Last modified: 2008-04-26 by ivan sache
Keywords: vise | wezet | francs arquebusiers |
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Municipal flag of Visé - Image by Arnaud Leroy, 16 May 2007
The municipality of Visé (in Dutch, Wezet; 16,852 inhabitants on 1 January 2007; 2,799 sq. km) is located on the river Meuse and therefore the border with the Netherlands, half distance of Liège and Maastricht. Visé is the only French-speaking municipality of Wallonia to have a border with the Netherlands. The municipality of Visé is made since 1976 of the former municipalities of Visé, Argenteau, Cheratte, Lanaye, Lixhe and Richelle.
Visé was evanglelized in the VIIth century by St. Lambert, Bishop of Liège, who built there a church, mentioned for the first time in a written document in Charlemagne's succession. The place was already a
strategic post on the Meuse, controlling a bridge built in the XIth
century, and a popular market place.
In 983, the King of Germany transferred his right on the market (tonlieu) to the Chapter of the cathedral of Liège, that kept all the rights on Visé until 1310, when they were transfered to Prince-Bishop of Liège Thibaut of Bar. The town got its first city walls in 1330 but its first chart was granted in 1429 only by Prince-Bishop Jean of Heinsberg; Visé became a Good Town (bonne ville) of the Principality of Liège and was therefore represented in the States of the Principality.
The strategic location of Visé near a bridge linking Liège and Maastricht caused its wealth but also several troubles. In 1106, the battle of the bridge of Visé opposed the militia of Liège, supporting Emperor Henri IV, to his revolted son. Prince-Bishop Jean of Arckel besieged the town in 1376. After the sack of Liège, the Burgundian troops of Duke Charles the Bold plundered Visé in 1468 and suppressed the city walls. So did Louis XIV when he settled his headquarters at Visé in 1673 during the siege of Maastricht.
During the First World War, the Germans entered Visé on 4 August 1918 and burned down the town on 15 August 1918. These events, known as the Tragic Two Weeks, caused the destruction of 600 houses and all the public buildings, including the town hall and the collegiate church. Forty-two civilians were killed whereas the two gendarmes Auguste Bouko and Jean-Pierre Thill and the two soldiers Louis Maulus and Prosper Van Gastel were the first Belgians killed in the war when defending the bridge of Visé. The town was completely rebuilt from 1920 to 1930. The town hall, built in 1611-1613, in Mosan Renaissance style, was rebuilt in 1925 by the architect Jamar and completely restored in 2006. Its bulbous spire (height, 34 m) houses a peel that plays on hours Où peut-on être mieux ? (Where can we feel better?) by Gretry, on quarter-hours the shooting tunes of the Crossbowmen and the Harquebusiers, and on three-quarter-hours and half-hours Le Valeureux Liégeois by Ramoux, an anthem to the Liège Revolution. Like Liège, Visé has a perron, today located on the Market Square, symbolizing the rights granted to the burghers. The first perron was built in the XIIth century.
The St. Martin church, upgraded to a collegiate church when the canons of Celles moved to Visé in 1338, was part of the town defense system. Built on the city walls, the church had a big square, fortified tower. It was suppressed by the Burgundians in 1467, progressively rebuilt and suppressed again by the Germans on 10 August 1914. Only the choir, from 1524, and the glass-windows from the apse have been preserved. Like the town hall, the church was rebuilt by Jamar in 1924, who added the chapel keeping St. Hadelin's relics. The relics were placed into a silver shrine by Bishop of Liège Wazon in 1046; the shrine was completed around 1170 and is considered as a masterpiece of the Mosan art. After the transfer of the relics from Celles to Visé in 1338, the saint's skull was placed in 1414 into a specific shrine, restored in 1654 by the goldsmith Jean Gœslin, from Liège. Since 1788, the arrival of the shrine in Visé is commemorated every 25 years; the next commemoration is scheduled for 2013. The shrine is also transported in a procession every year on the third Sunday of September.
