He also wrote several folkloric tales in Walloon such as the epos Les Aventures dê Jean d'Nivelles, el fils dê s'pêre (The adventures of Jean de Nivelles, the son of his father, 1890) and L'Argayon el Géant d'Nivelles (Argayon the Giant of Nivelles, 1893). Renard was a prankster; the smoke shop opened by his sister-in-law near the pigs' market was named Au pourcha qui fume (At the smoking pig), after him, and he composed a song, printed on a card and given to the attendants for the inauguration of the shop.
Désiré Mercier (1851-1926), Croquet's nephew, was appointed Cardinal in 1907.
The athlet Gaston Reiff (b. 1921) won the 5,000 m in the London Olympic Games (1948).

Bois-Seigneur-Isaac was named after lord (Seigneur) Isaac de Valenciennes, a member of a famous family of Hainaut, who planted there at the end of the XIth century a wood (bois), locally known as the Bois planté. A fortress was built there in the XIIth century in order to protect the borders of the County of Hainaut against the Dukes of Brabant; until the French Revolution, Bois-Seigneur-Isaac and Braine-le-Château were part of a thin stripe of land of Hainaut flanked by Braine-l'Alleud and Ophain on one side and Nivelles on the other side, all in Brabant. The castle was owned successively by the families of Huldenberg, Dave and Sainte-Aldegonde. An engraving made by Le Roy (c. 1650) shows the castle still surrounded by water and protected by towers and a draw-bridge. At the end of the XVIIth century, a family dispute, increased by the differences in the Laws of Brabant and Hainaut, caused the dismemberment of the domain. The purchasers of the castle (1712), Antoine de Belhomme and his wife née Marie-Thérèse Rouillon de Castaigne, commissioned the architect Hannotaux to transform the fortress into a cosy castle. In 1810, their grand grand daughter Joséphine Cornet de Grez married Baron Idesbalde-François Snoy et d'Oppuers. The senior branch of the the Snoy family, descending from the Counts of Gelderland and living near Mechelen since 1563, moved to Bois-Seigneur-Isaac. Since then, five generations of Souy have been living in the castle. Baron and later Count (1982) Jean-Charles Snoy et d'Oppuers (1907-1991) was among the negotiators and signatories of the Treaty of Rome (25 March 1957) founding the European Economic Community; he was Minister of Finance from 1968 to 1972. The castle was registered on the list of the "Exceptional Heritage in Wallonia" in 1993.

Bois-Seigneur-Isaac is the place of the Holy Blood Miracle. The tradition says that Isaac de Valenciennes placed a statue of the Blessed Virgin under a linden. He went to the Crusades with Godefroid de Bouillon, was captured and invoked the Virgin. She answered: "How dare you calling me for help while you have abandoned my statute outdoors to rain and snow?". Eventually liberated and back home, Isaac, as he had promised to do, built a chapel dedicated to the Virgin and funded the sancturay, called Notre-Dame de Grâce et de Consolation. In 1336, the statue was borrowed by the inhabitants of Ittre and stopped a black plague epidemics. With the support of Bishop Guillaume de Cambrai, the burghers of Ittre kept the statue. However, the Virgin consoled the inhabitants of Bois-Seigneur-Isaac by doing a miracle.
In 1405, on Tuesday before Pentecost, Knigh Jean de Huldenberghe (aka Jean du Bois) had a nightly vision. Christ appeared to him and asked him to find a doctor to heal his wounds. Jean did not understand the symbolic of the request and answered he was not aware of any doctor able to heal the wounds. Christ appeared again a month later with the same request; the next night, Jean and his brother locked themselves in the room but Christ appeared once again. Jean answered that he would not know where to send the doctor because he had no idea of whom the patient was (!). Christ told him to go to the chapel, where he would find and recognize him. Jean saw there Christ hanging on the cross and shedding a flood of blood down to the altar, and eventually recognized him.
A few days later, Pierre Ost, the priest of Haut-Ittre was ordered by a voice to go to the chapel and celebrate mass there with Jean du Bois, still puzzled by his adventures. When trying to pick up a portion of a big consecrated host, he could not do it because of a strong resistance; then he saw blood droplets forming out of the host. Jean du Bois, eventually understanding what was happening, encouraged him to carry on the mass. At the end of the celebration, the host was releasing more and more blood without being altered in any way. Blood formed a film of liquid on which the host floated. After five days, blood stopped and started to coagulate and dry.
The miracle was assessed by the famous Bishop of Cambrai Pierre d'Ailly, who did for two years a lot of experiments with the altar cloths stained by the miraculous blood. The altar was officially dedicated to the Miraculous Holy Blood, the Blessed Virgin and St. John the Baptist on 3 May 1411. Pierre d'Ailly, then appointed Cardinal, was required by Jean du Bois to confirm the miracle. Very careful, the Cardinal ordered a "process" (we would today say an audit) on 23 September 1413. On 18 October 1413, Pierre d'Ailly released a bull, still kept in the archives of Bois-Seigneur-Isaac, confirming the authenticity of the miracle and certifying the altar cloths to be a true relic. The Cardinal encouraged the set up of a pilgrimage, which was suppressed during the French Revolution and reestablished in 1896.
The Priory of Bois-Seigneur-Isaac is currently served by four monks from the Norbertine order. Augustine monks settled there in 1413 and were expelled after the French Revolution. The priory was resettled in 1903 by Norbertine monks expelled from Mondaye (France); in 1922, it was an independent priory with monks from Averbode. The priory was upgraded to an abbey in 1925 and downgraded in 1957 to a priory depending from Averbode. The relics of Hugues de Fosse (? - 1164), who was the first disciple of St. Norbert and first Abbot of Prémontré (1126) and wrote the first statutes of the Order, were officially transferred to Bois-Seigneur-Isaac in 1992, ending two centuries of transfers from place to place following the French Revolution and wars.


