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Diest (Municipality, Province of Flemish Brabant, Belgium)

Last modified: 2019-01-27 by ivan sache
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Municipal flag of Diest - Image by Filip van Laenen, 26 October 2001

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Presentation of Diest

The municipality of Diest (22,845 inhabitants on 1 July 2007; 5,820 ha; tourism website) is the north-easternmost municipality in the Province of Flemish Brabant. The municipality of Diest was established in 1976 as the merger of the former municipalities of Diest (including Webbekom since 1971), Deurne, Schaffen, Kaggevinne and Molenstede.

Whereas the region of Diest was already settled in the Paleolithic (7,000 BC), the foundation of the village of Diest dates back to the Frankish period, when St. Remigius built in the 7th century a church dedicated to his master, St. Sulpitius. The name of Diest, however, is most probably of Celtic origin, linked to the Indo-German root *dheus, "divine", "sacred", with the suffix -t, designating a settlement. Diest would therefore mean "a settlement near the sacred waters". The name of the river Demer comes from the Celtic roots tam, "dark", and ara, "water", meaning therefore "the dark river". In 877, Diest was listed among the pagi of the Carolingian Empire; Otto, lord of Diest, was mentioned in 1087 in a chronicle of Sint-Truiden. His descendants kept the domain in the family until 1499. In 1229, Duke of Brabant Hendrik I granted a charter to Diest. The town flourished in the 14th-15th centuries as a trade center located on river Demer and on the trade road Bruges-Cologne. Cloth from Diest was then exported all over Europe.

In 1499, Diest was transferred to Count Engelbert of Nassau. His descender René of Ch&avirc;lon took in 1530 the title of Prince of Orange. The princes of Orange-Nassau owned Diest until 1795, when the Southern Low Countries were invaded by France. Filips-Willem, the oldest son of William the Silent, is buried in the St. Sulpitius church of Diest.
Diest was a Nassau possession located on the border between the Duchy of Brabant and the Principality of Liège, a strategic position that caused several damages to the town. From 1701 to 1705, Diest was successively seized by the French, the Dutch, the Spaniards and again by the French. During the Austrian period (1713-1790), trade and brewery flourished; the Austrian reforms, however, did not please the inhabitants of Diest, who welcomed the French in 1795 as liberators. They were quickly very disappointed by their liberators; when the insurrection known as the Boerenkrijg (Peasants' War) broke out in 1798, Diest was occupied for four days by an insurgents' army. Most of them could escape when the French seized back the town, which was once again sacked.
After the independence of Belgium, Diest was surrounded by new town walls, built in 1837-1853 against a potential Dutch invasion. The unused fortifications became quickly obsolete and were decommissionned at the end of the 19th century.

Diest is part of the Union of the Orange Towns, formed on 31 August 1963 with Breda (The Netherlands), Dillenburg (Germany) and Orange (France). The Union started with the twinning of Orange, once the capital of the Principality of Orange, and Breda, where the Princes spent most of their time. Dillenburg joined as the oldest Nassau residence as did Diest, as the place of Filips-Willem of Nassau's tomb.
Diest is the birth town of St. Jan Berchmans (1599-1621), a Jesuit father canonized by Pope Leo XIII in 1888, and of the athlet Marleen Renders (b. 1968), winner of the marathons of Antwerp (1995), Berlin (1998), Paris (2000; 2002 - 2 h 23' 05", national record). She also helds the national record on 3,000 m, 10,000 m and semi-marathon.

Ivan Sache, 14 June 2007

Flag of Diest

The municipal flag of Diest is horizontally divided white-black-white-black-white.
According to the Gemeentewapens in België - Vlaanderen en Brussel [w2v02], the flag, adopted on 27 June 1985 and 30 January 1986 by the Municipal Council, is prescribed by a Decree issued on 11 March 1986 by the Executive of Flanders and published on 8 July 1986 in the Belgian official gazette.
The flag is a banner of the municipal arms (without either the crown or the supporters).

According to Servais [svm55a], the arms of Diest were granted by (Dutch) Royal Decree in 1820 and confirmed by (Belgian) Royal Decree on 26 February 1846, surmounted by a crown and supported by two griffins. The arms of the lords of Diest, known since the 13th century, were "Or two fesses sable"; in the 16th century, they were changed to "Argent two fesses sable". The shield of the lords of Diest appeared on the municipal seal in the early 14th century, shown together with a tower flanked by two smaller towers, already on the municipal seal from 1249.
The Gelre Armorial shows "Or two fesses sable" for Henri, lord of Diest (Die He. v. Diest, #816, folio 72 v). The Lalaing Armorial shows "Or two fesses sable" for Diest (Diest, #147, folio 79v) and "Or a chief gules in canton an escutcheon or two fesses sable (Diest)" for Rieuwe (Rionwe, #124, folio 78r).

Pascal Vagnat & Ivan Sache, 14 June 2007