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Gembloux (Municipality, Province of Namur, Belgium)


Last modified: 2019-09-07 by ivan sache
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Flag of Gembloux - Image by Arnaud Leroy, 16 May 2005

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Presentation of Gembloux

The municipality of Gembloux (22,074 inhabitants on 1 January 2007, 9,586 ha; Municipal website) is located in the northernmost part of the province of Namur. The municipal territory is mostly part of the basin of river Meuse, except its westernmost part, which belongs to the basin of Scheldt. The two basins are separated by a watershed formerly used by the Roman way Bavay-Tongeren. Gembloux is the crossroads of RN4 (Brussels-Namur) and RN29 (Charleroi-Tienen).
The municipality of Gembloux-sur-Orneau was formed by Royal Decree of 17 September 1975, merging the former municipalities of Gembloux (already incorporating Gembloux [7,376 inh.], Lonzée [1,810 inh.], Grand-Manil [1,397 inh.], Sauvenière [1,784 inh.] and Ernage [1,183 inh.] since 1964), Beuzet (1,183 inh.), Bossière (930 inh.), Bothey (332 inh.), Corroy-le-Château (1,136 inh.), Les Isnes (661 inh.), Grand-Leez (2,062 inh., including Petit-Leez) and Mazy (930 inh., famous for its black marble quarries). Law of 30 July 1979 modified Article 464 (Paragraphs 1 and 2) of the Royal Decree, so that the municipality was renamed Gembloux. Law of 5 June 1998 conferred the title of ville (town) to Gembloux.

The name of Gembloux is probably of Celtic origin. In the Gallo-Roman times, several estates (villae) developed along the strategic way Bavay-Tongeren. When the German invasions started, the settlements moved from the way to the countryside, especially up to rocky promontories. The historical center of Gembloux is built on such a spur. A Merovingian tomb, dated from 7th century was found there in 1935. In the 10th century, knight Wicbertus founded in Gembloux a Benedictine abbey; Wicbertus was canonized in 1110 as Saint Guibert.
The abbey boosted the cultural and economical development of Gembloux in the 11th century; Abbot Olbert built monastic buildings and a an abbey church in Romanic style. The 12th century was a dark age for Gembloux; being located in the Duchy of Brabant but too close to the County of Namur, the town was besieged, seized and plundered three times by the Count of Namur. In 1153, Gembloux was allowed to build city walls; the protected area stretched over seven hectares, including three only for the abbey; the city walls had four fortified gates and were protected by towers and moats. In 1430, Brabant and Namur were incorporated into the Duchy of Burgundy and Gembloux lost its strategical character.
The most famous monk of Gembloux is the historian Sigebert (c. 1035-c. 1112, biography). Sigebert had the charge of the abbey school from 1070 to his death. Beforehand, he stayed at the abbey of St. Vincent at Metz, where he wrote the biographies of Bishop Theodoric I of Metz, of King Sigebert III and a long poem on the martyrdom of St. Lucia. Back to Gembloux, he wrote a poem on the martyrdom of the Theban Legion, a biography of Wicbert and a history of the abbots of Gembloux and of the bishops of Liège. Later he became a violent imperial partisan in the great struggle between the empire and the papacy. His most celebrated work, Chronicon sive Chronographia, is a chronicle of the world from 381 to 1111, which gained a very high reputation, was circulated in numberless copies, and was the basis of many later works of history.

During the second half of the 16th century, Gembloux was damaged during the Religious Wars. On 31 January 1578, the battle of Gembloux opposed the local Protestants (Gueux) to the Spanish troops commanded by Don Juan of Spain, Emperor Charles V's natural son.
In the 16th century, the Abbot of Gembloux increased his power: he was successively appointed Councillor of the Duke of Brabant, First Noble of Brabant, and eventually Count of Gembloux. The Abbot had extended judiciary powers and ruled a domain including Gembloux, Cortil, Ernage, Grand-Manil, Bertinchamps, Lonzée pro parte, Sauvenière and Liroux. The Abbot appointed the Mayor and the échevins and could sack them whenever he wanted. The town of Gembloux could not get rid of the Abbot and was not granted municipal rights until the French Revolution. In the 17th century, Gembloux was ruined by the wars of Louis XIV against Spain; a fortuitous blaze achieved the ruin of the town on 6 August 1678.

Gembloux recovered some prosperity in the second half of the 18th century, with the development of cutlery industry. The abbey church and the monastic buildings, deemed obsolete, were rebuilt under Abbots Eugène Gérard (1739-1758) and Jacques Legrain (1759-1790), who commissioned the architect Laurent-Benoît Dewez. The work was completed in 1779.
The troops of the French Republic invaded the Spanish Low Countries in 1794. The country was incorporated to France in 1795 and the feudal system was suppressed; the County of Gembloux disappeared and Gembloux was moved from Brabant to the department of Sambre-et-Meuse, in the arrondissement of Namur. The abbey of Gembloux was suppressed and its goods were sold in 1797. In 1810, an Imperial Decree allowed the municipalities of Gembloux, Grand-Manil and Lonzée to purchase the former abbey church in order to replace their old parish church.

