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Ath (Municipality, Province of Hainaut, Belgium)


Last modified: 2008-09-06 by ivan sache
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[Flag of Ath]

Municipal flag of Ath - Image by Ivan Sache, 9 April 2005

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Presentation of Ath and its villages

The municipality of Ath (in Dutch, Aat; 27,141 inhabitants on 1 January 2007; 12,694 hectares) is located in the province of Hainaut. The municipality of Ath is made since 1976 of the former municipalities of Ath, Arbre, Bouvignies, Ghislenghien, Gibecq, Houtaing, Irchonwelz, Isières, Lanquesaint, Ligne, Maffle, Mainvault, Meslin-l'Évêque, Moulbaix, Ormeignies, Ostiches, Rebaix, Villers-Notre-Dame and Villers-Saint-Amand.
In the 17 villages incorporated into the municipality of Ath, the main activity was agriculture, often supplemented with small-size textile workshops (flax, cloth) until the economical crisis of 1850. In some of these villages, industrialization was more important, for instance in Maffle (stone extraction) and Rebaix (earthenware). Agriculture has been preserved in the villages until now, with an increase in the grassland area since 1950; however, the villages are more and more residential areas. They have kept traditional elements of local architecture, most of the houses being built with bricks and blue stone. Several houses, farms and churchs were built in the XVIIIth and early XIXth centuries.

Around 1160, Count of Hainaut Baudouin IV purchased a part of the domain of Ath from his vassal Gilles de Trazegnies. He built there a square donjon (Burbant Tower) in order to protect the northern part of the County. Ath means "a fortified place near a ford", or, less probably, is a Latinization of the Germanic root *haita, "heather". The ville neuve (new town) that developed around the fort was granted civil rights and a free market, thus attracting settlers. A city wall was built between 1330 and 1350. The population of Ath dramatically increased and the town was enlarged southwards and eastwards; a new city wall was built at the end of the XIVth century.
In the XVth century, the population of Ath was about 5,000. The town produced and traded cloth, furs, stones, goldware, woodware and sculptures. The Thursday's market and the yearly fair were main trading events in Hainaut.
In 1667, Ath was seized by Louis XIV, who ordered Vauban to build new fortifications, which were achieved in 1674. The fortifications included eight bastions linked by curtains and protected by tenails and demilunes. The fortifications were suppressed in 1745 after the Dutch siege.
In 1824, the Dutch built Fort Féron. The site of the former fortifications was used to set up factories and housing for the ever-increasing population.
During the first half of the XIXth century, Ath was hit by a severe economical crisis. From 1850 to 1914, textile, wood and food (breweries and mills) industries contributed to the renewal of the town. These traditional industries declined in the XXth century; Ath became mostly a trading and administrative town.

In the north of France and Belgian Hainaut, a ducasse is a village or city festival. The ducasse of Ath dates back at least from the end of the XIVth century. It was then a religious procession for the dedication (dédicace, probably later transformed to ducasse) of the St. Julien's church. The procession took place in the streets of the city on the Sunday preceding St. John the Baptist's Decollation Day. Scenes from the Ancient Testament (featuring Goliath), from the New Testament (featuring Maria-Magdalena), and from the Golden Legend (featuring St. Christopher) were performed by actors on sledges called esclides and in the streets. Another group of scenes showed Charlemagne's Cycle and horse Bayard, and another one showed the Nine Valiant Knights. The procession was funded by the municipality, the parish and the brotherhoods.
In the XVIth century, the religious atmosphere of the festival disappeared; the giants were suppressed during the French Revolution. In the beginning of the XIXth century, the sculptor Emmanuel Florent decided to design new giants. From 1819 onwards, the procession became a non-religious parade displaying the feelings of the time (exotism, Belgian nationalism, illustration of local history...). After the Second World War, the ancient giants Horse Bayard (1948), St. Christopher (1976) and the Horses Diricq (Goliath's guard, 1981) were reintroduced into the parade.
On Saturday at noon, the big bell Marie-Pontoise is rung in order to announce the beginning of the festival. Goliath and his wife enter the city around 14:30 and march towards St. Julien's church, escorted by the "Blues". The vespers, locally called "marriage", are celebrated in presence of the municipal authorities. Around 16:15, the couple goes back to the Municipal Hall, where Goliath fights David. The actor playing David says a text called bonimée, in use since the XVIIth century. The local pie (tarte aux mastelles) is eaten after the fight. In the evening, the Mount Sarah's Cannon group marches in the streets with torches and a concert is given on the Grand-Place.

