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Soignies (Municipality, Province of Hainaut, Belgium)


Last modified: 2015-07-28 by ivan sache
Keywords: soignies | zinnik | cross (white) | procession | thieusies |
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[Flag of Soignies]         [Flag of Soignies]

Municipal flag of Soignies - Images by Arnaud Leroy, 17 November 2007
Left, flag in use
Right, reported flag, not in use

See also:

Presentation of Soignies and its villages

The municipality of Soignies (in Dutch, Zinnik; 25,700 inhabitants - Sonégiens - on 1 January 2007, 11,030 ha) is located 40 km south-west of Brussels. The municipality of Soignies is made since 1976 of the former municipalities of Soignies, Casteau, Chaussée-Notre-Dame-Louvignies, Horrues, Naast, Neufvilles and Thieusies.

Soignies developed around a monastery founded by St. Vincent (Madelgaire) in the VIIth century. While the oldest hagiography of Vincent (Vita Vincentii prima) was written in 1020, some three centuries after his death, other, older documents on the saint's relatives, for instance the Vita of St. Aldegonde written around 700, confirm several details of St. Vincent's hagiography.
The son of a noble Frankish family owning the domain of Strépy (today a municipality, incorporated to La Louvière in 1976), Vincent was born around 610, as Madelgaire (Madelgarius). After an evangelization mission in Spain or in Ireland (Iberia or Hibernia?), Madelgaire became the governor of a "Province" matching more or less modern Hainaut. The middle VIth century was a period of political stability, after Clothaire II had united in 613 the rivals kingdoms of Neustria and Austrasia and transferred them to his son Dagobert I in 639. After Dagobert's death, the kingdom was shared between Clovis II, King of Neustria, and his brother Sigebert III, King of Austrasia. Madelgaire was assisted by his wife Waudru (Waldetrudis), born around 620 in Cousolre in another noble family. Waudru was the niece of Mayor of the Palace Gondeland and the sister of (St.) Aldegonde.
Around 650, political violence broke out once again in the Frankish kingdoms; while Waudru, supported by saint Ghislain, founded around 655 a monastery in Mons, Grimoald, the son of Pepin of Landen, was murdered in 656 by the Neustrians after a failed attempt to be crowned king of Austrasia. Bishop Aubert of Cambrai convinced Madelgaire and Waudru to retire from public life for safety and religious reasons, ordaining Waudru as the first abbess of Mons and Madelgaire as a monk in the abbey of Hautmont, located a few kilometers upstream from Maubeuge. Maldegaire was then given the name of Vincent, "The Victorius" (from Latin, vincere, "to win"). After St. Aubert's death around 670, Vincent left Hautmont and founded the abbey of Soignies, where he died in 14 July 677.
As the model of a saint who had renounced the world, Vincent became rapidly popular and his cult progressively spread out of Hainaut; Soignies became the place of a very crowdy pilgrimage, requiring some organization.

Another main festival in Soignies is the Simpélourd Festival, celebrated on the third Sunday of October for more than two centuries. Witty, the Sonégiens enjoy fooling the tourist by claiming they celebrate "St. Pélourd", while the origin of the festival is not religious but a hoax. According to the tradition, during a Sunday night in October 1754, a group of jokers led by Adrien Hiernaux hung on the main window of the house of several inhabitants of the town a stuffed dummy recalling some "well-known" events of the "private" life of their victims. This cause a big laugh in the town for several hours, so that the "Dummies' Night" happened again for a couple of the next years; on next Thursday was added the Dummies' Shooting, symbolizing the "cleansing" of the event. Stopped by Hiernaux' death, the joke resumed in 1762 but with a single scapegoat, a cuckolded husband chosen among those who had recently passed away. Progressively, the festival turned from mockery to compassion and empathy; the dummy was named Mononk Sempélourd and considered with respect, as the oldest burgher of the town.
The origin of the name of Sempélourd is disputed. Jules Sottiaux claims that a cobbler, often manhandled by his wife, once drank a lot to encourage himself and beat her wife so hard that the neighbours had to intervene, calling him simple (simple-minded) and lourd (slow-witted). Théophile Lejeune claims that a cuckolded husband took revenge over his mockers by serving them a dinner in which ham had been replaced by a piece of painted wood; the mocked mockers answered by carrying "his" dummy all over the streets. A third version is also related to a "Simple" and "Lourd" man who won a bet in staying three hours standing at a pub's window holding a piece of local pie in his hand - thus "explaining" why the actual Simpélourd dummy holds a piece of pie.
Anyway, the Sempélourd joke is the origin of a well-organized festival. On the eve of the third Sunday of October, a Sonégien impersonating Sempélourd is welcomed at the railway station by the local authorities, the crowd, the local giants and several folkloric groups, and escorted to the Sotte Nowé pub, where he eats a piece of pie near the famous window. The actor is then swiftly replaced by a dummy that will hang on the window for the next three days and be burned on Tuesday night.
A more recent hoax, spread by a local bookseller in 1992, says that a huge trap-door spider was found in the spire of the St. Vincent church and named by the scientists Mygalomorpha sonegiensis. The origin of the hoax is the actual finding of a spider-shaped sculpture during the revamping of the church.

