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Hannut (Municipality, Province of Liège, Belgium)


Last modified: 2005-12-03 by ivan sache
Keywords: hannut | hannuit | blehen | republique libre de blehen | stars: 18 (yellow) | castle (yellow) |
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[Flag of Hannut]

Municipal flag of Hannut - Image by Arnaud Leroy, 12 May 2005

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Presentation of Hannut and its villages

The municipality and town (Ville) of Hannut (In Walloon, Haneû in Dutch, Hannuit; 13,900 inhabitants; 8,635 ha) is made of the city of Hannut (4,230 inhabitants) and the seventeen former municipalities of Abolens (302 inh.), Avernas-le-Bauduin (721 inh.), Avin-en-Hesbaye (611 inh.), Bertrée (431 inh.), Blehen (261 inh.), Cras-Avernas (506 inh.), Crehen (591 inh.), Grand-Hallet (907 inh.), Lens-Saint-Rémy (953 inh.), Merdorp (552 inh.), Moxhe (611 inh.), Petit-Hallet (323 inh.), Poucet (395 inh.), Thisnes-en-Hesbaye (1,185 inh.), Trognée (311 inh.), Villers-le-Peuplier (673 inh.) and Wansin (275 inh.). The fusion of the municipalities occured in three steps:

  • on 2 July 1964, Petit-Hallet, Wansin and Grand-Hallet were merged into the municipality of Grand-Hallet
  • on 17 July 1970, Abolens, Avernas-Le-Bauduin, Bertrée, Blehen, Cras-Avernas, Crehen, Lens-Saint-Rémy, Poucet and Villers-le-Peuplier were incorporated into the municipality of Hannut
  • on 30 December 1975, Avin-en-Hesbaye, Merdorp, Thisnes, Trognée, Moxhe and Grand-Hallet were incorporated into the municipality of Hannut, which was confered the title of town on 21 June 1985.

Hannut is located in the heart of Hesbaye.

Human settlements already existed in Hannut in the Neolithic. In the Roman times, the village was crossed by a diverticulum (secondary road), later called voie de Liège or chemin de Liège. The city belonged to the Principality of Liège and was located near the borders with the Duchy of Brabant and the County of Namur; because of its strategical location, Hannut was often besieged, seized, trashed and burnt down.
In the beginning of the XIIIth century, Duke Henry de Brabant confered the title of town and a coat of arms to the settlement that had developed around a castle, known at least since the XIIth century and later suppressed. The only remain of the ancient city of Hannut, except some street names, is the XIVth century nave of the Gothic church. The nave houses a big (3. 40 m) statue of St. Christopher, carved from a single tree trunk. St. Christopher was in the past invoked against black plague and is today the patron saint of road users, with a pilgrimage in Hannut on the first Sunday of August.
After the French Revolution, Hannut lost its title of town and was incorporated into the department of Ourthe.
The battle of Hannut took place on 12-13 May 1940; it was the first battle involving tanks (Somua35 and Hotchkiss39 against Panzer) in the Second World War.

The Grand Prix of Hannut, a cyclist race, was run from 1967 to 2000; it seems to have been a strict Belgian affair, with two Dutch and a New Zealander outliers. Among the famous winners of the race are Freddy Maertens (1983), Eddy Planckaert (1986), Jelle Nijdam (1986) and Leif Hoste (2000, mostly famous because of the Flemish flag that stopped him in Paris-Roubaix in 2004).

Abolens (written Abolenz in 1250) was probably named after a German lord Aboldus, whose name was combined with the toponym Lens. Neolithic remains and a Roman tomb were found there. Abolens is mostly an agricultural village located near the source of river Geer, a tributary of the Meuse. Abolens was merged with Poucet until the French Revolution, then incorporated to Lens-Saint-Rémy on 1 April 1822; the municipality seceded on 9 August 1881 and was incorporated into Hannut on 17 July 1970.

