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Saint-Ghislain (Municipality, Province of Hainaut, Belgium)

Last modified: 2017-03-04 by ivan sache
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[Flag of Saint-Ghislain]         [Proposal of flag of Saint-Ghislain]

Municipal flag of Saint-Ghislain - Images by Arnaud Leroy, 13 October 2005
Left, flag in use
Right, flag proposal, not in use

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Presentation of Saint-Ghislain and its villages

The municipality of Saint-Ghislain (22,536 inhabitants on 1 January 2007; 7,007 ha; municipal website) is located 15 km west of Mons and 10 km east of the border with France, in the former coal-producing region called Borinage. The municipality of Saint-Ghislain is made since 1976 of the former municipalities of Saint-Ghislain, Baudour, Hautrage, Neufmaison, Sirault, Tertre and Villerot.

Saint-Ghislain originates as a monastery founded in the 7th century by a monk from Athens called Ghislain (biography). The name of Ghislain comes from the Germanic words gisal, "hostage", and lind, "sweet". The legend says that the monk was guided by a she-bear and an eagle to an elevated place in the shape of a tomb where he built an hermitage. Ghislain was so pious that good old king Dagobert offered him that piece of land, which was later known as Ursidongus (after ursa, "a she-bear", and dongus, "a tomb"). More precisely, the legend says that the she-bear, suckling her cubs, was scared by hunters. Ghislain, clearing the forest in the neighborhood, had taken off his clothes, which were used by the bears as a shelter. An eagle guided Ghislain to his clothes and he understood this was a sign from God. Anyway, Ghislain was encouraged by St. Albert, Bishop of Cambrai. He died on 9 October 680 and his monastery was formally incorporated as a Benedictine abbey in 684; increased in the beginning of the 9th century, the abbey was sacked and burned down by the Northmen in 881. The destroyed church is said to have been offered by Charlemagne to his parent Elephas, abbot of Saint-Ghislain. The monks exploited the neighbouring forest and drained the marshes. They built farms and chapels, which formed the early village of Saint-Ghislain, originally known as Cella.
From the 10th to the 18th century, Saint-Ghislain became an important market (in 1286, the local market was transferred from Hornu to Saint-Ghislain) and fortified town (the first walls were built by Count of Hainaut Albert de Bavière in 1366), and was submitted to several sieges and plunderings. The abbey was sacked in 1581 by the Huguenots. In 1589, Saint-Ghislain definitively separated from Hornu and was granted the title of town. The town was besieged in 1655 by Turenne and La Ferté until Louis XIV, then aged 17, triumphally entered the town. In 1657, the town was besieged again by Don Juan of Austria. Marshall d'Humières took over Saint-Ghislain in 1677; after the battle of Malplaquet and the treaty of Nijmegen, Saint-Ghislain was given back to Spain in 1709. The suppression of the fortifications started in 1747. By the Law of 15 Fructidor of the Year IV (1 September 1796), the monks were expelled from the abbey, whose buildings were sold and demolished. Saint-Ghislain was threatened not only by wars and epidemics but also by the huge dragon which scoured the forest of Wasmes and was killed by Gilles de Chin, buried in the abbey church.
Coal was already extracted in Saint-Ghislain in the 13th century, but its industrial exploitation started only in the 19th century with the building of the Mons-Condé canal, ordered by Napoléon. Saint-Ghislain became a main center of river transportation of coal and its population increased significantly. The opening of the railway line Mons-Quiévrain in 1842 boosted even more the local industries, such as the manufacture of pottery, heat-resistant stuff, earthenware and glassware.
The town was severely shelled on 1 May 1944 and half destroyed; during the rebuilding of the town, the river Haine was diverted and the canal was transformed into a highway.

Baudour was mostly known for porcelain industry and its iron-bearing water sources, exploited since the 18th century. The forest of Baudour still stretches over 324 ha. In the Ancient Regime, Baudour was one of the 12 peerages of Hainaut, whose castle, today completely disappeared, once belonged to the famous family of Ligne. The municipal park is made of remains of the former park of the castle.