Visé is known as the Goose's Town (La cité de l'oie). During the siege of the town by Bishop Jean of Arckel in the XIVth century, a young goose-keeper captured a standard from the besiegers. The oie à l'instar de Visé is the gastronomic speciality of the town, whose recipe is, of course, kept secrete by a few old families from Visé. The Confrérie de la Délicieuse Oie du Gay Savoir en Bien Mangier de Visé was set up in 1987 to keep and promote the Visé goose tradition. The members of the brotherhood wear a medal showing a goose dressed like a cook prepared to cook a goose. The drawing was made by the cartoonist François Walthéry, from the neighbouring village of Argenteau, mostly known for the Natacha series portraying a very sexy flight attendant.
Argenteau (in Dutch, Erckenteel) is named after the colour (in Celtic,
arganto; in Latin, argentum; in French, argent) of the limestone spur on which the castle of Argenteau was built in the Xth century.
Since argent also means "money" in French, the popular etymology says
that the travellers arriving at the castle were asked argent ou eau
!, lit. "(you give your) money or (you are thrown into) water"; a less
violent, but probably equally wrong, legend recalls that money should
be given to use a cable to cross the river. The medieval castle of
Argenteau was completely demolished by Louis XIV in 1673 and rebuilt in
1683 in Wixhou by Louis-Antoine-de-Claris, Count of Clermont.
The hamlet of Wixhou is located near Argenteau, between Richelle and Saint-Rémy. Wixhou means "the blessed (wi) wood (hout)". The Notre-Dame de Wixhou (aka Notre-Dame aux Bois-Bénits, in the Blessed Woods) chapel houses a small statue (height, 10 cm) of the Blessed Virgin holding Baby Jesus on her right arm, found more than three centuries ago in the trunk of an old oak. Invited by Louisa of Caraman-Chimay, wife of Count Eugène of Mercy-Argenteau, Franz Liszt played the organ of the chapel.
Lanaye (in Dutch, Ternaaien) is known for its locks, located on the Belgian-Dutch border. The locks, built in the 1960s, are too small for the modern traffic between Liège and Rotterdam and are called the Lanaye jam. After an agreement with the Netherlands signed in 2001, the building of a fourth lock across the border was decided in 2004. The Walloon Region will cover 90% of the expenses and the Dutch government the remaining 10% (according to the respective territory covered by the lock). The building of the lock shall last from 2008 to 2012.
Lixhe is located on the river Meuse. According to the Vita prima
sancti Huberti, St. Hubert owned the villa niviella (domain of
Nivelles) on the bank of the river. Another chapter of the Vita
relates the transfer of St. Lambert's relics from Maastricht to Liège,
with a stop at Nivelles, where a blind man recovered his vision after
having touched the shrine. The domain of Nivelles belonged later to
the Bishop of Liège. Archeological excavations in Nivelles attempt to
locate St. Hubert's villa and a chapel dedicated to St. Lambert.
Remains of buildings made of wood and stone have been found, as well as
17 tombs housing 22 bodies, mostly women and children. No artifacts
have been found in the tombs except nails probably used to make the
During the European Year of Conservation and Nature (1995), the reintroduction of salmon and sea truit in the basin of the Meuse was planned. The project Meuse Saumon 2000 allowed the building in Lixhe of a fish ladder, whose aim is to facilitate the upstream and downstream migration of fishes. Lixhe also has a modern hydro-electric power plant.
Cheratte, mostly known for its ancient colliery, is the birth village of the actress Berthe Bovy (1887-1977), known as La Grande Dame. Berthe Bovy was the daughter of Théophile Bovy, the author of the Chants des Wallons. She entered in 1907 the Comédie-Française and studied with Sarah Bernhardt. Jean Cocteau wrote for her the short play La Voix humaine, featuring a single character, a woman speaking in the phone. After near 40 years of success, she was expelled from the Comédie-Française in 1941 after having refused to play in Germany. She was reinstated in 1950 and contributed to the careers of Madeleine Renaud, Fernand Ledoux and Pierre Fresnay. Her last appearance on stage was as Madame Pernelle in Molière's Tartuffe in 1967, aged 80. Berthe Bovy was also a movie actress, her most famous role being in Christian-Jaque's Boule de Suif in 1945. She also played the dead women locked in a cupboard in Carlo Rim's L'armoire volante (1948), with Fernandel and Pauline Carton.