Avernas-le-Bauduin (written Evrenais in 1083, Evernais in 1207, Evrenas le Bauduin in 1359, Evernais le Baldewin in 1403, Evernay le Baudewyn in 1409, Evernay le Bauduin in 1456, Evernais le Baudewin in 1460, and eventually Avernas le Bauduin in1480) most probably belonged once to a lord named Bauduin. The etymology of Avernas, as reported by Roger Vilken, is more obscure. Carnoy supports a Celtic origin as Ab-ar-onna, onna meaning a river, here the Averne or Everne, later renamed Henri-Fontaine; the inhabitants of Avernas are indeed called abaronnais. Piton prefers a Gallo-Roman hypothesis, refering to a winter camp (Castra Hiberna) of the Roman army. Other authors relate Avernas to the Gaul tribe of Eburons, settled between the Meuse and the Rhine and submitted by Julius Caesar.
The village of Avernas is grouped around the monumental parish church, with a single nave (XIVth century), a thick square tower (XIIth century) surmonted by an octogonal bell-tower with four pinnacles. Avernas was mostly an agricultural village; the Henri-Fontaine brook powered several watermills in the past.
The 8-m high Roman tomb of Avernas is located uphill (147 m a.s.l.) in the west of the village. It was used in the past as a triangulation point.

Avin-en-Hesbaye is separated from its hamlet Atrive by the brook Mohéry, whose water is harnessed by the Société Wallonne de Distribution d'Eau. The water of Avin was used in the past to produced a lemonade (Soda) sold in specific bottles capped with a marble. The Streel fountains still produces that famous water.
There were in the past several noble families, a castle, breweries and sawmills in Avin.

Bertrée was settled in the Gallo-Roman and Frankish times. It developed around a priory founded in 1124 by Wauthier de Trognée, downgraded to a cure in 1560.
The church of Bertrée has a chapel dedicated to the Three Holy Sisters Bertille, Eutropie and Geneviève, invoked against liver diseases, especially during a pilgrimage taking place on Whit Monday. The Three Holy Sisters have another chapel located near the brook Henri-Fontaine.

Blehen was called Blocheym (1169) and Blochem (XIVth century). The Germanic root blok means in Middle Dutch trunk, beam, or entranched camp. Remains of ancient ditches have been found in the marshes of Blehen.
Remains of a Neolithic settlement have been found near Blehen, as well as the remains of a Gallo-Roman villa and a tumulus. In the Merovingian and Carolingian times, Blehen was probably a royal domain (fiscus) including the neighbouring villages of Lens-Saint-Rémy, Abolens and Lens-Saint-Servais. Blehen was part of the County of Avernas and was later incorporated into the principality of Liège.
Blehen was a Liége enclave into Brabant and was trashed several times, for instance in 1645 by the garrison of Jodoigne. From 1672 to 1711, the troops of Louis XIV, of his allies and of his opponents altogether trashed the area.
In 1822, the Dutch administration merged Blehen with Lens-Saint-Rémy. On 20 June 1896, the municipal status of Blehen was restored.
Blehen is today a "Free Republic", with its own flag.

Cras-Avernas was called in the past Avernas-le-Petit (minoris in 1179, the small). It was later renamed Cras (the big)-Avernas. The Wauthier's farm is a former estate belonging to the Teutonic Order; Fernand Wauthier had there a distillery, which he transformed into a sugar house in 1851, launching the cultivation of sugar beet in Hesbaye. The Bosquée farm, isolated from the village, belonged to the Val Notre-Dame priory in Antheit. On the facade is a stone dated 1764, decorated with the arms of Isabelle Aspremont Lynden, Abbess of Val Notre-Dame, with her motto in cruces spe mea (In the cross shall be my hope). The Bosquée enclave belonged to the municipality of Montenaken until 16 September 1963. The area between Cras-Avernas and Montenaken is called Campagne des Steppes. The Steppes' Battle took place there on 13 October 1213; the inhabitants of Liège, led by Bishop Hugh de Pierrepont, defeated the troops of Duke of Brabant Henry I, aka the Pugnacious. The legend says that the people from Liège brought a statue of the Blessed Virgin from Montenaken on the battle field; as soon as the statue was shown, the sun light increased and the soldiers from Brabant had to lay down their arms. Anyway, this was the first time in the Middle Ages that a civilian troop defeated a feudal army, and the Duke of Brabant definitively ceased his campaigns against Liège. Until the French Revolution, the 13 October was the National Day in Liège.