Soignies is known as "the Capital of the Blue Stone", the quarrymen and the inhabitants of the town being nicknamed "cayoteux" (from French, caillou, "a stone", locally cayô).
The blue stone is indeed a limestone formed in the Tournaisian age (360-345 millions year age, Carboniferous period). The blue stone is called by geologists calcaire à entroques, calcaire being "limestone" and entroque the name given to circular or pentagonal, voided segments accumulated in the blue stone. The entroques are indeed parts of the stem and arms of fossil Crinoids, Crinoids being a class (Crinoidea) of marine Echinoderms known as sea-lilies or feather-stars. Due to the presence of entroques, the blue stone looks like granite rather than like usual, smooth limestone, and is known commercially as petit granit (small granite). Made by 95% of calcium carbonate, the blue stone, once polished, is very resistant to rain, frost, sea sprays and industrial pollution; it is therefore considered as the noblest Belgian stone and has been widely used for the floor and wall pavement of monuments, harbours, railway stations, airports...
Around 1668, a branch of the quarry masters' family Wincqz set up in Soignies and developed the extraction of blue stone in the XVIII-XIXth centuries. In 1875, the Gauthier family came back from Lille tobSoignies and purchased other quarries, renamed successively Carrières Gauthier-Lestienne, Carrières Veuve Vincent Gauthier et Cie and Carrières Maurice et Henri Gauthier et Cie (carrière is the French word for "quarry"). In 1935, the Wincqz and Gauthier quarries were merged as the SA Carrières Gauthier & Wincqz. King Baudouin celebrated in 1968 the 300th anniversary of the blue stone quarries of Soignies.
In 1898, Hector Heremans founded a successful carrier in Clypot, on the municipal territory of Neufvilles. SA Clypot and SA Carrières Gauthier & Wincqz were merged in 2003 to form La Pierre Bleue Belge SA.

In 1957, the glass factory Durobor (locally known as gobeleterie, "tumbler factory"), located in Soignies, manufactured the first "full automatic" stemmed glasses in Europe, sold under the famous brand Napoli. While it took one day to three glass blowers and another three glass cutters to produce 600-800 glasses, the "full automatic" process allowed a daily production of 60,000 glasses per day. Founded in 1928, the company had already manufactured the first "full automatic" tumbler, using American machines and engineers; it was then named Compagnie Internationale de Gobeleterie Inébréchable (The International Company for Unchippable Tumbler Production), this odd name recalling that tumblers were then very prone to chipping, lacking an edge. The new tumblers were famous for being durs au bord ("hard at the edge"), so that the company was renamed Dur-o-bor in 1935 and eventually Durobor in 1960. The Soignies factory employs today 700 workers, producing 120 millions glasses every year, 80% of them being exported.

