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Ath (Municipality, Province of Hainaut, Belgium)


Last modified: 2005-11-12 by ivan sache
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[Flag of Ath]

Municipal flag of Ath - Image by Ivan Sache, 9 April 2005

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Presentation of Ath and its villages

The municipality of Ath (in Dutch, Aat; 25,964 inhabitants; 12,694 hectares) is located in the province of Hainaut. It was constituted in 1976 by the merging of the town of Ath and the 17 neighbouring former rural municipalities of Lanquesaint, Irchonwelz, Ormeignies, Bouvignies, Ostiches, Rebaix, Maffle, Arbre, Houtaing, Ligne, Mainvault, Moulbaix, Villers-Notre-Dame, Villers-Saint-Amand, Ghislenghien, Isières, Meslin-l'Evêque and Gibecq.
In the 17 villages incorporated into the municipality of Ath, the main activity was agriculture, often supplemented with small-size textile workshops (flax, cloth) until the economical crisis of 1850. In some of these villages, industrialization was more important, for instance in Maffle (stone extraction) and Rebaix (earthenware). Agriculture has been preserved in the villages until now, with an increase in the grassland area since 1950; however, the villages are more and more residential areas. They have kept traditional elements of local architecture, most of the houses being built with bricks and blue stone. Several houses, farms and churchs were built in the XVIIIth and early XIXth centuries.

Around 1160, Count of Hainaut Baudouin IV purchased a part of the domain of Ath from his vassal Gilles de Trazegnies. He built there a square donjon (Burbant Tower) in order to protect the northern part of the County. Ath means "a fortified place near a ford", or, less probably, is a Latinization of the Germanic root *haita, heather. The ville neuve (new city) that developed around the fort was granted civil rights and a free market, thus attracting settlers. A city wall was built between 1330 and 1350. The population of Ath dramatically increased and the city was enlarged southwards and eastwards; a new city wall was built at the end of the XIVth century.
In the XVth century, the population of Ath was about 5,000. The city produced and traded cloth, furs, stones, goldware, woodware and sculptures. The Thursday's market and the yearly fair were main trading events in Hainaut.
In 1667, Ath was seized by Louis XIV, who ordered Vauban to build new fortifications, which were achieved in 1674. The fortifications included eight bastions linked by curtains and protected by tenails and demilunes. The fortifications were suppressed in 1745 after the Dutch siege.
In 1824, the Dutch built Fort Féron. The site of the former fortifications was used to set up factories and housing for the ever-increasing population.
During the first half of the XIXth century, Ath was hit by a severe economical crisis. From 1850 to 1914, textile, wood and food (breweries and mills) industries contributed to the renewal of the city. These traditional industries declined in the XXth century; Ath became mostly a trading and administrative city.

Lanquesaint ((306 ha) is named after a Germanic lord called Aling (Alingas haim was Aling's estate). In the XIIIth century, the village of Lanquesaint belonged to the lord of Oudenaarde, whereas other important domains belonged to the Chapter of the Abbey of Cambrai and to the Count of Hainaut. The abbeys of Saint-Ghislain, Ghislenghien and Liessies also had possessions there.

Irchonwelz (413 ha) is the ancient Romanic ericionis waid (via Germanic wadja), the hedgehog's ford. In 1978, remains from a Neolithic settlement were found in the village. The first written sources mentioning Irchonwelz date back to the XIIth century. The main domain belonged to the Trazignies family until 1721. The feudal castle, built in the XIIIth century, was used as a farm until the XXth century. It is today the Giants' Brewery (Brasserie des Géants). Irchonwelz is today a residential outskirt of Ath.

