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Stavelot (Municipality, Province of Liège, Belgium)

Last modified: 2019-07-30 by ivan sache
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[Flag of Stavelot]

Municipal flag of Stavelot - Image by Arnaud Leroy, 18 December 2005

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Presentation of Stavelot

The municipality of Stavelot (6,669 inhabitants on 1 January 2007; 8,508 ha) is located 15 km south of Verviers, on the river Amblève. The municipality of Stavelot is made since 1976 of the former municipalities of Stavelot and Francorchamps.

Stavelot was the capital of the Principality of Stavelot-Malmedy, ruled by a Prince-Abbot from the VIIth century to the French Revolution. After the fall of the French Empire, the Congress of Vienna allocated Stavelot to the Kingdom of the Netherlands, whereas Malmedy was allocated to Prussia.

The foundation of the abbey of Stavelot by St. Remacle in the VIIth century was not easy. The monk had a donkey to carry the stones used on the building site. A wolf jumped on the donkey and strangled him. Remacle asked the wolf to repent and to behave like a good dog, and the wolf helped him to carry the stones. It is said that the name of Stavelot, in Walloon Stavleu, comes from estable loup ("the wolf in the stable"). A very similar legend involving St. Gens, a wolf and a cow is told in the town of Monteux, in Provence, France. There is a third, much more famous substitution of that kind: the bear of St. Corbinian, the founder of the Bishopric of Munich, which replaced the sea-horse carrying the saint's luggage to Rome. And the good bear is so famous that it is shown on the arms of Pope Benedict XVI, former Bishop of Munich. All these tamed wild beasts are of course the symbol of the evangelization and penitence of pagans.
A huge quartz rock standing near Wann recalls that Satan attempted to destroy the church of Stavelot. The day before the consecration of the abbey church, the devil decided to get rid of the church and of the monks by throwing a big stone on them. Remacle was warned by an angel and filled up a big bag with old shoes. Remacle (or another monk) took the bag and met the devil on the top of a big slope. The devil asked if the abbey was still far. Remacle emptied out his bag and explained the devil he had worn out all those shoes since his departure from the abbey. The devil was upset, blasphemed and abandoned his stone, known since then as the devil's burden (faix du diable). Another version of the legend says that the devil threw away the stone, which broke into three pieces, one in Wanne, another in Walk (in the municipality of Waimes) and the last one in Reichenstein, near Montjoie.

In the XIIth century, Stavelot was a main artistic center. Champlevé enamel were made by the famous master Godefroid de Claire. Abbot Wibald (1130-1158) patroned the design of the Stavelot Triptych, intended to keep pieces of the True Cross and owned today by the Pierpoint-Morgan Library in New York.
The abbey of Stavelot, partially destroyed during the French Revolution, was completely revamped by the Walloon Region in 1999-2002. It houses now three museums, the Museum of the Principality of Stavelot-Malmedy, the Spa-Francorchamps Circuit Museum and the Guillaume Apollinaire Museum.
The French poet Guillaume Apollinaire, aged 19, spent the summer 1899 in Stavelot, while his mother, a Polish aristocrat, spent her time and money in the neighbouring casino of Spa. He had a romance with Marie Dubois and stayed at the Constant boarding house, which he left without paying the bill, and which is today the restaurant O Mal Aimé, named after the poet's Chanson du Mal Aimé.

Like in Malmedy, a main industry in Stavelot was tannery. The tanners' motto was Pour faire du bon cuir, il faut du tan et du temps (To make good leather, you need tan and time; in French, tan and temps are strictly homophonic). Tannery disappeared after the Second World War.