Ivan Sache, 16 May 2007
The flag of Visé is blue with a white descending diagonal stripe.
According to Armoiries communales en Belgique. Communes wallonnes, bruxelloises et germanophones, the flag, described as Bleu à une laize diagonale descendante blanche, is a banner of the municipal arms.
The website of the Francs Arquebusiers de Visé claims that the arms of Visé were officially granted in 1926 as "Azure a bend argent", superseding "Argent a bend per sinister azure".
Arnaud Leroy, Pascal Vagnat & Ivan Sache, 16 May 2007
Visé still has three shooting guilds, whose task was, in the past, to
defend the town. After the suppression of the Principality of Liège,
the guilds transformed to shooting clubs involved in folkloric events
and the preservation of the historical heritage of the town. When
forbidden by diverse rulers, they maintained a clandestine activity.
The Compagnie Royale des Anciens Arbalétriers Visétois recalls the Crossbowmens' Guild, said to have been founded by Thibaut of Bar in 1310, and therefore to be the oldest in Belgium.
The Compagnie Royale des Anciens Arquebusiers de Visé recalls the Harquebusiers' Guild founded by the Spaniards during the siege of Maastricht in 1579 and officially approved by Prince-Bishop Gérard of Groesbeeck the next year.
The Compagnie Royale des Francs Arquebusiers de Visé seceded in 1909 from the Compagnie Royale des Anciens Arquebusiers de Visé for political reasons (especially the adoption of red trousers as a symbol of allegiance to the Catholic party) and made its first parade on 13 March 1910. The guilds still exist as rivals but no longer on political or personal basis, and both promote the heritage of the Visé Harquebusiers.
Flag of the Francs Arquebusiers' guild in Visé - Image by Ivan Sache, 18 January 2008
The Francs Arquebusiers have registered the horizontally divided red-blue-red flag with the Benelux Office for Intellectual Property on 20 June
2006, #0817920, certificate #1111622 for ten years.
The colours of the flag are given as red and dark blue, approximately:
- RAL 3020 - RAL 503;
- Pantone 385c - 2728c;
- RGB #FF0000 - RGB #000099.
The registration implies the protection of the design of the flag (but not of the colours). The Francs Arquebusiers are the sole owner of the design and the sole entity that can decide when and where the flag may be used. The main aim of the registration is the protection of the local heritage.
The origin of the flag is obscure. Red might be related to a war banner used by the troops of the Prince-Bishop of Liège, whereas blue is the traditional colour given for St. Martin's cloak. Moreover, red and blue are the colours of Napoléon's Grenadiers; when reformed in 1804, the Harquebusiers' Guild took Napoléon's uniforms. In 1845, the harquebusiers' oath started as:
Je jure fidélité éternelle au drapeau de saint Martin, patron de Visé...
(I swear eternal loyalty to the the flag of St. Martin, the patron saint of Visé...)
Flags used as street decoration in Visé, 1979 - Images by Ivan Sache, 16 May 2007
The 400th anniversary of the Harquebusiers' Guild was celebrated in 1979. A photography (no longer online) of the event shows the streets of Visé decorated with vertical forked banners, vertically divided blue-red (for the Guild, no longer used), blue-white (for Visé) and red-yellow (for Wallonia)
New flags have also been manufactured, red-blue-red, some of them with
the today's emblem of the guild and other with its XVIth century
The today's emblem shows the municipal coat of arms, crowned and in front of a perron, flanked by two brown rifles crossing behind the shield and two yellow plants.
The old emblem is a red shield with two yellow rifles crossed per saltire over a yellow grenade.
Ivan Sache, 18 January 2008