Hautrage was a bloody battlefield on 17 July 1572, when 2,200 French and Spaniards were killed on the Champ de l'Alouette (Lark's Field), and again in September 1914 and during the Second World War. Coal extraction started in Hautrage in the 13th century as well as the extraction of sand and plastic soil for the manufacturing of heat-resistant stuff.

Neufmaison (lit. neuves maisons, "new houses", rather than neuf maisons, "nine house") was built in the Middle Ages in a clearing of the ancient forest. It was in the past a rural village, as shown by the devotion to St. Charalampe, protector of cattle.

Sirault was in the Roman times known as Saltus Cerasea, "the village in the cherry orchard". The first tilery in Sirault probably dates back to the Roman, who discovered there clay when building the great ways Condé-Chièvres and Bavay-Ghent. Excavations have yielded tombs, coins, urns and the famous local tergula, a rectangular tile. There were 18 tileries in 1833 and 36 in 1890. All of them are closed now.

Tertre seceded from Baudour on 29 August 1883, following the boom of heat-resistant stuff manufacturing and coal extraction. The village was named after a windmill located on a hillock (in French, tertre). The current town hall of Saint-Ghislain, located in Tertre, is the castle owned in the past by the wealthy industrial Escoyez, former Mayor of the town.

Villerot grew around a church and a presbytery built by the monks from the St. Ghislain abbey. It has today a big complex of chemical industries.

Saint-Ghislain is the birth city of Jean Ockeghem (c. 1420-1497), one of the most famous composers of the 15th century. Ockeghem served Charles I, Duke of Bourbon, in the 1440s; then he was appointed First Precentor (Premier Chapelain) by King of France Charles VII in 1453 and Treasurer of the wealthy St. Martin's abbey in Tours in 1459. He served Charles VII's successors, Louis XI and Charles VII. Ockeghem, considered as one of the masters of polyphony, wrote 19 masses, including the oldest known Requiem mass (probably composed after Charles VII's death in July 1461); 11 motets (masses and motets were then the only two kinds of religious music); and 19 French songs. He travelled very few and created his very personal musical style. His complicated contrapuntal (superimposition of melodies) and fugue themes are still a nightmare for students in music. His main invention was the contrapuntal and melodic equality among the voices. Ockeghem also wrote a crazy canon for 36 voices (!) which he did not signed; musicological research confirmed that only him could have written such a complex piece.
Until recently, Ockeghem birthplace was a matter of conjecture. Some historians said he was born in Dendermonde, others in Bavay. A recent finding by Daniel Van Overstraeten gives evidence that the musician was born in Saint-Ghislain. Ockeghem's Requiem was recorded (inter alia) by the Ensemble Organum conducted by Marcel Pérès in 1993 (Harmonia Mundi HMC 901441).

Ivan Sache, 13 October 2005

Municipal flag of Saint-Ghislain

The municipal flag of Saint-Ghislain, as confirmed by the municipal administration, is vertically divided blue-yellow.

According to Armoiries communales en Belgique. Communes wallonnes, bruxelloises et germanophones [w2v03a], the Heraldry and Vexillology Council of the French Community proposed a more complicated design, described as "Per pale yellow and blue the coat of arms of the town in the center. The arms are ' Per pale orr an half-eagle sable and azure three fleurs-de-lis or 2 and 1'".
The proposal is vertically divided yellow-blue with the municipal shield of arms in the middle. The municipal shield of arms is "Per pale or a half-eagle sable azure three fleurs-de-lis or placed 2 and 1, that is per pale Empire and France".
According to Servais, the greater coat of arms has the shield supported by an eagle and a bear, recalling St. Ghislain's legend related above, and surmonted by a miter and a cross recalling the saint himself. These arms, granted by Royal Decree on 20 August 1840, were identical to the arms adopted by the abbey of Saint-Ghislain in 1588.

[Flag of Saint-Ghislain in Saint-Lo]

Flag of Saint-Ghislain as hoisted in Saint-Lô - Image by Arnaud Leroy, 13 October 2005

The flag of Saint-Ghislain hoisted in Saint-Lô (Normandy, France), a town twinned with Saint-Ghislain, is a square banner of the municipal arms with a very stylized half-eagle.

Arnaud Leroy, Pascal Vagnat & Ivan Sache, 13 October 2005