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Mechelen (Municipality, Province of Antwerp, Belgium)

Malines - Mechlin

Last modified: 2011-11-11 by ivan sache
Keywords: mechelen | malines | mechlin | eagle: double-headed (black) | berthout | hanswijk procession | football |
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[Flag of Mechelen]

Municipal flag of Mechelen - Image by Arnaud Leroy, 1 July 2006

See also:

Presentation of Mechelen

The municipality of Mechelen (in French, Malines; English traditional name, Mechlin; 78,900 inhabitants on 1 January 2007; 6,520 ha) is located on the river Dijle between Antwerp and Brussels. The municipality of Mechelen is made since 1976 of the former municipalities of Mechelen, Heffen, Hombeek, Leest and Walem.

The town of Mechelen was mentioned for the first time in the Treaty of Meersen (870). It developed around an abbey founded in 756 by St. Rumbold (in Dutch, Rombout), who was martyred in Mechelen around 775 and became the patron saint of the town. Around 1200, the Prince-Bishop of Liège conceded the town to the Duke of Brabant. In 1303, Duke of Brabant Jean II granted municipal rights to Mechelen, which were confirmed by Liège in 1305 and were the start of an everlasting rivalry with Antwerp. In 1333, Count of Flanders Lodewijk II van Nevers was granted the town. In 1356, his son Lodewijk van Male married Margaretha, the daughter of Duke of Brabant Jean III and heir of Brabant. Their daughter Margaretha van Male married in 1356 Duke of Burgundy Philip the Bold and Mechelen was incorporated into the Duchy of Burgundy together with the County of Flanders. Duke Charles the Bold set up the Parliament, that is the highest justice court of the Duchy, in Mechelen in 1473. The court was renamed Higher Council after the protest of the King of France.

As a reward for its loyalty to Regent Maximilian of Austrian, Mechelen became a County in 1490. Margarita of Austria, Charles V's aunt and Governor of the Low Countries, moved the royal court to Mechelen in 1507 and stayed there until her death in 1530. Mechelen became the capital of the Austrian Netherlands. The Royal court was brilliant and Margareta patroned famous people such as the philosoph Erasmus and the painters Gossart and Van Orley. At that time, cloth industry, once flourishing, started to decline and was superseded by the famous Mechlin lace.
In 1559, King Philip II of Spain obtained from the Holy See the creation of new bishoprics in the Low Countries. Still the religious capital of Belgium, Mechelin was the seat of the archdiocese and became the religious capital of the Low Countries. The first Archbishop of Mechelin was Antoine Perrenot de Granvelle, Prime Minister of the King, appointed Primate of the Low Countries by Pope Pius IV in 1560. During the Religious Wars, Mechelin was severely damaged by the Iconoclasts.

In the 18-19th centuries, the city walls of Mechelen were suppressed, leaving only the Overstepoort (Main Gate), which was renamed Brussels Gate. On 5 May 1835, the Brussels-Mechelen railway was inaugurated; this was the first railway in continental Europe.
Mechelen was occupied by the Germans during the First World War. Cardinal Mercier (1851-1926) opposed a courageous passive resistance to the occupation. He wrote a pastoral letter entitled "Patriotism and endurance", which was read in all the churches of the country. From 1921 to 1925, he organized four meetings known as the "Malines' Conversations", which were the first constructive discussions between Protestants and Catholics. The meetings were not conclusive and did not resume after Mercier's death, but they are considered as the source of modern oecumenism.
In summer 1942, the Germans transformed the Dossin barracks, located in Mechelin, into a transit camp for the deportation of the Belgian Jews. Mechelen was selected because it was located halfway between Antwerp and Brussels, where the most important Jewish communities stayed, and because of the railway. From August 1942 to July 1944, more than half of the Belgian Jews were deported from Mechelen to Auschwitz-Birkenau. The camp was closed in September 1944.

The inhabitants of Mechelen are nicknamed Maneblussers (Moon Extinguishers) since they attempted in 1687 to fight a fire in the tower of the St. Rombout cathedral, which was nothing but the flaring of the moon on the Gothic windows.
Every 25 years, the Cavalcade recalls the entrance of Maximilian of Austria in Mechelin. The parade is listed by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. Moreover, the belfry of the cloth hall, the tower of the St. Rombout cathedral and the Great Beguine Convent of Mechelen are listed as monuments on the World Heritage List of UNESCO.
The region of Mechelen is famous for the cultivation of asparagus (the well-known Mechelen white asparagus, picked up very early in the saeson) and other vegetables. The local cabbage soup is known as Mechelen soup.


Ivan Sache, 1 July 2006

Municipal flag of Mechelen

The municipal flag of Mechelen is vertically divided yellow-red-yellow-red-yellow-red-yellow with a yellow shield bearing a black eagle.
According to Gemeentewapens in België - Vlaanderen en Brussel [w2v02a], the flag and arms were adopted by the Municipal Council on 25 November 1985, confirmed by the Executive of Flanders on 7 October 1986 and published in the Belgian official gazette on 3 December 1987.
The flag is a banner of the municipal arms, excluding the crown and the supporters.

