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Machelen (Municipality, Province of Flemish Brabant, Belgium)

Last modified: 2020-03-05 by ivan sache
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Flag of Machelen - Image by by Filip van Laenen, 30 October 2001

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Presentation of Machelen

The municipality of Machelen (12,792 inhabitants on 1 January 2007; 1,159 ha; municipal website) borders the Region of Brussels-Capital in the north-east. The municipality of Machelen was established in 1976 as the merger of the former municipalities of Machelen (613 ha, including 36 ha of the Zaventem airport) and Diegem (547 ha).

Machelen might share its etymology with Mechelen, as it is the case for instance for Kempen and Kampen, both toponyms coming from the Latin "campus". The oldest mention of the town is Machala, in 1179, from the Germanic magelinum, "powerful". The local historian Frans Geerts has listed the written forms Machele (1210), Machela (1234) and Machle (1243), coming from Machala/Machalum, after the Gaul root *machau, "a wheat loft".
J. Martens (Gallo-Romains uit Vlaams Brabant, 1955) found in the place called today De Heuve (The Farm) remains of a wealthy Gallo-Roman villa from the 2nd century. Another place called Geldput (The Money's Well) might recall the early finding of a Roman treasure. J. Martens also found a Merovingian cemetery. In the 12th century, Machelen was ruled by lords from the families of Kraainem, Saventem, Nossegem, all more or less related to the Duke of Brabant. The magistrates of Machelen adopted the Law of Nivelles in 1225. F. Geerts reports that a big castle was built in Mechelen in the 13th century by Walter of Moerzeke, vassal of the Duke of Brabant. In the 14th century, the domain was transferred to Philip of Maldegem, a member of one of the oldest noble Flemish lineages who had fought in 1346, together with father and brother, in the battle of Auray (Brittany). In 1497/1498, the domain was purchased by Van der Beken, Councillor of Brabant.
Lord of Machelen in the 17th century, Count Lamoraal II Claude-François of Thurn and Taxis, seventh hereditary Chief Master of the Postal Service of the Empire, built the castle of Beaulieu (lit., in French, "nice place"). The domain of Machelen was purchased in 1717 by Pierre-Antoine, Baron of Colins, lord of Wavre. Under the Dutch rule (1815-1830), the King of the Netherlands owned personally 35 ha in Machelen, an estate called Op de Loo. Spared during the First World War, Machelen was severely bombed during the Second World War by the allied air forces targeting the nearby airfield of Melsbroek and business parks. Mechelen is still one of the main centers of witloof cultivation in Belgium.
Joanna Catharina Turcksin (1880-2002), aka Woinke Turck, from Mechelen, became on 25 August 2001 the oldest Belgian citizen ever and the fourth oldest European ever, then aged 111 years and 83 days. Until her death on 8 December 2002, aged 112, she was among the ten oldest human beings in the world. Her grandson Jan Vanhaelen published her biography Lang zal ze leven. De biografie van Joanna Turcksin, alias Woinke Turck, de oudste Belg aller tijden, verteld door haar kleinzoon in 2002 in Tienen.

Diegem was mentioned for the first time in 1208 as Didenghem, according to Servais [svm55a]. The name of the village was written Dydenghem in 1223. The suffix -hem clearly means a settling, an estate, but the origin of the first part of the village name is still disputed. Servais "translates" it to the anthroponym Thiuda, Carnoy to the Frankish anthroponym Dido, a short form for Diederik / Theodoric. Chotin believes that Diegem means "an estate in the valley", from delling, the root of dal, "a valley", here the valley of the Woluwe. Wauters prefers to invoke the Slavic god Dido, Odin's grandson, whatever Diegem has to do with Slavs. Van Overstraeten translates Didisheim as "the place near the marshes"; the use of the root dud- for marshy places is found for instance in Dudweiler (Saar, Germany) and Dudelange (Grand Duchy of Luxembourg).
Around 1810, coins portraying Louis the Pious, son of Charlemagne, were found in Diegem, as well as a funerary urn from the 8th century. Found in 1950, a white stone pitcher, two vases and wood remains were related to a Gallo-Roman cemetery from the 2nd/3rd centuries. The monks of Cornelimünster, in Aachen, were granted the rights on the church of Diegem by either Charlemagne or Louis the Pious. Ruined by the wars in the 13th century, the abbey had to sell its goods, much of them in the region of Brussels being purchased by the Duke of Brabant. The oldest lords of Diegem are related to Gilbert of Diedenghem, known in 1265 as a vassal of the lord of Perk. Margareta, the sister of the last lord, Jan of Diedenghem, transferred by marriage the domain to Jan of Brecht around 1384. The Brecht family kept the domain all over the 17th century, and was succeeded by the Oudaert, Happaert, Pieremans and Lanfranchy.

The story of the Mechelen snakes (text) reports that once lived in a manor in Machelen a wealthy but careless lord who mostly cared eating and drinking. After having feasted for several days, he had to give up while a lot of expensive food remained untouched. Instead of offering them to the poor, he dropped the whole into the manor's cellar and forgot it, going downtown with his friends and loose women for another couple of days. Back to the manor, thursty and hungry as usual, he went down the cellar where food had changed to a bunch of swarming snakes, which quickly suffocated the bad lord. After the event, his relatives abandoned the castle and nobody dared approaching it until it was eventually suppressed.

Ivan Sache, 1 September 2007

Flag of Machelen

The flag of Machelen is vertically divided black-yellow-blue.
According to Gemeentewapens in België - Vlaanderen en Brussel [w2v02], the flag, adopted on 26 January 1982 by the Municipal Council, is prescribed by a Decree issued on 3 December 1984 by the Executive of Flanders and published on 8 July 1986 in the Belgian official gazette. The flag had already been adopted by the Municipal Council in 1977.
The flag is a combination of the flags of the former municipalities of Diegem and Machelen.

The modern arms of Machelen are "Per fess, 1. Argent a trefoil gules seeded argent a canton sable a lion or, 2. Argent a three-master floating proper with red pennants and flying the Imperial Austrian ensign.
The horizontally divided red-white-yellow flag, here with a forked tail, was the flag of the Austrian Netherlands.

The canton of the modern arms of Machelen shows the former arms of Diegem, According to Servais, these arms, identical to the arms of the Dukes of Brabant, were granted on 26 May 1902 by Royal Decree, with St. Cornelis as the supporter behind the shield, based on a municipal seal dated 1507.

Pascal Vagnat & Ivan Sache, 1 September 2007