Ormeignies (1,086 ha) is named after a Germanic lord called Wurmo (Wurminicas was Wurmo's estate). Neolithic remains were found in the village. From the XIVth century to the end of the Ancient Regime, Ormeignies belonged to the Ligne family, except the farms of Betissart and La Rosière, which belonged to the domain of Chièvres and the abbey of Cambron, respectively. The castle of Ormeignies, now ruined, belonged to the Pollard and Rouille families. There lived the famous letter writer Angélique de Rouille. Ormeignies is still an agricultural village, with an horticultural research station depending managed by the Provincial Agricultural College of Ath, locally known as les serres (the greenhouses).

Bouvignies (470 ha) is named after a bouverie (cattle farm, Romanic, bovinia). The village has been known since the XIIth century. Most of its lands belonged to the St. Martin's abbey in Tournai and the abbey of Liessies. The altar from the village church comes from the St. Martin's abbey. In 1949, the Provincial Agricultural College of Ath made of Bouvignies a pilot village where innovative agricultural systems are evaluated in real production situations.

Ostiches (859 ha) was in the Middle Ages known as Hospiticum, an host's (hospes) land. Nothing is known about the village before the XIIth century. The main domain, including the mill of Stocq, belonged to Baron de Leuze. In 1390, the hereditary municipality was sold to the Yves family, which got the title of Baron in the XVIIth century. Some lands of the village belonged to the Chapter of Condé and to the abbeys of Saint-Denis-en-Broqueroie, Liessies and Saint-Ghislain.

Rebaix (590 ha) is named after the Germanic words rausa, reed and baki, brook. A Merovingian cemetary, dated VI-VIIth centuries, was found between the village of Rebaix and the hamlet of Perquiesse. In the Middle Ages, Rebaix was one of the twelves peerages of Hainaut that belonged to the Rebaix family. They were later transfered to the Lahamaide and Egmont families. Rebaix mostly lived from agriculture and cattle breeding; the village once had two breweries and two distilleries and produced earthenware until the Second World War.

Maffle (314 ha) is named after the ancient Frankish root *mahal, barn. A jade axe from the Prehistoric times was found there in 1961, as well as Roman tombs excavated in 1876 and 1896. In the Middle Ages, the municipality of Maffle belonged to the Chapter of St. Wandru's abbey in Mons. Extraction of blue stone started in Maffle in the XIVth century. The stone was used for building, sculpture, cobbling and chalk production. In the XIXth century, two quarries had an industrial production and a workers' union was founded in 1895. Extraction ceased in the beginning of the 1960s.

Arbre (315 ha) is named after an arm of the river Dendre watering the village. In the XIIIth century, the village of Arbre belonged to the eponymic family. Under the ancient regime, Arbre and Attre (today part of the municipality of Brugelette) were a single administrative unit, whereas the parish of Maffre was a subdivision of the parish of Arbre. The three villages were separated in 1803. Arbre is today crossed by the scenic viaduct of the TGV railway.

Houtaing (452 ha) is named after the Germanic words huta, wood, and haima, habitation. Houtaing was listed in 847 as a possession of the St. Amand's abbey. The domain of La Berlière belonged to the Ligne family and eventually to the Counts d'Oultremont from 1845 to 1912. It is now housing a Secondary College ruled by the Josephite Fathers. The castle of Houtaing was built in neo-Classical style in 1834-1835. In 1894, Adhémar d'Oultremont built a neo-Gothical mausoleum for his wife Clémentine, born de Crouÿ, near the St. Clement's hospice. Several members of the Oultremont family are buried in the crypt of the mausoleum. The mausoleum and its neighborhood are listed since 1993 as an "exceptional monument". The village church is a place of pilgrimage dedicated to St. Quirin, whose relics are said to have been given to the church in the middle of the IXth century by Count Gérard de Roussillon. St. Quirin is invoked against blindness and skin diseases.

