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Tongeren (Municipality, Province of Limburg, Belgium)


Last modified: 2011-05-14 by ivan sache
Keywords: tongeren | tongres | swan (white) | henis | chevrons: 3 (black) | stars: 2 (blue) | star: 6 points (blue) |
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[Flag of Tongeren]

Municipal flag of Tongeren - Image by Arnaud Leroy, 9 January 2008

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Presentation of Tongeren

The municipality of Tongeren (in French, Tongres; 29,806 inhabitants on 1 January 2007; 8,756 ha) is located on the linguistic border between Dutch and French, here the border with the Province of Liège. The municipality of Tongeren is made since 1976 of the former municipalities of Tongeren (16,825 inh.; 1,319 ha; including Berg [599 inh.; 566 ha], Henis [813 inh.; 364 ha], Koninksem [1,211 inh.; 508 ha], Neerrepen [221 inh.; 369 ha] and Riksingen [871 inh.; 241 ha] since 1970), 's Herenelderen (545 inh.; 342 ha; incorporated to Helderen in 1970, a part of Helderen being incorporated to Riemst in 1974 and the rest into Tongeren in 1976), Lauw (979 inh.; 648 ha), Mal (951 inh.; 399 ha), Nerem (946 inh.; 400 ha), Overrepen (700 inh.; 364 ha; incorporated into Kolmont in 1970, a part of Kolmont being incorporated into Borgloon in 1974 and the rest into Tongeren in 1976), Piringen (930 inh.; 456 ha; incorporated into Haren in 1970, a part of Haren being incorporated into Borgloon in 1974 and the rest into Tongeren in 1976), Rutten (825 inh.; 1,052 ha), Sluizen (653 inh.; 292 ha), Vreren (1,940 inh.; 693 ha; including Diets-Heur [177 inh.; 396 ha] since 1970) and Widooie (409 inh.; 347 ha; same status as Piringen).

Founded in 15 BC and considered as the oldest town in Belgium, Tongeren was known in the Roman times as Atuatuca Tungrorum, then the capital of Civitas Tungrorum, an administrative subdivision of the Province of Lower Germania. The town was located on the crossroads of the main ways Bavay-Cologne and Arlon-Nijmegen. The city walls built in the 2nd century were shortened two centuries later to better protect Tongeren against the Frankish and Germanic invasions.

Still the most important town in the region, Tongeren was made the seat of a bishopric by St. Servaas in the second half of the 4th century, a bishopric that would be transferred to Maastricht in the 6th century and eventually to Liège at the end of the 8th century. The ancient Bishopric of Tongeren included the ten modern bishoprics of Liège, Roermond, Den Bosch, Breda, Mechelen, Namur, Luxembourg, Antwerp, Hasselt and Cologne. Several bishops of Tongeren significantly contributed to the religious and political history of the region.
According to Heriger, the first historian of Liège (Gesta episcoporum Tungriensium, late 10th century), the first, legendary, Bishop of Tongeren, St. Materne was succeeded by Navitus, Marcellus, Metropolus, Severinus, Florentius, Martinus, Maximinus and Valentinus, but nothing is known on them. Therefore, the history of the Bishopric of Tongeren starts with St. Servaas (c. 343-384), known as "The Apostle of the Gauls" and deceased in Maastricht. Heriger mentions several of his successors, without historical evidence on any of them before the early VIth century.
Bishop Domitian (c. 543-549) took part to the Councils of Clermont (November 535) and of Orléans (October 549), and was buried in the Notre-Dame church of Huy.
St. Monulf (c. 550- 597) is said to have been the 21st Bishop of Tongeren and the first of them to stay in Maastricht, where he was buried in the church he had built on the tomb of St. Servaas. The popular tradition claims that Monulf also built an oratory dedicated to St. Cosmo and Damian, around which the town of Liège developed.
St. Betulf (aka Gondulf, c. 597-614) took part to the Council of Paris in 614, that granted all the religious powers on the clarks to the bishops, a Decree confirmed by King of Austrasia Clothaire II (613-622).
St. Perpetuus is listed by Heriger as the 23rd Bishop, without more details; Henri Pirenne writes that Perpetuus might be apocryph but maybe not. St John the Lamb (c. 646) is listed as Perpetuus' successor by Heriger, who explicitely presents him as legendary.
St. Amandus, "The Apostle of Flanders", is said to having became Bishop of Tongeren-Maastricht upon request by King of Austrasia Sigebert III (634-654) and to have been allowed to resign c. 650 by Pope Martin I (649-654). Whether St. Remacle, the founder of the abbeys of Stavelot and Malmedy, was ever Bishop of Tongeren, is still a disputed question.
St. Lambert (c. 670- c. 705) moved his residence to Liège, which was confirmed by his successor, St. Hubert (708-727).

