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Lessines (Municipality, Province of Hainaut, Belgium)


Last modified: 2008-09-06 by ivan sache
Keywords: lessines | lessen | key (white) | oudenaarde |
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[Flag of Lessines]         [Flag of Lessines]

Municipal flag of Lessines - Images by Arnaud Leroy, 12 June 2005
Left, flag in use
Right, flag proposal, not used

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Presentation of Lessines and its villages

The municipality and town (Ville) of Lessines (in Dutch, Lessen; 18,025 inhabitants on 1 January 2007; 7,229 ha) is located on the river Dendre, 30 km south-west of Brussels and 10 km north of Ath, on the border of Hainaut (Wallonia) and East Flanders (Flanders). The municipality of Lessines is made since 1976 of the former municipalities of Lessines, Bois-de-Lessines, Deux-Acren, Ghoy, Ogy, Ollignies and Papignies (including Wannebecq since 1964).

Lessines was located in the Middle Ages on the border of the Counties of Hainaut and Flanders. The lords of Oudenaarde and Pamele challenged the power of the Chapter of Cambrai and developped Lessines. They restored the castle and the town walls in the XIIIth century. Lessines blossomed as a wealthy drapers' town, who exported their products via the Dendre.
The Hospital Notre-Dame à la Rose was founded in 1242 by Alix de Rosoit. A XIXth century legend says that the arms of the Rosoit family had four roses, and that Alix gave one of the roses to the hospital, therefore its name, and kept only three for her. The hospital was managed by the St. Augustine's canonesses, who treated the poor and the local population during epidemics, especially black plague in the XVIIth century. Such hospitals managed by religious orders and living in total autarcy were common in the Middle Ages; they were often called Hôtel-Dieu. The Lessines Hospital, in spite of having been dramatically revamped over the centuries and used until 1980, is the last surviving example in Belgium of a medieval hospital with its complete hospital and monastic buildings, farm, gardens, ice cave and cemetary. The Hospital houses today a museum with very rich art and medicine collections.

Lessines, as a border town, was often besieged. On the first weekend of September, the Fêtes du Festin (The Feast's Festival) commemorate the 1583 siege and the resistance of the town militia, commanded by Sébastien de Tramasure. In August 1583, a troop of English and Dutch Huguenots besieged Lessines. They attempted to scale the town walls but were repelled by the inhabitants of the town. On 26 August, the youngest members of the burghers' militia decided to attempt a sortie. Sébastien de Tramasure, aged 23, was their leader. The besiegers were quickly routed. The unexpected victory was attributed to the Blessed Virgin, whose image decorated the Gate of Ogy where the main fighting took place. The next day, Tramasure went to the chapel dedicated to the Blessed Virgin and laid down his sword at her feet.
In 1590, the fighting was shown as a theater play funded by the municipality of Lessines. The play was good religious propaganda and attracted several people, who drank a lot of highly taxed alcoholic beverages. The first Festin festival was organized in 1598, with groups of actors funded by the municipality. Tramasure died in 1634 as a local hero.
On Saturday, the festival starts with the Joyeuse Entrée (Merry Entry) of Alexander Farnese, Governor of the Low Countries, and the evening Renaissance festival. On Sunday, a big cortege and a historical procession celebrate the liberation of the town and honour the Blessed Virgin's protection. Captain Tramasure leads the procession and lays down his sword at the Blessed Virgin's feet. The festival ends with a big Renaissance ballet given in the historical center of the town.

Since at least 1475, the Penitents' Procession takes place every year on Holy Friday, commemorating Christ's entombment. This is the only procession of that kind in northern Europe. The penitents still wear medieval frieze clothes and a hood, and carry torches. The procession is accompanied by rolling drums, rattles, and mourning songs and prayers.