Crehen was already settled in the Neolithic and Roman times; the village was crossed by the aforementioned Voie de Liège. The name of the village was written Crahain in 1184, meaning jackdaws' house. The St. Gertrude's church has an interesting altar with an altarpiece decorated with the Apocalypse Lamb.

Grand-Hallet, already settled in the Roman times, is located along the brook Henri-Fontyaine. The village was part of the County of Avernas in the IXth century and later purchased by the Dukes of Brabant. In 1465, it was destroyed during wars with Liège. The Henri-Fontaine mill, aka Neuf Moulin, was built in the XIIIth century, destroyed in 1467 and rebuilt in 1649. It is still working and open to visit. The mill has a big collection of more than 30,000 tin boxes.

Lens-Saint-Rémy is located on a plateau near the source of the Geer. The village was named in the past Lens-les-Béguines or Croix-à-Lens. It was part of the Duchy of Brabant and the bailiwick of Hannut.
The Carmel (Carmelite convent) is a former Beguine convent founded in 1343; it was served by Augustinian nuns until 1797, replaced by Breton Carmelite nuns until 1956.
A place near Lens-Saint-Rémy is called Gibet Bastin (Bastin's Gibbett) or Buisson Bastin (Bastin's Bush) or Buisson de la Justice (in Walloon, bouhon del justice, Justice's Bush). The name of the place recalls that the famous rascal Bastin was hung there on 19 December 1630.

Merdorp seems to have been named according to its geographical location regarding Orp-le-Grand and Orp-le-Petit; Merdorp could be meridei orpum, Orp in the South.

Moxhe might have been named after the river Mehaigne (Moxha). In his De Bello Gallico, Julius Caesar mentions the small tribe of Ploumoxii, living near the Moxha. Hewed flintstones found in Moxhe are shown in the Curtius Museum in Liège and in the castle of Jehay. In the Middle Ages, Moxhe was divided among the Duchy of Brabant, the Principality of Liège and the County of Namur.

Petit-Hallet, probably named after the Halley family, belonged to the St. Lambert's Church in Liège, that sold it to the abbey of Villers in 1582. The domain belonged to the Duke of Brabant, who sold it in 1645 to Albert d'Awans. Later owners were the Franc and Renesse families. In 1465, the village was destroyed during wars with Liège.

Poucet was sold in 1362 by the Duke of Brabant to the Count of Namur. It was purchased with Abolens in 1644 by John de Mombeek, Baillif of Hannut. It is said that half of the population of the village is descended from John the Brewer (end of the XVIth century).

Thisnes-en-Hesbaye is probably named after the Greek word Thisnes, a dune. The area of Thisnes was strongly disputed between Duke Henry I of Brabant and the Count of Namur, who eventually won. The domain depended directly on the Count, and later to the King of Spain, who ceded it as a pawn to the Canonesses of Andenne. Thisnes was later owned by private families.
Woad was an important crop in Thisnes; there were eight woad mills in the village in 1289. In 1813, there were four breweries and a sugar house that employed more than 120 until the middle of the XIXth century. The village is watered by the river Absoul, which takes its source in the Fountain farm.

Trognée belonged to the County of Avernas in the IXth century and might have been ceded to the St. Lambert's church of Liège in the XIIth century. Later, the domain was owned by private families. The lineage of the lords of Trognée ended with the De Wal family. Trognée was often invaded and trashed by troops. In the XIXth century, Trognée had a grain mill and a sugar house that was closed in 1976. The L-shaped castle-farm of the village is typical of the Hesbaye.

Villers-le-Peuplier was limited by in the south by the Chaussée Brunehaut (Bavay-Cologne) aka Chaussée Verte and crossed by the Voie de Liège. The name of the village seems to indicate that a Roman estate (villa) existed there, but it has not been found yet. The village was burnt down several times and Marshall of Saxe set up its headquarters there in 1746.