Following repeated sacks, Tongeren declined in the 5th century, but reemerged in the Carolingian period, with the building of a monastery. In 980, the German Emperor transferred the town to the Principality of Liège, while the Carolingian monastery was superseded at the end of the 11th century by the Notre-Dame Chapter, made of some 20 canons. In the 13th century, Tongeren became one of the Good Towns (bonnes villes) of the Principality of Liège, which boosted its development, with the building of a new square and of new walls and the rebuilding of the Notre-Dame collegiate church in Gothic style.
Like the other towns of the Principality of Liège, Tongeren was plundered several times, for instance by the Count of Loon in 1180, by the Duke of Brabant in 1213, by the Burgundians in 1408 and 1468...
During the night of the 28 to the 29 August 1677, the French burned down the town, suppressing 478 houses and causing a fall of the population from 4,500 to 2,500. The population grew up again up to 5,000 only in the late 18th century.


On 5 September 1868, the statue of Ambiorix was inaugurated in Tongeren in the presence of King Leopold II and the Queen. The statue was made by the French sculptor Jules Bertin (1826-1892), who made in 1890 a very similar statue representing Vercingétorix for his home town, Saint-Denis, near Paris - the statue was eventually lost during the Second World War. In 54 BC, Ambiorix, King of the Eburons, defeated two Roman legions, killing 7,000 soldiers and their officers, and fled to Germany, where the Romans could never capture him. There is no evidence that Tongeren was Ambiorix' town but the Belgian official historiography, in great need of national heroes, decided so. Ambiorix has therefore in Belgium a very similar status to Vercingetorix' in France.

Source: Philagodu website

The Tongeren Codex was recently found in the archives of the Gallo-Roman Museum of Tongeren. The codex is a 14 x 13 cm book made of some hundred blank pages. X-ray analysis has revealed remains of copper, iron and zink, proving that there were once writings on the pages. The codex has been dated to 880-990; its main feature is the use of papyrus, whose use was very uncommon in the 10th century.

Ivan Sache, 5 December 2007

Municipal flag of Tongeren

The municipal flag of Tongeren is vertically divided blue-white, with, in canton, a white swan wearing a yellow crown around the neck.
According to Gemeentewapens in België - Vlaanderen en Brussel [w2v02a], the flag, already used unofficially before the municipal reform, was adopted by the Municipal Council on 22 March 1990, confirmed by the Executive of Flanders on 18 December 1990 and published in the Belgian official gazette on 25 September 1991.
The swan comes from the crest of the municipal arms.

According to Servais[svm55], the arms of Tongeren, granted by (Dutch) Royal Decree on 20 October 1818 and confirmed by (Dutch) Royal Decree on 25 May 1818, are crowned and feature a crowned swan as the crest. In the 15th century, the town was transferred to the Van Elderen family, whose arms served as the source for the municipal seals. In 1496, Arnold Van Elderen bore a shield of vair with a bar. In later versions of the arms, there were only nine pieces of vair and the bar, made smaller, was placed in the upper part of the shield.

Pascal Vagnat & Ivan Sache, 5 December 2007

Former municipality of Henis

[Flag of Henis]         [Flag of Henis]

Flag of Henis, vertical and horizontal (unconfirmed) versions - Images by Jarig Bakker, 3 September 2008

On 6 October 2007 the Heritage Society presented the inventory of the patrimonium of the Saint-Hubertus Church. At this occasion a new village flag was produced: a field of silver (white) with three chevrons of sable (black), with in chief two six-pointed stars azure (blue). The shield is from the old Van Henis family, already mentioned in the 14th century. It is a fairly typical old medieval knight's shield. Later a family of the same name settled in Tongeren, adding the two stars to that shield. Other families, related to them are de Schaetzen, Vaes, Cluts, van der Maesen, Peumans, de Moffarts, Stiels and Theelen.
The proportions of the flag are 100 x 70 cm but is unclear whether this is a horizontal or vertical flag: only the vertical version is shown on the source page.

Source: Erfgoedcel Tongeren website

Stefan Lambregts & Jarig Bakker, 3 September 2008