Arbre (315 ha) is named after an arm of the river Dendre watering the village. In the XIIIth century, the village of Arbre belonged to the eponymic family. Under the ancient regime, Arbre and Attre (today part of the municipality of Brugelette) were a single administrative unit, whereas the parish of Maffre was a subdivision of the parish of Arbre. The three villages were separated in 1803. Arbre is today crossed by the scenic viaduct of the TGV railway.

Bouvignies (470 ha) is named after a bouverie (cattle farm, Romanic, bovinia). The village has been known since the XIIth century. Most of its lands belonged to the St. Martin's abbey in Tournai and the abbey of Liessies. The altar from the village church comes from the St. Martin's abbey. In 1949, the Provincial Agricultural College of Ath made of Bouvignies a pilot village where innovative agricultural systems are evaluated in real production situations.

Ghislenghien (618 ha) is named after German lord called Gisalo (Giaslinga haim, was Gisalo's estate). Remains of Gallo-Roman estates (villae) were found in Ghislenghien. In 1126, Ide of Chièvres and Ide of Ath founded a womens' abbey, which owned 1,000 hectares of land, half of them being located in Ghislenghien. In 1792, General Dumouriez set up his headquarters in the abbey after the battle of Jemappes. In 1970, the industrial park of Ghislenghien-Meslin l'Évêque was created. On 30 July 2004, a gazoduct blew off in the park, killing 24 and injuring 132.

Gibecq (651 ha) is named after the Germanic words wisu, "good" and baki, "brook". In the beginning of the XIIth century, the village belonged to the eponymic family. Then, the most important domain, including one half of the village, belonged to the abbey of Ghislenghien. In 1781, the Sovereign Council of Hainaut restricted cattle breeding in Gibecq to increase grain production.

Houtaing (452 ha) is named after the Germanic words huta, "wood", and haima, "habitation". Houtaing was listed in 847 as a possession of the St. Amand abbey. The domain of La Berlière belonged to the Ligne family and eventually to the Counts d'Oultremont from 1845 to 1912. It is now housing a Secondary College ruled by the Josephite Fathers. The castle of Houtaing was built in neo-Classical style in 1834-1835. In 1894, Adhémar d'Oultremont built a neo-Gothical mausoleum for his wife Clémentine, born de Crouÿ, near the St. Clement's hospice. Several members of the Oultremont family are buried in the crypt of the mausoleum. The mausoleum and its neighborhood are listed since 1993 as an "exceptional monument". The village church is a place of pilgrimage dedicated to St. Quirin, whose relics are said to have been given to the church in the middle of the IXth century by Count Gérard de Roussillon. St. Quirin is invoked against blindness and skin diseases.

Irchonwelz (413 ha) is the ancient Romanic ericionis waid (via Germanic wadja), "the hedgehog's ford". In 1978, remains from a Neolithic settlement were found in the village. The first written sources mentioning Irchonwelz date back to the XIIth century. The main domain belonged to the Trazignies family until 1721. The feudal castle, built in the XIIIth century, was used as a farm until the XXth century. It is today the Giants' Brewery (Brasserie des Géants). Irchonwelz is today a residential outskirt of Ath.

Isières (695 ha) is named after the Celtic hydronym en-rma, "violent". In 1180, the Bishop of Cambrai gave to the local Chapter the goods he owned in Isières; this was the first mention of the village. Around 1294, Isières was involved in the quarrel of the Terre de débats (disputed land). In the XIXth century, several inhabitants of Isières worked in the quarries of Lessines.

Lanquesaint (306 ha) is named after a Germanic lord called Aling (Alingas haim was Aling's estate). In the XIIIth century, the village of Lanquesaint belonged to the lord of Oudenaarde, whereas other important domains belonged to the chapter of the abbey of Cambrai and to the Count of Hainaut. The abbeys of Saint-Ghislain, Ghislenghien and Liessies also had possessions there.

Ligne (540 ha) was named after Latin linea, "line" (French, ligne). The line is most probably the Roman way Bavay-Ghent. The Ligne family is one of the most famous noble families in Belgium. The castle of Ligne was mentioned in 1020; the Ligne were made Barons in 1180, Counts in 1545 and Princes in 1601. However, they stayed since the Middle Ages mostly in the castle of Belœil. In the XIXth and XXth centuries, the village of Ligne lived both from agriculture and industry, with a sugarmill (1838), a tile factory (1900), a brick factory, an earthenware factory, a brewery and a sawing mill (1937). All these industries disappeared after the Second World War.