After the independence of Belgium, Gembloux was linked by railway to Brussels in 1855 and to Namur the next year.
In 1860, the State Institute of Agriculture (Institut Agricole de l'Etat) was set up in the former abbey. The Belgian Parliament decided in 1855 to create higher education in agriculture in Belgium. Several reasons accounted for the choice of Gembloux: the town was located in a middle of a rich agricultural region with roads and railways; several buildings of the former abbey were available; it was possible to rent arable lands for teaching and experimentation; the agricultural and industrial company Henri Ledocte managed in the former farm of the abbey an estate, a sugar house and a distillery; a stud farm was housed in the outhouses of the abbey. The most important factor was probably the personal links among Charles Rogier, Minister of the Interior and Agriculture, Maurice Ledocte and François-Jospeh Pieton, Senator and owner of the former abbey.
The Institute was inaugurated on 1 November 1860 and the classes started in January 1861 for 37 students. After three years, the students were conferred the title of Ingénieur agricole. In 1881, the Belgian State purchased the buildings of the former abbey, except the farm. The Institute was renamed State Institute of Agronomy (Institut Agronomique de l'Etat) in 1920 and State Faculty of Agronomic Sciences (Faculté des Sciences Agronomiques de l'Etat) in 1965. The Faculty eventually bought the farm of the former abbey in 1992. It is currently named University Faculty of Agronomic Sciences of Gembloux (Faculté universitaire des Sciences agronomiques de Gembloux - FUSAGx) and is an autonomous institute depending on the French Community. The three axes of teaching and research in FUSAGx are agronomical sciences, environment sciences and technology, and chemistry and bio-industry. FUSAGx has 1,000 students and 500 staff members, and a well-deserved international reputation of excellence. FUSAGx was eventually incorporated to the University of Liège as Gembloux Agro-Bio Tech on 1 October 2009.

On 14 and 15 May 1940, Gembloux was the heart of the Manœuvre de la Dyle managed by the French army. The 4th Corps of the First Army, including the 1st Moroccan Division and the 15th Division of Motorized Infantry, blocked for two days the German 16th Panzer Korps along the Brussels-Namur railway.

Ivan Sache, 18 November 2009

Flag of Gembloux

The flag of Gembloux (photo) is vertically divided black-white, the colours of the municipal coat of arms.

Arnaud Leroy & Ivan Sache, 16 May 2005

Flag proposals


Flag proposal - Image by Arnaud Leroy, 16 May 2005

According to Armoiries communales en Belgique. Communes wallonnes, bruxelloises et germanophones [w2v03], the Heraldry and Vexillology Council of the French Community proposed a flag made of a gironny of twelve green and yellow pieces, with the municipal coat of arms in the middle. The twelve pieces should recall the twelve former municipalities forming Gembloux.

At the time, the black and white flag was deemed too sad and without historical support; these colours are said to be "related" to those of an abbot of Gembloux. There is no record of the adoption of these colours by the Municipal Council. Accordingly, the local Arts and History Circle asked the French Community how to change the flag, and a specialist [appointed by the Heraldry and Vexillology Council of the French Community] designed two proposals, submitted to the Municipal Council.
The two proposals included the municipal arms and the yellow and green colors, symbolizing ripe wheat and meadows, respectively, and alluding to the Gembloux Faculty of Agronomic Science. They are also the colours of the arms of St. Guibert [also used by the municipality of Mont-Saint-Guibert]. These colours should be placed in twelve fields, representing the twelve former municipalities merged into Gembloux in 1964 and 1976. The Municipal Council discussed the arrangement of the stripes - gyronned or vertical -, as well as the addition on the flag of the "Farmer and Plough", from the emblematic statue (photo) sitting imposingly in the yard of the Faculty of Agronomy. Another suggestion was to replace green with red (not for the slaughterhouse, ironically adds the author of the article - I guess, to match the Walloon colors, yellow and red).
Finally, the Municipal Council commissioned the local artist André Mohimont to make a synthesis incorporating the different suggestions, which does not seem to have ever been adopted by the Municipal Council.
[Le Soir, 4 May 1991]

The municipal coat of arms of Gembloux is "Sable three keys argent".
According to the municipal website, the greater arms of Gembloux are made of a shield sable charged with three keys argent surmounted with the Count's crown with 13 pearls. The crown recalls that the Abbot of Gembloux has been the Count of Gembloux since the middle of the 16th century. The Abbot has been lord of Gembloux since a chart granted in 946 to Guibert by King of Germany Otto I. However, the chart is considered as a partial forgery made by Sigebert of Gembloux to increase the privilegies granted to the abbey; Sigebert might also have forged the date, and some historians believe that the abbey was founded in 983.
The origin of the municipal arms is unknown. It was for long believed that the three keys recalled the gates made in the city walls in the 12th century; however, there were four gates. In the cloister of the Faculty, a stained-glass window made at the end of the Second World War shows the arms of 35 abbots of Gembloux. The arms of Abbot Arnould of Chastre (1268-1300) show three keys argent, and might have been the source of the arms of the domain of Gembloux.

Servais [svm55] says that the arms of Gembloux were granted on 15 September 1865, and were based on an image in a book describing the Walloon part of Brabant from 1692. The meaning of the three keys, however, is not clear.

Arnaud Leroy, Pascal Vagnat & Ivan Sache, 2 October 2010

1830 Honour flag

All along the 19th century and until the First World War, the Honour flag was used in Gembloux in all patriotic events. Lost in 1914, the flag popped up again in 1930 for the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the independence of Belgium. Kept in the cellar of the old town hall, the flag was subsequently presented in the meeting room of the Municipal Council, until moved to the attic.
In the late 70s, the municipal administration, the Art et Histoire circle and the CGER saved the flag, presenting it horizontally displayed in a glass case. However, the case did not prevent damage by light and wetness.
In February 2005, the Municipal Council commissioned the Royal Institute for Artistic Heritage to restore the flag, which is now exhibited in the Wedding Room of the town hall.
[Municipal website]

Ivan Sache, 21 August 2010