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Waasland (Region, Belgium)

Last modified: 2013-04-13 by ivan sache
Keywords: waasland | turnip |
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Presentation of Waasland

The region of Waasland, located between Ghent and Antwerp, was evangelized around 800 during the reign of Charlemagne. The name of the town of Waasmunster ("Wasiae monasterium") recalls the foundation of a monastery in the village; together with Beveren, Rupelmonde and Temse, Waasmunster, nicknamed "the mother church of Waasland", was one of the four religious centers of Waasland. The oldest political center in Waasland was Beveren, capital of the big domain known as Land of Beveren. Challenged by the lords of Beveren, the Counts of Flanders granted municipal rights to 19 villages of Waasland and developed the town of Sint-Niklaas, made in 1241 the administrative center of Waasland via the Keure van het Land van Waas (Court of Waasland).

Ivan Sache, 11 January 2009

Flags of Waasland

Marcellyn Dewulf (Sinterklaas, de schutspatroon van de stad Sint-Niklaas in de heraldiek, de ikonografie, de naamgeving, en de volksgebruiken [St. Nicholas, patron saint of the town of Sint-Niklaas, in heraldry, iconography, onomastics, and folklore], Annalen van de Oudheidkundige Kring van het Land van Waas, 73: 5-48, 1970) describes banners and flags used at Sint-Niklaas and the surrounding Waasland.
Dewulf first addresses the turnip represented on a red shield for Waasland. An article by A.J.L. Van den Bogaerde, dated 1825, mentions a manuscript from 1410 describing a pageant of the "banners of Flanders", the tenth of them representing Waasland. These banners are discussed by Philippe de l'Espinoy in Recherches des Antiquités et Noblesse de Flandre [Research on the Antiquities and Nobility of Flanders], published at Douai in 1631, p. 99, as:
"Le pays et terre de Waas, qui est fort riche et opulent, porte la bannière armoriée d'azur à la rape d'argent au naturel" (The land and region of Waas, which is very rich and opulent, bears an armorial banner, azure a turnip in natural colours).
Dewulf interprets this as a silver turnip with green leaves, stressing the fact that Waasland simultaneously used a red shield bearing the turnip. To explain this difference, the OGHB (Office Généalogique et Héraldique de Belgique) at Brussels was asked for advice. Knight X. de Ghellinck Vaernewyck confirmed the disparate colours: a blue banner but a red shield, both bearing a turnip in natural colours. Such a difference in colours, although rare, is not unheard of, a striking example being the French oriflamme (red) vs. the royal arms (blue).

A carte héraldique (heraldic chart) of Flanders dated 1610 (really 1616, newly edited in 1628) shows a similar banner of Waasland. As the reference heraldic hatchment system was invented slightly later, the codification on the chart does not prove anything definitely, according to Ghellinck.
A more recent example was the ornamental banner of Waasland used at the World Exhibition held at Ghent in 1913, shown by René de Cramer (Vlaggen en wimples, aandenken van "Oud-Vlaenderen" [Flags and pennants, souvenirs of "Old Flanders"], 1913, Brussels).

As to current usage, Ghellinck suggested asking Roger Harmignies for advice, recommending a yellow-blue flag for Sint-Niklaas and a red-white one for Waasland, both divided vertically.
According to Harmignies, the same thought process, simply uniting the colours, would have been responsible for both designs, which were probably adopted after the Belgian independence in 1830. The old blue banner representing Waasland had, by then, been forgotten.

Jan Mertens, 9 February 2008

The legend of the Waasland turnip

The story of the Waasland turnip is told by Servais [svm55a] as follows (quoting the translation from the International Civic Heraldry website):

Emperor Charles V once visited the city of Sint Niklaas and obviously a crowd gathered to see the emperor. Among these was a small farmer holding a huge turnip, which he wanted to hand to the emperor. The guards, however, prevented the farmer to reach the emperor. The emperor, however, noticed that something was happening and asked the farmer what he had in his hands. The farmer answered that he had a giant fruit and that he wanted to give it to the emperor. The emperor was intrigued and let the farmer pass the guards. The emperor accepted the turnip and awarded the farmer with a large purse.
Seeing the reward for a simple turnip, a local horsebreeder imagined the award he would fetch if he gave the emperor a good horse. So he offered the emperor a beautiful horse. The emperor responded, saying that for a beautiful horse, he would donate one of his precious possessions, and handed the breeder the turnip. Embarrassed the breeder had to accept the turnip, which ever since has been the symbol of the Waasland and its fertile soil.

The famous turnip is portrayed on the municipal flags of Lokeren, Sint-Gillis-Waas, Sint-Niklaas and Waasmunster.

Ivan Sache, 8 November 2007