Maffle (314 ha) is named after the ancient Frankish root *mahal, "barn". A jade axe from the Prehistoric times was found there in 1961, as well as Roman tombs excavated in 1876 and 1896. In the Middle Ages, the municipality of Maffle belonged to the Chapter of St. Waudru's abbey in Mons. Extraction of blue stone started in Maffle in the XIVth century. The stone was used for building, sculpture, cobbling and chalk production. In the XIXth century, two quarries had an industrial production and a workers' union was founded in 1895. Extraction ceased in the beginning of the 1960s.

Mainvault (1,347 ha) is the ancient Romanic Majon wald, Majo's wood. The village is located near the Roman way Bavay-Velzeke but no archeological excavation has been performed yet. A local feudal family is mentioned in the XIIth century. Then most of the domain belonged to the Lahamaide and Egmont families. Mainvault mostly lived from agriculture, with also three wind-mills, a brewery, a salt refinery and flax processing workshops. A calvary was erected on the Mainvault hill in 1775 by J.J. Bottemanne, a stone-cutter from Soignies. Bottemanne also made calvaries in Lens and Vlamertinge.

Meslin-l'Évêque (1,206 ha) is named after the hydronym melinus [rivus], "the yellowish brook". l'Évêque (the Bishop) recalls that the village belonged to the Bishop of Cambrai. The chapel Notre-Dame-des-Cailloux, built in 1617 and rebuilt in the XIXth century was the place of a pilgrimage against fevers and hernias. Fénelon, Bishop of Cambrai, is said to have owned the house built in the second third of the XVIIIth century on the square of the village. There was an attempt to produce silk in Meslin-l'Évêque in the 1830s.

Moulbaix (462 ha) was named after the Germanic words muli, "mill", and baki, "brook". The main domain in Moulbaix depended on the fief of Blicquy. Emperor Charles V confirmed there the rights of the Chasteler family, which included several famous civil and military officers, most of them having their tomb in the parish church of Moulbaix. There are a few remains of the feudal castle; the modern castle was built in 1890 by architect Désiré Limbourg in English neo-medieval style. The Marquioness' mill, one of the two windmills of Moulbaix, was built in 1747 in Blicquy and later transfered to Moulbaix. It was revamped in 1942 by miller J. Dhaenens and is still used for grain milling.

Ostiches (859 ha) was in the Middle Ages known as Hospiticum, an host's (hospes) land. Nothing is known about the village before the XIIth century. The main domain, including the mill of Stocq, belonged to Baron of Leuze. In 1390, the hereditary municipality was sold to the Yves family, which got the title of Baron in the XVIIth century. Some lands of the village belonged to the Chapter of Condé and to the abbeys of Saint-Denis-en-Broqueroie, Liessies and Saint-Ghislain.

Rebaix (590 ha) is named after the Germanic words rausa, "reed" and baki, "brook". A Merovingian cemetary, dated VI-VIIth centuries, was found between the village of Rebaix and the hamlet of Perquiesse. In the Middle Ages, Rebaix was one of the twelves peerages of Hainaut that belonged to the Rebaix family. They were later transferred to the Lahamaide and Egmont families. Rebaix mostly lived from agriculture and cattle breeding; the village once had two breweries and two distilleries and produced earthenware until the Second World War.

Villers-Notre-Dame (159 ha) was known as Villare supra Tenre (on the Dendre) and later as Sancte Marie Vilers. It was first mentioned in 948. The village was divided into two domains, belonging to the abbey of Ghislenghien and the Ligne family, respectively. The two domains had their own administration and were granted separated charter-laws in 1411 and 1413, respectively. The church of Villers-Notre-Dame was a secondary parish church for Irchonwelz. In 1862, architect Stievenard rebuilt it in neo-Romanesque ecelctic style. A pilgrimage takes place there on Whit's Monday to celebrate the Blessed Virgin. Villiers-Notre-Dame lived exclusively from agriculture in the past: cattle breeding was very limited and there was no industry.

Villers-Saint-Amand (673 ha) is named after St. Amand (VIIth century), Bishop of Utrecht and founder of the St. Amand abbey in the north of France. The village belonged in 847 to the St. Amand abbey's monks, who might have founded the village by clearing the woods. The abbey owned there a farm, a watermill on the Dendre, woods (still stretching over one third of the territory in 1757) and arable lands ran by an intendant (avoué). A municipal administration was created in 1303 and a Charter was granted in 1414.