The main event in Stavelot is the carnival called Laetare, which takes place the third Sunday before Easter. According to S. Glotz (Les dénominations du carnaval, Tradition Wallone, #4, 1987), the carnival is named after the first word of the introit of the mass said on that day, Laetare Jerusalem, in Latin, Rejoice Jerusalem. The main actors of the Laetare are the Blancs Moussis. These weird and slightly disturbing characters are dressed in white, have a long red nose; they grunt and jump erratically, and nag spectators with confetti and pig bladders.
The legend says that the Blancs Moussis appeared at the end of Middle Ages, when the religious discipline dramatically relaxed and the monks joined the carnival. In 1499, the Prince-Abbot forbid the monks to join the carnival and the inhabitants ridiculed him by dressing with a parodic cowl and frock. The Abbot forbid that dress, which was modified by the inhabitants to a completely white dress and a laughing mask with a long red nose. The Blancs Moussis are supposed to have appeared around 1502, unfortunately without the least historical evidence. The only written source are Decrees by the Prince-Abbots trying to regulate or prohibit the masquerades. A Decree of 8 February 1707 prohibited all kind of masquerade in the Principality, especially in the towns of Stavelot and Malmedy. The Decree of 26 January 1789 prohibited all masquerade and costume, as well as any dance and walk in the streets with music instruments or drums, all theater shows and all balls and dances in the pubs. This Decree shows that corteges with dancing masks and fancy music already existed at the end of the XVIIIth century. The modern organization of the carnival seems to date from the late XIXth century; corteges appeared in the beginning of the XXth century. The Blancs Moussis were mentioned for the first time in L'Annonce de Stavelot on 5 Februray 1888, but about the carnival of Verviers. An advertisement published on 20 February 1898 in La Semaine de Stavelot stated that the entrance to a ball was strictly forbidden to the Blancs Moussis. However, the Blanc Moussi is probably older, being a local version of the white masks once known all over Wallonia and Europe and mostly disappeared today.
The tradition of the Blancs Moussis was revived in 1949 with the help of the radio journalist Walter Fostier. He made a series of reports on the Laetare and encouraged the Blancs Moussis to found a brotherhood (Confrérie Folklorique des Blancs Moussis de Stavelot). Today, the Blancs Moussis have an international fame and are often invited to carnivals out of Stavelot.

The international fame of the municipality of Stavelot is also due to the circuit of Spa-Francorchamps, elected the nicest circuit in the world by the F1 pilots. The journalist Jules de Thier, director of the newspaper La Meuse, and Henri Langlois Van Ophem, President of the Sport Commission of the Royal Automobile Club de Belgique, decided in 1920 to transform the already famous Malmedy-Stavelot-Francorchamps triangle into a race circuit. The first car race, scheduled to August 1921, was cancelled because only one competitor had registered; it was replaced by a motorbike race and the first car race took place the next year. In 1924, the first 24 Heures de Francorchmps were organized, only one year later than the first 24 Heures du Mans. The first Grand Prix d'Europe was won in Francorchamps by Alberto Ascari on Alfa Romeo in 1925.
In 1939, the circuit was modified with the building of the word famous raidillon (lit., steep path) of l'Eau Rouge, which made of Francorchamps the faster circuit in Europe. After the Second World War, races resumed in 1947. In 1950, Francorchamps was one of the stages of the first F1 World Championship. The F1 Grand Prix was organized in 1970 for the last time on the 14 km original circuit. This circuit was considered much too dangerous by the pilots. A shorter (7 km) circuit was inaugurated in 1979 and the Grand Prix de Belgique moved back definitively from the boring circuits of Nivelles and Zolder to Francorchamps in 1985.


Ivan Sache & Marin Montagnon, 31 December 2005

Municipal flag of Stavelot

The municipal flag of Stavelot is vertically divided blue-white-yellow.
According to Armoiries communales en Belgique. Communes wallonnes, bruxelloises et germanophones, it seems that the flag uses the colours of the former and modern arms of Stavelot.

Servais says that the arms of Stavelot were granted by (Dutch) Royal Decree on 24 November 1819 and confirmed by (Belgian) Royal Decree on 14 November 1921. The arms are derived from a seal used by the Prince-Abbots in the XVIIth century. They show St. Remacle in the upper part and his wolf in the lower part, recalling the legendary building of the abbey.

Arnaud Leroy, Pascal Vagnat & Ivan Sache, 18 December 2005