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Stekene (Municipality, Province of East Flanders, Belgium)

Last modified: 2008-04-05 by ivan sache
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[Flag of Stekene]

Municipal flag of Stekene - Image by Arnaud Leroy, 11 March 2006

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Presentation of Stekene and its villages

The municipality of Stekene (17,040 inhabitants on 1 July 2007; 448 ha) is located in the region of Waasland, on the border with the Netherlands, 10 km north-west of Sint-Niklaas and 20 km west of Antwerp. The municipality of Stekene is made since 1976 of the former municipalities of Stekene and Kemzeke. It includes also the villages of Hellestraat, Koewacht and Klein-Sinaai.

The oldest mentions of Stekene are Stekela (1223) and Stekelt (1247), taken from the ancient fortress of Stekelburg (1178). In 1315, a canal was built between Ghent and Hulst by Count of Flanders Robrecht III van Bethune, which completely changed the village. Beforehand, rain water accumulated between sandy hills in the west and impermeable clayey soil in the west, so that one third of the municipal territory was flooded. There were a few big ponds and numerous smaller ones scattered between Stekene and Kemzeke. When the canal was built, some hills were pierced and the water could run down to lower lands. The local historian Herman Heyse claims that in the old local language Stekelt or Stekela meant "stagnant, thick water"; the water was probably thick because of the clay.
The Stekelburg was built on a strategic place, which was the only place on the way to Hulst where it was possible to cross water by wading about. The water, however, was to shallow for ships, which had to be transferred. The place was an important passage during the struggle between the Counts of Flanders and Holland.

Kemzeke is the ancient Gallo-Roman settlement Camasiacum, named after the anthroponym Camasius. In 1117, Count of Flanders Diederik van de Elzas allowed Kemzeke to become a parish independent from Waasmunster. The castle located near the hamlet of Trompe was one of the several hunting castles of the Counts of Flanders. It was destroyed in 1452 by the burghers of Ghent struggling against the Count of Flanders. Eddy Merckx ran his last race in Kemzeke during the Tour of Waasland 1978.

Hellestraat was known in the past by the expression Die komt zeker uit d'Hellestraat, "Those who for sure come from Hellestraat", use to kid people always late.

Koewacht is indeed part of a single village split in three parts, Koewacht-Stekene and Koewacht-Moerbeke in Belgium, and Koewacht-Terneuzen in the Netherlands. The name of the village means "to look after the cows".


Ivan Sache, 11 March 2006

Municipal flag of Stekene

The municipal flag of Stekene is blue with two groups of three thin horizontal yellow stripes turning to the top of the flag.
According to the Gemeentewapens in België - Vlaanderen en Brussel, the flag was adopted by the Municipal Council on 7 March 1985, confirmed by the Executive of Flanders on 2 September 1985 and published in the Belgian official gazette on 8 June 1986.
The colours of the flag are taken from the municipal coat of arms. The particular design of the yellow stripes refers to the cultivation of flax, for which Stekene was famous in the past. The crossing of the three stripes symbolizes the formation of the municipality, made of the former municipalities of Kemzeke and Stekene and of the hamlet of Klein-Sinaai, formerly part of the suppressed municipality of Sinaai (today incorporated into Sint-Niklaas).

The municipal arms of Stekene were studied by Luc De Brant (Het wapen van Stekene - Betekenis, heraldiek en iconografie - Heemkring d'Euzie, XIX, 2-2, June 2000).
In 1534, Emperor Charles V prescribed that municipalities should have a stamp, which was very often the source for further municipal arms. The stamp of Stekene was charged with three fishes. Dr. Warlop, Heraldist with the National Archives in Ghent, confirmed that the blue and yellow colours are not the traditional colours of Stekene, but those of the house of Orange. Like in many other Belgian municipalities, the colours of the former arms had not been recorded and the Dutch administration prescribed the use the national colours when granting new arms after 1815. After the Belgian independence in 1830, the new administration confirmed several municipal arms with the Dutch colours. Ironically, the orange colour canting for the Orange family was more and more used in the Netherlands, whereas Belgium kept the genuine Dutch colours. The original colours of the arms of Stekene can be seen on a painting representing Lazerus Van den Daels (b. 1722), member of the Sint-Joris municipal militia. The upper right corner of the painting shows the arms of Stekene as "Sable three fishes or". The traditional colours of Stekene are therefore black and yellow.
In their reference book Geschiedenis van de gemeenten van Oost-Vlaanderen (1881), De Potter and Broeckaert write: "The muncipal arms, granted by Royal Decree in 1845 are: D'azur à trois poissons contournés d'or, posés en fasce. The old brass stamp is kept in the Museum of the Archeological Circle in St. Niklaas; it is surrounded by a ring with the words S. Prochie van Stekene. These arms can be considered as canting, recalling the times where the municipal territory was flooded by the Scheldt. The three fishes must recall the first industry in Stekene, symbolizing what was earned with a fishing net rather than what later earned from the land with a plough. The arms can also recall the canal, since the fishes seem to be sticklebacks (in Dutch, stekelbaarzen), common there and often considered (we believe, without evidence) as the origin of the name of Stekene."
A few years later, the retired pastor Frans Jozef Annaert wrote in Stekene en zijn Kerke (1898): "The popular tradition says that our municipality was once named Stekelbeek... This might be the origin of our traditional arms showing three sticklebacks, fishes locally called stekelbachen).
The lateral facade of the town hall of Stekene shows the monument recalling the Boerenkrijg, built in 1898 for celebrating the 100th anniversary of the insurrection against the French rulers. The fishes shown there on the arms are clearly pikes. It is not known if the sculptor was inspired by earlier representations of the arms or not. In 1674, there was a farm called "The Three Pikes" (De drie Snoeken). The early stamp of Stekene has been lost but printed seals have been preserved: the fishes shown there are not sticklebacks but pikes. There is no solid record of fishing tradition in Stekene, which could explain the fishes on the coat of arms. The fishes are most probably there as the attributes of a saint. In the Hallepoort is shown St. Peter carrying three fishes on his shoulder. The three fishes are the attribute of St. Peter as the saint patron of sea fishers, having been himself originally a fisher in the Lake of Genesareth. The hamlet of Bosdorp in Stekene was indeed known in the past as Sint-Pietersdorp (St. Peter's Village). St. Peter is also the patron saint of the brickmakers, who celebrated him in Stekene on 29 June. The festival disappeared with the last brickmakers in the 1960s.
However, fishing probably existed in the past in Stekene. In 1296, Count of Flanders Gwijde van Dampierre granted to the hospitaal van Stekene rights on a fishery; a fishers' ghilde might have existed then and could be recalled by the municipal arms.
To conclude, there is no straightforward explanation on the origin of the arms of Stekene.

Arnaud Leroy, Pascal Vagnat & Ivan Sache, 11 March 2006