Wansin seems to have been the place of a flintsone workshop, where most artefacts found in the neighbouring villages were produced. In the beginning of the XXth century, mushrooms were cultivated in Wansin in caves dug in a cliff for the extraction of marl, used as a crop fertilizer. The houses of Wansin are scattered along the river Absoul, which has its source in Thisnes.

Source: Municipal website.

Ivan Sache, 12 May 2005

Municipal flag of Hannut

The municipal flag of Hannut is vertically divided red-green with 18 yellow stars arranged in an ellipse in the middle of the flag.

[Proposal of flag of Hannut]

Proposed municipal flag of Hannut - not used - Image by Arnaud Leroy, 15 May 2005

According to Armoiries communales en Belgique. Communes wallonnes, bruxelloises et germanophones, the Heraldry and Vexillology Council of the French Community proposed a flag vertically divided green-red with, in the middle, the silhouette of a yellow donjon surrunded with 18 stars arranged in an hexagon. The municipality swapped the vertical stripes, dropped the donjon and changed the hexagon into an ellipse.

Red and green are the traditional colours of Hannut. Twelve out of the 18 stars recalls the European vocation of Hannut, whereas the remaining six ones recall the six municipalities merged with Hannut in 1977. This is the official interpretation, but the 18 stars might also stand for Hannut and the 17 villages forming the municipality.

According to the municipal website, the coat of arms of Hannut is:

De gueules, à un château auréolé et crénelé d'or, maçonné de sable, le donjon de même chargé des armes de Brabant-Limbourg.

That is:
Gules a castle orled and creneled or masoned sable a donjon of the same charged with the arms of Brabant-Limbourg (that is quartered one and four sable a lion or armed and langued gules two and three argent a lion gules armed langued and crowned or).

The arms of Thisnes were, according to Servais:

Argent a lion sable crowned argent

The street plates in Hannut, as shown on the municipal website, are very busy with coats of arms and flags. They show the municipal arms in upper left corner, the arms of Wallonia in upper right corner, the provincial arms of Liège in the lower left corner, and in lower right corner a square European Union flag over a parallelogram-shaped Belgian flag.

Arnaud Leroy, Pascal Vagnat & Ivan Sache, 12 May 2005

Free Republic of Blehen

[Flag of the Republic of Blehen]

Flag of the Free Republic of Blehen - Image by Ivan Sache, 11 July 2004

The law voted on 17 July 1970 suppressed the municipality of Blehen, which was incorporated into the new municipality of Hannut. During the village festival, celebrated during the first week-end of July, the inhabitants proclaimed by referendum the Free Republic of Blehen (République Libre de Blehen).
The village festival lasts three days. The celebration starts with the hoisting of the colours to the Republic Tree. Then, sportive games take place, involving the other villages of the municipality of Hannut. Saturday evening is the time of the elections: a new President of the Republic shall be elected every three year and the Buse shall be elected every year. The inhabitant of the village who has received the least number of votes is proclaimed Buse. His/her consolation prize are free drinks during the rest of the festival.
Like any respectable village festival in Belgium, the Blehen festival ends with a cyclist race. The runners must be dressed up in fancy dress and the inhabitants of the village must encourage them with drinks offered ad libitum. Very few competitors are able to complete the three laps of the race.

In order to honour their former city hall, the citizens of Blehen have transformed it into a brewery, where the local beer Cuvée de Saint-Antoine shall be produced very soon. The old recipe of the beer was recently found by the members of the St. Anton's brotherhood, whose main goals are the promotion of local pork products and brown beer. The brotherhood is the recreation of a brotherhood which existed in the XIXth century, when there was a famous pilgrimage to St. Anton and St. Peter in Blehen on 17 January. At the end of the great mass, there was a big auction of pig's heads on the square in front of the church.

The flag of the Free Republic of Blehen is horizontally divided red-yellow. It is based on the colours of the coat of arms of the ancient Blehen family, which are, by pure chance, also the colours of Liège and Wallonia.

More details on the Republic, the festival and the brotherhood can be read on the official website of the Republic.

Ivan Sache, 11 July 2004