Ivan Sache, 9 April 2005

Municipal flag of Ath

The municipal flag of Ath is vertically divided mauve*-white-yellow.
According to Armoiries communales en Belgique. Communes wallonnes, bruxelloises et germanophones, the flag was adopted by the Municipal Council on 19 September 1991 and confirmed by the Executive of the French Community on 18 December 1991.
This flag has been known in Ath since 1579. A municipal account dated 2 February 1578-1579 states that the échevins (Municipal Councillors) of Ath ordered the purchase of fabric with those colours in order to make a flag for the town. The colours are those of Robert of Trazegnies, lord of Sepmeries, lord of Ath from 1565 to 1580.

Pictures taken during the 2004 ducasse (no longer online) in Ath show the hoisting of the flags of European Union, Belgium, Wallonia and Ath on the roof of the tower of the St. Julien's church, by windy weather.

*According to information received by Jan Mertens from an inhabitant of Ath, the colour of the first stripe of the municipal flag of Ath is locally called parme.
The word parme was coined in French in 1908, to designate the colour of the Parma violets (Grand Robert de la Langue Française). It is translated in English as "violet" (Robert & Collins). However, the colour on the real flag seems to be darker than parme, rather mauve.

Ivan Sache, 18 April 2005

Former municipality of Ormeignies

[Flag of Ormeignies]

Flag of Ormeignies - Image by Ivan Sache, 22 April 2008

Ormeignies (1,086 ha) is named after a Germanic lord called Wurmo (Wurminicas was Wurmo's estate). Neolithic remains were found in the village. From the XIVth century to the end of the Ancient Regime, Ormeignies belonged to the Ligne family, except the farms of Betissart and La Rosière, which belonged to the domain of Chièvres and the abbey of Cambron, respectively. Ormeignies is still an agricultural village, with an horticultural research station managed by the Provincial Agricultural College of Ath, locally known as les serres (the greenhouses).

Angélique de Rouillé (1756-1840) was born in Ath as Angélique Pollart d'Herimetz. Her birth house was a former "refuge" of the abbey of Liessies (a safe place within a fortified town where the monks could move during unrest periods), where Louis XIV stayed from 15 June to 16 July 1671 with the "three queens", Marie-Thérèse (The Queen), Louise de Lavallière (the declining favorite) and Françoise Athénaïs d'Aubigné, later known as Madame de Maintenon. Angélique married Count Louis de Rouillé, Knight of Saint-Louis and Mestre of the Dragons of the King of France, in 1777. Seventeen years older than his wife, Rouillé spent most of his time wasting his fortune in Paris, while Angélique stayed in the manor of Ormeignies. In spite of his frivolity, the Count loved his lovely wife, although he found her "too fecund", and their three sons and three daughters, for which he spent the remains of his wealth; Rouillé died in poverty in Paris in 1814.
Louise spent most of her time in writing letters, something she called écrimanie (from écrire, "to write", and manie, "mania"). A sharp observer and a vivid writer, she described in her letters (several of them being written to her careless husband) the life in her microcosm, representative of the second rank nobility and rising bourgeoisie of Hainaut. Armand Louant, Curator of the State Archives in Mons, popularized her works and nicknamed her "Madame de Sévigné of the Country of Ath".
In Ormeignies, Angélique managed a small circle of local notables she fondly nicknamed her "Compagnie". Her constant wit was a convenient way to conceal the disillusion caused by her marriage and her husband's debts, the fear for her sons, fighting on battlefields all over Europe, and the political evolution she did not please (during her long life, Angélique witnessed the French Revolution, Napoléon's Empire, the restoration of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the independance of Belgium). Among the tragi-comic episodes of the Compagnie's life was the intrusion of a faked Prince of Albania, who stayed for a while in Ormeignies and swindled a few local notables; unmasked and expelled by Angélique, he took revenge by insinuating that Ormeignies was a den of iniquity and Angélique a loose woman, also claiming a love affair with the Princess of Ligne (the "fat clock").
The "Compagnie", affected by ageing, debts and family problems, progressively dissolved, abandoning Angélique in her manor, surrounded by her big family. Her last adventure was a railway travel ("just to try it") she did to Brussels and Antwerp short before her death.
For more details, see Gilbert Smet, Angélique de Rouillé, abstract of the lecture given in the Maison culturelle of Ath on 22 octobre 1996, Bulletin de liaison des Amis d'Angélique de Rouillé 11, 4-17 (1997).

The association Les Amis d'Angélique de Rouillé was founded in 1991 (statutes published in the Belgian official gazette on 5 December 1991) to preserve and promote the heritage of the village of Ormeignies.
Among their achievements are the production of flags with the colours of Ormeignies, that is vertically divided mauve-yellow. The flag is shown only as a graphic on the association website but the wording seems to imply that flags were actually produced.

Ivan Sache, 22 April 2008