The trouvère Gautier de Soignies is said to have appeared at the Court of the King of France in the XIIIth century. Some 30 works are credited to him without great evidence.
Soignies is the birth town of the physician Jules Bordet (1870-1961). After having studied at the Free University of Brussels, Bordet was hired by the Pasteur Institute in Paris and founded in 1900 the Pasteur Institute in Brussels. A pioneer in microbiology and immunity research, Bordet discovered the compensation mechanism, the basis of the complement-fixation testing methods used in several detection tests of infectious diseases. With Octave Gengou, Bordet isolated in 1906 the bacterial agent of whooping couch, later named Bordetella pertussis after him. Jules Bordet was awarded in 1919 the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
The politician and economist Paul Van Zeeland (1893-1973), born in Soignies, was appointed Prime Minister in 1935 and 1936. On 11 April 1937, he was elected Representative of Brussels, defeating Léon Degrelle, the leader of the pro-German, and later collaborationist, Rexist movement. Elected at the Senate (1946-1956) and appointed several times Minister of the Foreign Affairs in 1949-1954, Van Zeeland was appointed State Minister in 1948 and Viscount in 1963.

Casteau, already settled in the Neolithic and in the Roman period, was mentioned for the first time in 847 as a possession of the abbey of Saint-Amand. The name of the village is derived from old French castel, "a castle" (in modern French, château), referring to a fortress probably much older than the alleged medieval castrum. A wealthy village, Casteau was on 4 October 1349 the place of the junction of two processions against the black plague, one coming from Soignies with the relics of St. Vincent and the other coming from Mons with the relics of St. Waudru. In 1678, the battle of Saint-Denis opposed the Prince of Orange to the French, who burned the village of Casteau seized by their opponent. The Iron Cross located in front of the village church recalls that the battle claimed more than 4,000 lives. The Camp of Casteau, set up by the Dutch army in 1825, was reused by the Belgian army after the independence. On 12 May 1940, General Donnay de Cateau welcomed in his castle King Leopold III, who presided the first Interallied Council.
On 31 March 1967, NATO transferred in Casteau the SHAPE (Supreme Headquaters Allied Powers Europe), which was formerly located in Marly-le-Roi, near Paris, following the withdrawal of France from NATO military structure announced by General de Gaulle on 10 March 1966.

Chaussée-Notre-Dame-Louvignies is made of the two merged (1805) villages of Chaussée-Notre-Dame, a former possession of the Chapter of Soignies, and Louvignies, formerly part of the Bailiwick of Silly. The name of Chaussée-Notre-Dame recalls that the village was located on the Bavay-Utrecht Roman way (locally, chaussée) and that its patron saint is the Blessed Virgin. Probably an old Gallo-Roman estate, the village was mentioned in 1186 as "Calceia Sanctae Mariae". Louvignies, probably named after the wolf (in Latin, lupus; in French, loup), was originally a clearing in the forest of Broqueroie, shared in 1194.

Horrues, also located along the Bavay-Utrecht Roman way, might have been named after the Latin word horrea, "a freight depot". However, Paul Roland believes that the village was named after a dame called Heltrudis. The village was transferred in 1198 by the Counts of Hainaut to the Chapter of Soignies, which kept it until 1789.

Naast, originally known as Nasta (1119), changed to Naast in 1125, is the village where the river Senne takes its source. The ancient name of the Senne was Quenaste, a name still used vor the village brook and the village crossed by the Senne when entering Brabant. Carnoy claims that Quenaste (and Naast) comes from the Germanic word knasque, "a marshy, soft soil", while Chotin believes that the origin of these names is the Frankish word nast, "a forge". Naast was probably the most developed settlement in the region of Soignies in the Roman times: funerary urns, tiles and coins from Hadrian (117-138) to Constantius Chlorus (305-306) have been found on the site of the former woods of Naast. The powerful domain of Naast was transferred to the Count of Hainaut in 1339, together with the Hotel of Naast in Mons.

Neufvilles appeared as a new estate ("Novavilla") set up after a clearing, and was mentioned for the first time in 979 as transferred to the Chapter of the St. Peter abbey in Ghent. However, the area of Neufvilles was settled much earlier and has yielded a Mousterian site unique in Belgium. Originally ran by the Knights of Neufvilles, the domain was later transferred to the lords of Ittre.


Ivan Sache, 17 November 2007

Municipal flag of Soignies

The municipal flag of Soignies, as seen on a photography of the Place Verte (Green Square) shown on the municipal website, is vertically divided green-white.