Ligne (540 ha) was named after Latin linea, line (French, ligne). The line is most probably the Roman way Bavay-Ghent. The Ligne family is one of the most famous noble families in Belgium. The castle of Ligne was mentioned in 1020; the Ligne were made Barons in 1180, Counts in 1545 and Princes in 1601. However, they stayed since the Middle Ages mostly in the castle of Beloeil. In the XIXth and XXth centuries, the village of Ligne lived both from agriculture and industry, with a sugarmill (1838), a tile factory (1900), a brick factory, an earthenware factory, a brewery and a sawing mill (1937). All these industries disappeared after the Second World War.

Mainvault (1,347 ha) is the ancient Romanic Majon wald, Majo's wood. The village is located near the Roman way Bavay-Velzeke but no archeological excavation has been performed yet. A local feudal family is mentioned in the XIIth century. Then most of the domain belonged to the Lahamaide and Egmont families. Mainvault mostly lived of agriculture, with also three wind-mills, a brewery, a salt refinery and flax processing workshops. A calvary was erected on the Mainvault hill in 1775 by J.J. Bottemanne, a stone-cutter from Soignies. Bottemanne also made calvaries in Lens and Vlamertinge.

Moulbaix (462 ha) was named after the Germanic words muli, mill, and baki, brook. The main domain in Moulbaix depended on the fief of Blicquy. Emperor Charles V confirmed there the rights of the Chasteler family, which included several famous civil and military officers, most of them having their tomb in the parish church of Moulbaix. There are a few remains of the feudal castle; the modern castle was built in 1890 by architect Désiré Limbourg in English neo-medieval style. The Marquioness' mill, one of the two windmills of Moulbaix, was built in 1747 in Blicquy and later transfered to Moulbaix. It was revamped in 1942 by miller J. Dhaenens and is still used for grain milling.

Villers-Notre-Dame (159 ha) was known as Villare supra Tenre (on the Dendre) and later as Sancte Marie Vilers. It was first mentioned in 948. The village was divided into two domains, belonging to the abbey of Ghislenghien and the Ligne family, respectively. The two domains had their own administration and were granted separated charter-laws in 1411 and 1413, respectively. The church of Villers-Notre-Dame was a secondary parish church for Irchonwelz. In 1862, architect Stievenard rebuilt it in neo-Romanesque ecelctic style. A pilgrimage takes place there on Whit's Monday to celebrate the Blessed Virgin. Villiers-Notre-Dame lived exclusively from agriculture in the past: cattle breeding was very limited and there was no industry.

Villers-Saint-Amand (673 ha) is named after St. Amand (VIIth century), Bishop of Utrecht and founder of the St. Amand's abbey in the north of France. The village belonged in 847 to the St. Amand's abbey monks, who might have founded the village by clearing the woods. The abbey owned there a farm, a watermill on the Dendre, woods (still stretching over one third of the territory in 1757) and arable lands ran by an intendant (avoué). A municipal administration was created in 1303 and a charter-law was granted in 1414.

Ghislenghien (618 ha) is named after German lord called Gisalo (Giaslinga haim, was Gisalo's estate). Remains of Gallo-Roman estates (villae) were found in Ghislenghien. In 1126, Ide de Chièvres and Ide d'Ath founded a womens' abbey, which owned 1,000 hectares of land, half of them being located in Ghislenghien. In 1792, General Dumouriez set up his headquarters in the abbey after the battle of Jemappes. In 1970, the industrial park of Ghislenghien-Meslin l'Evêque was created. On 30 July 2004, a gazoduct blew off in the park, killing 24 and injuring 132. A picture showing the flag of Ath draping the coffin of a fireman killed during the Ghislenghien accident can be seen on the Ath fire brigade blog.

Isières (695 ha) is named after the Celtic hydronym en-rma, violent. In 1180, the Bishop of Cambrai gave to the local Chapter the goods he owned in Isières; this was the first mention of the village. Around 1294, Isières was involved in the quarrel of the Terre de débats (disputed land). In the XIXth century, several inhabitants of Isières worked in the quarries of Lessines.