According to Van evers en heiligen. Wapens en vlaggen van de gemeenten in de provincie Antwerpen [pbd98], the first modern arms of Mechelen were granted by Royal Decree on 18 October 1841. In contrast to the current ones, they had a crown and a crest made of a golden dragon. The motto was then In fide constans ("Always loyal"). The current arms have two griffins as supporters and the old motto translated into Dutch, In trouwen vast.
This arms are the old arms of the County of Mechelen. The yellow shield with the red pales belongs to the Berthout, lords of Mechelen in the 12th-13rd centuries. Several other municipalities whose territory previously belonged to the Berthout have reused their arms.
In 1490, Emperor Frederic III, via Regent Maximilian, granted the town an escutcheon with the Imperial eagle. The municipal seal of that time shows the new arms supported with two griffins, representing the Hapsburg emperors. The motto was added late in the 15th century. In the 16-17th centuries, the eagle was often portrayed as a double-headed eagle, but this pattern was never official.

Servais [svm55] explains the mythical origin of the arms of Berthout as follows:
In the 12th century, a lord Berthout helped the King of Aragon in his struggle against the Moors. He fought there three times; the first time, he was rewarded with an estate and the title of provincial governor, the second time he was rewarded with the King's daughter, but refused both and went back to Flanders. The third time, the King asked Berthout what he would like as a reward. Berthout asked for the right to bear the arms of Aragon and was granted them with three pales instead of four, celebrating his three victories over the Moors.

The Gelre Armorial shows several Berthout coat of arms:
- Berthout, "Die He. (the Lord) van Mechelen", 809, folio 72v: "Or three pales gules";
- Henri VII Berthout, "Die He. van Duffel", 833, folio 73v: "Or three pales gules (Berthout) a franc canton ermine";
- Jean de Berlaer (Berthout), "Die He. van Helmunt" (Helmont), 838, folio 73v: "Argent three pales gules (Berlaer)",
- Guillaume Berthout de Duffel, "H. Willem v. Duffel", 893, folio 75v; "Or three pales gules a franc canton ermine a crescent sable".

Arnaud Leroy, Pascal Vagnat, Jan Mertens & Ivan Sache, 16 September 2006

A photo uploaded to Flickr on 8 July 2007 shows the flag of Mechelen with a (faulty) crowned eagle.

Jan Martens, 4 August 2008

Hanswijk procession

[Flag of Hanswijk procession]         [Flag of Hanswijk procession]

Flags used during the Hanswijk procession - Images by Ivan Sache, 14 April 2009

The Hanswijk procession takes place every year in Mechelen, on the Sunday preceding Ascension Day, to commemorate a miracle that took place in the village of Hanswijk in 988. A boat transporting a wooden statute of the Blessed Virgin ran aground there, and could not be set afloat again until the statue had been disembarked. This was a clear sign that the statue wanted to stay at Hanswick in a dedicated sanctuary, today the Our Lady of Hanswijk church, built in the 17th century in Baroque style and erected a Minor Basilica by Pope John Paul II on 3 August 1987.
In 1272, the town of Mechelen was scoured by the black plague and civil unrest; the burghers carried the miraculous statue all over the town, which ended all their problems. As a reward, they promised to organize a procession every year. In 1876, the procession got canonic recognition and the statue was crowned on behalf of the pope.
Still a religious event patroned by the Archbishop of Brussels- Mechelen and the Municipality of Mechelen, the Hanswijk procession is now a big cavalcade with some 2,000 participants dressed in historical costumes, dances and music, reenacting the life of the Blessed Virgin and the main events in the history of Mechelen.

In 1988, the 1000th anniversary of the miracle was celebrated. Photos taken during the parade show "Mechelen" flags that differ from the official municipal flag by having eight vertical stripes (yellow-red) instead of seven and lacking the coat of arms, and Marian flags, light blue with two horizontal white stripes.
In the 2003 procession (page no longer online), the eight-striped flags were still there. And they were still there in 2008.

Ivan Sache, 14 April 2009

KV Mechelen football club

[Flag of KVM]         [Flag of KVM]

Two supporters' flags of KVM - Images by Ivan Sache, 1 July 2006

The main football club in Mechelen is KV (Koninklijke Voetbalclub Mechelen, KVM), champion of Belgium in 1943, 1946, 1948 and 1989; winner of the Belgian Cup in 1987; and winner of the European Cup Winners' Cup in 1988 (1-0 against Ajax Amsterdam). KVM uses an emblem derived from the municipal arms and the jerseys are vertically divided yellow-red. The supporter's shop sells two flags, the blokvlag, made of 2 x 3 squares in turn yellow and red and another flag with the municipal arms, the name of the club and its year of foundation, 1904.

Source: KVM official website

Ivan Sache, 1 July 2006