Armoiries communales en Belgique. Communes wallonnes, bruxelloises et germanophones reports another flag as "Vert à la croix blanche", a green flag with a white cross, which does not seem to be in use.
This flag is a banner of the dexter part of the municipal arms, Parti, au premier de sinople à la croix d'argent; au deuxième d'or à trois chevrons de sable ("Per pale vert a cross argent or three chevrons sable"). The dexter part of the arms is made of the arms of the Chapter of the St. Vincent church (and also the origin of the flag currently in use), while the sinister part of the arms is made of the old arms of the County of Mons (aka Hainaut ancient). Arnaud Bunel reports the arms of Hainaut ancient, "with three or more chevrons", as used at least since Baudouin V the Courageous, Count in 1171. These arms were bore by Ferrant of Portugal, captured in Bouvines in 1214. The arms of Hainaut modern (with the lions) date back to Jean II d'Avesnes, Count in 1257.

According to the Hainaut Armorial, the arms of Soignies were granted by Royal Decree on 18 June 1838. Chaussée-Notre-Dame-Louvignies used the same arms, granted by Royal Decree on 23 October 1905, until 1976.

Pascal Vagnat & Ivan Sache, 17 November 2007

Flags used in the Tour Saint-Vincent procession

As the model of a saint who had renounced the world, Vincent became rapidly popular and his cult progressively spread out of Hainaut; Soignies became the place of a very crowdy pilgrimage, requiring some organization.
On 4 April 1262, Bishop of Cambrai Nicolas III approved the creation by the Chapter of Soignies of the Grand Tour Saint-Vincent, a procession scheduled for Whit Monday. Confirmed by Pope Clement VI on 9 December 1267, the procession has not been significantly changed since then. On 4 AM, two masses are celebrated in the St. Vincent church, after which the shrines housing St. Vincent (locally called le tombeau, "the grave"), St. Landry and St. Madelberte are carried away for a 12-km procession around the town of Soignies. The pilgrims are led by a standard-bearing rider, while another rider, "the iron man" closes the procession. The pilgrims and the shrines are back to the town entrance at 10:30, where the "historic procession", escorting the return of the shrines to the church, starts at 11. Only the members of the St. Vincent's Brotherhood, founded in 1599 and in charge of the shrines and of the material organization of the procession, are allowed to join the "historic procession". Since 1920, some 500 to 600 people dressed in historical costumes follow the historic procession, playing scenes of St. Vincent's life. Back to the church, the festival ends with the mechanical ascension of the saint's shrine to its niche placed above the main altar.
The Whit Festival starts in Soignies on Saturday, when small flags locally called scaneçons are hoisted on a wire joining the two towers of the church. The houses of the town are also decorated with flags for the three days of the festival.

The image gallery of the Tour Saint-Vincent website shows a photography of two riders, bearing the municipal shield on the chest and holding banners not completely visible. They seem to be designed after the municipal arms, with a red border added. On another photography, the flag, bore by a pilgrim in the background, seems to be vertically divided Hainaut ancient - Chapter of Soignies - Hainaut ancient. Yet another "pilgrim" bears a forked gonfanon, vertically divded red-green and bordered in yellow, with the municipal arms in the middle.
On several photographies, forked gonfanons can be seen hanging on the facades of the houses.

[St. Vincent's flag]

St. Vincent's procession gonfanon - Image by Ivan Sache, 17 November 2007

On the website of the anthropologist Joël Hascoët, there is a photography of the "return" of St. Vincent in the church, showing two gonfanons flanking the altar and the shrine niche, green with the white cross, a yellow border and two yellow tassels.

Ivan Sache, 17 November 2007

Former municipality of Thieusies

[Flag of Thieusies]         [Gonfanon of Soignies]

Flag (left and gonfanon (right) of Thieusies - Images by Ivan Sache, 17 November 2007

Thieusies was mentioned in the IXth century as Tiedeia, later Tielgies and Tiosies (1119) and Tiusiez (1186). The village was probably named after the Frankish lord Theodisc as "Theodisiacae terrae". Divided in several domains, Thieusies was the place in 14 August 1687 of the battle of Saint-Denis.

The image gallery of the Tour Saint-Vincent website shows a photography of the pilgrims from Thieusies, with a procession banner not completely unfurled and two gonfanons, forked and vertically divided orange-white. There seems to be in the background a vertically divided orange-white flag, which might have been the flag of Thieusies before 1976.

Ivan Sache, 17 November 2007

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