Meslin-l'Evêque (1,206 ha) is named after the hydronym melinus [rivus], the yellowish brook. l'Evêque (the Bishop) recalls that the village belonged to the Bishop of Cambrai. The chapel Notre-Dame-des-Cailloux, built in 1617 and rebuilt in the XIXth century was the place of a pilgrimage against fevers and hernias. Fénelon, Bishop of Cambrai, is said to have owned the house built in the second third of the XVIIIth century on the square of the village. There was an attempt to produce silk in Meslin-l'Evêque in the 1830s.

Gibecq (651 ha) is named after the Germanic words wisu, good and baki, brook. In the beginning of the XIIth century, the village belonged to the eponymic family. Then, the most important domain, including one half of the village, belonged to the abbey of Ghislenghien. In 1781, the Sovereign Council of Hainaut restricted cattle breeding in Gibecq, in order to increase grain production.

Source: Website of the municipal school of Ath

Ivan Sache, 9 April 2005

Municipal flag of Ath

The municipal flag of Ath is vertically divided mauve*-white-yellow. It was adopted by the Municipal Council on 19 September 1991 and confirmed by the Executive of the French Community on 18 December 1991.
Armoiries communales en Belgique. Communes wallonnes, bruxelloises et germanophones explains that this flag is known in Ath since 1579. A municipal account dated 2 February 1578-1579 states that the échevins (Municipal Councillors) of Ath ordered the purchase of fabric with those colours in order to make a flag for the city. The colours were those of Robert of Tazegnies, lord of Sepmeries, lord of Ath from 1565 to 1580.

*According to information received by Jan Mertens from an inhabitant of Ath, the colour of the first stripe of the municipal flag of Ath is locally called parme.
The word parme was coined in French in 1908, to designate the colour of the Parma violets (Grand Robert de la Langue Française). It is translated in English as "violet" (Robert & Collins). However, the colour on the real flag seems to be darker than parme, rather mauve.

Pictures taken during the 2004 ducasse in Ath show the hoisting of the flags of European Union, Belgium, Wallonia and Ath on the roof of the tower of the St. Julien's church, by windy weather.

In the north of France and Belgian Hainaut, a ducasse is a village or city festival. The ducasse of Ath dates back at least from the end of the XIVth century. It was then a religious procession for the dedication (dédicace, probably later transformed to ducasse) of the St. Julien's church. The procession took place in the streets of the city on the Sunday preceding St. John the Baptist's Decollation Day. Scenes from the Ancient Testament (featuring Goliath), from the New Testament (featuring Maria-Magdalena), and from the Golden Legend (featuring St. Christopher) were performed by actors on sledges called esclides and in the streets. Another group of scenes showed Charlemagne's Cycle and horse Bayard, and another one showed the Nine Valiant Knights. The procession was funded by the municipality, the parish and the brotherhoods.
In the XVIth century, the religious atmosphere of the festival disappeared; the giants were suppressed during the French Revolution. In the beginning of the XIXth century, the sculptor Emmanuel Florent decided to design new giants. From 1819 onwards, the procession became a non-religious parade displaying the feelings of the time (exotism, Belgian nationalism, illustration of local history...). After the Second World War, the ancient giants Horse Bayard (1948), St. Christopher (1976) and the Horses Diricq (Goliath's guard, 1981) were reintroduced into the parade.
On Saturday at noon, the big bell Marie-Pontoise is rung in order to announce the beginning of the festival. Goliath and his wife enter the city around 14:30 and march towards St. Julien's church, escorted by the "Blues". The vespers, locally called "marriage", are celebrated in presence of the municipal authorities. Around 16:15, the couple goes back to the Municipal Hall, where Goliath fights David. The actor playing David says a text called bonimée, in use since the XVIIth century. The local pie (tarte aux mastelles) is eaten after the fight. In the evening, the Mount Sarah's Cannon group marches in the streets with torches and a concert is given on the Grand-Place.

Source: Municipal website

Ivan Sache, 18 April 2005