Ivan Sache, 4 March 2006

Municipal flag of Braine-l'Alleud

The municipal flag of Braine-l'Alleud is vertically divided blue-yellow with three yellow lions placed 2 and 1 in the blue stripe.
According to Armoiries communales en Belgique. Communes wallonnes, bruxelloises et germanophones, the flag was adopted by the Municipal Council on 7 December 1998 and confirmed by the Executive of the French Community on 30 April 1999, with the following description:
Deux laizes transversales bleue et jaune, celle à la hampe chargée de trois lions jaunes rangés 2 et 1.
The colours and the lions come from the municipal arms, D'or à quatorze burêles d'azur et trois lions d'or brochant sur le tout.

The municipal website says that the seal used by the échevins of the alleu in 1358 showed a barully shield with three lions all over. These were the arms of Nicolas de Barbençon, lord of Braine in the XIIIth century. These arms were granted to the municipality of Braine-l'Alleud by Royal Decree on 25 May 1838; their use by the new municipality was confirmed by Royal Decree on 5 September 1978.
Barbençon is today a village located near Beaumont. According to the Heraldus website, Barbençon was one of the twelve pairies of Hainaut. The Polyptich of Lobbes lists Barbenzon in pago Sambriensi (in the country of the river Sambre), Barbenzon being a diminutive form of Brabant, to be read here as "fallow land". Other old written forms are Barbançon, Barbenson and Barbenchon. Nicholes of Barbenchon and Jean of Barbenchon bore "Argent three lions gules armed and crowned or" in 1246 and 1263, respectively (therefore the flag of Braine-l'Alleud kept Nicolas' lions but changed their colour!). The Gelre Armorial shows "Argent three lions gules armed and crowned or" for Jean III, lord of Barbençon (Die He. v. Berbenson, #1069, folio 85r).
The early genealogy and history of theBarbençon lineage is not clear; in the XIVth century, Barbençon was transferred by marriage to the Ligne. Michel of Ligne was made Baron of Barbençon in the XVth century, whereas Baron Albert of Ligne-Arenberg was made Prince of Barbençon in 1613. Octave of Ligne-Arenberg was killed during the battle of Neerwinden in 1693 and Barbençon was successively transfered to the families Arenberg, Wignacourt and Anneux. The title of Prince of Barbençon is borne today by Duke of Fernan Nunez, lord of Dave (Namur).

Arnaud Leroy, Pascal Vagnat & Ivan Sache, 28 May 2007