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Vleteren (Municipality, Province of West Flanders, Belgium)

Last modified: 2005-12-03 by ivan sache
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[Flag of Vleteren]

Municipal flag of Vleteren - Image by Arnaud Leroy, 21 August 2005

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Presentation of Vleteren and its villages

The municipality of Vleteren (3,621 inhabitants on 1 January 2005; 3,814 ha) is located 10 km north of Poperingen and 30 km north-west of Ieper, in the region of Westhoek. It is made since 1977 of the former municipalities of Oostvleteren (1,127 inh.; 1,409 ha), Westvleteren (1,099 inh.; 1,778 ha) and Woesten (626 ha).
Vleteren is twinned with the French city of Flètre, located near Steenvorde, in French Flanders.

The name of Vleteren appeared in 806 as Fletrinium, Fleterna or Beborna; the first settlement was probably located in Westvleteren. The German root *flet means a river, whereas the Celtic root *erna means water. The name of Vleteren thus alludes to a rapid brook.

In 1085, Robert de Fries ceded the domains of Oostvleteren and Westvleteren to the St. Peter's chapter in Cassel (now in France). On 23 August 1328, Nikolaas Zannekin, 33 inhabitants of Oostvleteren and 30 of Westvleteren were killed during the battle of Cassel. Count of Flanders Lodewijk van Male allowed the brook of Vleteren to be made navigable in 1366. Oostvleteren and Westvelteren suffered from the blockade of Ieper by Alexander Farnese in 1584, was trashed by the Spaniards in 1632 and burnt down by the French in 1794.

In the XIIth century, Woesten was known as solitudo renyngensis, that is the desert land of Reninge (in modern Dutch, woestijn means a desert). A lord named Lotus de Wastina was mentioned in 1247; in 1275, Knight Jan van Gistel was lord of Voormezelz and Wastinia. Around 1300, Woesten was still known as the Wastina of the lord of Reninge (Waestyne van Rhenynghe). The patron saint of Woesten is St. Rictrude.

Westvleteren is mostly known for the Trappist St. Sixtus' abbey, founded in 1831. The religious history of the village is, however, much older.
In 806, the St. Bertinus' abbey of Saint-Omer (now in France) purchased from Herlarius the estate of Vleteren in the country of the Ijzer (Fletrinio in pago Isseretio). The bill of sale was signed in the Cella Beborna. Most historians say that Cella Beborna is today the village of Beveren-op-Ijzer.
A small nuns' convent, the St. Sixtus' House in Westvleteren (Domus Sancti Sixti Westfleternes) existed from 1260 to 1355. It depended on the chapter of the church of Watten (now in France). The convent was sold to a burgher of Poperinge called Willem Van Heule and the nuns moved to Beauval, near Watten. In 1372, the powerful abbey of the Dunes (abdij Ter Duinen) purchased the "Sint-Seix" domain from Van Heule's widow and kept it until the XVIIth century.
In 1610, Gilles de Lattre was allowed by the prior of the abbey of the Dunes to retire with a few fellows near the St. Sixtus' chapel (capelle de Sint-Seicx) in Westvleteren; the hermits founded in 1615 a "simple" men's convent, belonging to the Brigittins order. The convent remained very small and had only 95 members for its complete existence; in 1784, Emperor Josef II suppressed the contemplative orders and the convent was demolished. However, its last remain, called the Bishop's room, was destroyed only in 1996.

In 1813, the hop merchant Joannes Baptista Victoor (1750-1832) settled as an hermit in the St. Sixtus' wood in Westvleteren. In 1831, he welcomed the prior and a few monks from the monastery founded on Mont-des-Cats (now in France) in 1826, who founded a new Trappist priory. The priory became an abbey in 1871. In 1850, 16 monks from the priory founded the Scourmont monastery in Chimay; in 1858-1860, 20 monks were sent to Canada to revive the community of Tracadie (now called Spencer). The first brewery was built in 1839. During the First World War, 400,000 allied soldiers were housed in the abbey and in the neighborhood. In the beginning of the Second World War, General Montgomery set up his headquarters for a while in the abbey. There are today 29 monks in the Westvleteren abbey.

Like every serious Trappist abbey, Westvleteren produces a famous beer known as the Burgundy of the Westhoek. After the Second World War, the superior of the abbey decided to restrict the production and commercialization. Accordingly, the Westvleteren beer is still brewed in the abbey, and is therefore one of the few Belgian genuine abbey bears. It is sold only in the monastery, to private individuals, and its resale is not allowed. The three different available beers are sold only in wooden cases of 24 33-cl bottles.


Ivan Sache, 19 August 2005

Municipal flag of Vleteren

The municipal flag of Vleteren is red, divided by an horizontal shifted stripe made of ten yellow pieces, with two yellow six-pointed stars over the stripe and one below.
According to Gemeentewapens in België - Vlaanderen en Brussel, the flag was adopted by the Municipal Council on 6 March 1986, confirmed by the Executive of Flanders on 10 March 1987 and published in the Belgian official gazette on 3 December 1987, with the following official description (taken from the Westhoek Info website):

In keel, verschoven faas in tien stukken van goud, vergezeld van drie zespuntige sterren 2:1 van goud.

The flag is a banner of the municipal arms, whose official description is (taken from the Westhoek Info website):

Van keel met een tegenstaand getinneerd dwarsbalk, vergezeld van drie sterren met zes stralen, alles van goud, [...] (crest and supporters skipped).

Arnaud Leroy, Pascal Vagnat & Ivan Sache, 19 August 2005