Porphyry has been extracted from opencast quarries in Lessines for more than 500 years. In the XIXth century, extraction was industrialized for the production of cobblestones. The quarries stretch over hundreds of hectares; the biggest of them has an area of 20 ha and a depth of 120 m. The ancient loader used to load the porphyry blocks on ships can still be seen on the bank of the Dender.
The quarrymen of Lessines are nicknamed cayoteux (from caillou, stone). In August, they celebrate their patron saint St. Roch during a 10 day festival peaking with the Cayoteux's Cortege, involving brassbands, floats, folkloric groups and the giants El Cayoteu, Mademoiselle Saint-Roch, Monsieur & Madame Du Cordant and their son Roc du Cayau.

The surrealist painter René Magritte (1898-1967) was born in Lessines. His family left the town the following year and the painter spent most of his life in Brussels.

Bois-de-Lessines was at the end of the XIIIth century among the terres de débat (disputed lands) disputed between Hainaut and Flanders. The villages seems to have emerged in the XIIIth century as a clearing of the woods (bois) surrounding Lessines. The industrialization of the village started with the opening of the aforementioned porphyry quarries.

Deux-Acren is famous for the St. Martin's church, whose belltower bears two roosters. On the third Sunday of September, the giants Monsieur & Madame Culant and their son Prince Cardinal, walking on his hands, parade through the village. They recall benefactors of the village from the XVIIIth century. On next Monday morning, the inhabitants of the village walk their goats in the village.

Ogy has also a St. Martin's church, whose organ is one of the oldest in Wallonia (XVIIth century).

Papignies-Wannebecq is known for its marsh, stretching over 20 ha on the left bank of the Dendre.


Ivan Sache, 12 June 2005

Municipal flag of Lessines

The municipal flag of Lessines, as confirmed by the municipal administration, is vertically divided red-yellow with the municipal arms in the middle.

According to Armoiries communales en Belgique. Communes wallonnes, bruxelloises et germanophones, the Heraldry and Vexillology Council of the French Community proposed a banner of the municipal arms, as Neuf laizes longitudinales alternativement rouges et jaunes avec une clé blanche posée dans l'axe transversale du tablier., but this flag is not used in Lessines.

According to Servais, the arms of Lessines were granted by (Dutch) Royal Decree on 15 April 1818 and confirmed by (Belgian) Royal Decree on 3 July 1839. They combine the arms of the Lords of Pamele and the key of St. Peter, the patron saint of the town.
The Lords of Pamele were mentioned as Lords of Lessines already in the XIth century and were succeeded in the XIIIth century by the Counts of Hainaut. The oldest known municipal seal, dating from the XIIIth century, shows St. Peter, holding a key. Later seals combine the saint with the arms of the lords of Pamele, and since the XVIth century only the key remained. The number of bars has changed during the centuries but has been constant since 1818.

The Festin de Lessines website gives something different. In the XIIIth century, the first municipal seal shows St. Peter sitting on a bank à l'antique under a porch flanked by two turrets. In the XVth century, Lessines adopted the colours of the family of Oudenaarde and kept the key. In the XVIIth century, a griffin and a lion replaced St. Peter's bust (which, however, is said above to have already been dropped in the XVth century!) and the shape of the shield was modified.

Red and yellow are indeed the colours of Oudenaarde, whose family descended from the Counts of Loon.

The blazon of the arms of Lessines is De gueules à trois trangles d'or, une clé d'argent posée en pal brochant sur le tout (Gules three barrulets or a key argent per pale overall). On the municipal flag, the arms of Lessines have four barrulets or. The municipal website indeed shows the arms with four barrulets or, as does Servais. On Wikipedia, Caranorn comments that Armoiries communales en Belgique. Communes wallonnes, bruxelloises et germanophones gives a blazon with three barrulets or, so that the municipal administration currently uses erroneous arms (and flag), probably based on an erroneous drawing (while in heraldry, the blazon should prevail over the images)!
The historical arms of Lessines, however, are shown on the flag of the Hainaut Volunteers, designed in 1790, with four barrulets or. The "erroneous drawing", if so, must therefore predates the current municipal administration! And one may wonder if the error is not in the blazon found in Armoiries communales....

Arnaud Leroy, Pascal Vagnat & Ivan Sache, 26 April 2008