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Fosses-la-Ville (Municipality, Province of Namur, Belgium)

Last modified: 2018-11-01 by ivan sache
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Flag of Fosses-la-Ville - Image by Filip van Laenen, 19 November 2001

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Presentation of Fosses-la-Ville

The municipality of Fosses-la-Ville (9,444 inhabitants on 1 January 2007; 6,324 sq. km; municipal website) is located on the river Biesme, mid distance (25 km) of Charleroi and Namur, on the border with Hainaut. The municipality of Fosses-la-Ville was formed in 1976 as the merger of the former municipalities of Fosses-la-Ville, Aisemont, Le Roux, Sart-Eustache, Sart-Saint-Laurent and Vitrival.

Fosses-la-Ville must originate in an ancient Celtic settlement, as evidenced by the name of the river Biesme, coming from Bebrona, "the Beavers' River". A big Gallo-Roman cemetery from the 2nd century AD was excavated in the hamlet of Taravisée; another building of unknown function has been located under the collegiate church.
In the 7th century, the river was still called Bebrona (atque in villa, quae ex nomine fluminis decurrentis nuncupatur Bebrona...) when the Irish monk Feuillin built a monastery on its bank. Eginhard's chronicle, written in 828, calls the sanctuary Monasterium Scottorum, the Scots' Monastery. The exact location of this early sanctuary is still unknown. The Irish monks might also be the builders of the chapel dedicated to St. Brigida of Kildare, located on a hill near Fosses and still decorated by a stone engraved with a Celtic cross.
Together with his brothers Fursy and Ultain, Feuillin founded abbeys in Ireland, England and, later, in mainland Europe. Feuillin was granted around 650 a piece of land by Itte and Gertrud of Nivelles. On his way back from Nivelles, Feuillin was murdered by rascals near Le Rœulx on 31 October 655. His body was brought back to Nivelles and then transferred to Fosses, where he had required to be buried. The legend says that the water withdrew when the funeral procession arrived at the ford of Franière, still known in Walloon as wez des boûs (in French, gué des bœufs, "the Oxens' Ford"). According to a manuscript from the 10th century, the procession arrived at "the very famous place called Fosses" and Feuillin was buried in a chapel located close to the St. Peter abbey church. Around 1110, Canon Hillin wrote the Liber miraculorum Scti Foillan, the Book of St. Follien's Miracles, which attracted even more pilgrims to Fosses. Ill people were reported to have been healed after having prayed on the saint's murder place or with blood collected there by the priest of Soignies. In the rocks of Frênes (Fraxinus), where the saint's relics had been hidden during the Hungarian raid of 954, a deaf-mute woman recovered hearing and word. In 1609, a priest stated that, in 1586, a child died before having baptised had been resurrected and baptized by the saint three days later. Since then, Follien is invoked for the salute of the soul of the children died before the baptism. The relics of the saint are also transported in processions against bad weather that could damage the crops.

In the 10th century, King of Germany Louis the Child granted the monastery of Fosses to his sister Kisala, who transferred it to the Bishop of Liège in 907. The monastery was transformed into a canon's chapter presided by a dean. Bishop Notger rebuilt the collegiate church with a square tower around 974, fortified the "Canons' Town" and the bishop's castle, and set up a market and a mint workshop. After the translation of Feuillin's relics in 1086, the collegiate church was added a crypt located out of the choir, which is the only one of that kind to have been kept in Belgium.
Fosses was one of the Good Towns (bonnes villes) of the Principality of Liège. In 1071, the act of infeudation of the County of Hainaut to the Principality was signed on the St. Feuillin altar. The "Burghers' Town" was surrounded with a thick wall in 1149. This followed the plundering of Fosses in 1140/1143 by Count of Bar Reginald and Count of Namur Henry the Blind, who had a dispute with Prince-Bishop Albéron II for the possession of Bouillon. In 1302, the burghers revolted against the chapter and blocked the Vestit Gate, which was the only link between the "Canons' Town" and the "Burghers' Town". Accordingly, their franchise, magistrates, judges, cemetery, ponds, forest, hospital and seal were confiscated by the Chapter.
The town, the church included, was burned by the Count of Hainaut in 1408; in 1430, Duke of Burgundy Philip the Handsome burned again the town, but spared the church; the French burned again the town on 5 and 19 July 1554. In 1565, Prince-Bishop Gerard of Groesbeek founded the Harquebushers' Company for the defense of the town; the company is the origin of the escorts used in the processions since 1571. In 1635, the procession became the famous St. Follien March, performed every seven years on a 12-km route by companies wearing Napoleonic uniforms, according to the tradition of the folkloric marches of the Entre-Sambre-et-Meuse.
On 15 October 1568, the Protestant led by Baron of Genlis plundered the town. Other sacks by the Spaniards and the French took place in 1636, 1640, 1653 and 1678. After the suppression of the Principality of Liège during the French rule, Fosses was allocated to the department of Sambre-et-Meuse, the origin of the Province of Namur.

Fosses-la-Ville is internationally known for its folkloric group called "Chinels". Their origin is the Two Hunchbacks' legend, which has several variations elsewhere in France and Belgium. Once upon a time, a hunchback living from peddling and coming back late home through the forest came across the fairies' sabbath. Since he was a good guy and behaved well with the fairies, they decided to remove his hump. Another hunchback heard the news and showed up the next night at the sabbath; however, the fairies were aware he was a nasty guy and gave him a second hump. The two-humped hunchback became the chinel, the king of the carnival of Fosses. The Chinels were originally known as the Doudous; in 1869, the musician Louis Canivet composed a new music and designed a new dance for the Chinels. The two preferred tricks of the Chinels are the "sabering of the girls" (touching a women's calves with the point of the saber) and the "hump trick" (removing quickly the cigare or the pipe from a spectator's mouth with the point of the hump).

Aisemont, in Walloon, Es les monts or Es ès monts, "in the hills", was a hamlet of Fosses until 1871. A Gallo-Roman villa has been located in Insébamonts, on the hillside, whereas a small Frankish cemetery with 34 primitive tombs was found in La Spinette, in a loop of the Biesme. In 1871, the local "lord", Léonard Lambot, obtained the creation of the municipality of Aisemont and was elected its first Mayor. The same year, the local public contractor Jules Moreau had to build a road between Vitrival and Falisolle; he extracted stone from a thick limestone bank and founded the Rochettes quarries. With four lime kilns, the Moreau quarries worked until 1981. In 1905, the Boudjèsse quarries were opened across the road by the S.A. des Carrières et fours à chaux d'Aisemont. They are today one of the most important sites of the Carmeuse company, where 130 workers extract every year 1,200,000 tons stones and produce 550,000 tons lime.

Le Roux, like the town of Le Rœulx, was named after the Germanic word rode, "a clearing". In the hamlet of Vijetaille (from vieille taille, "old cutting"), Prehistoric flints and remains of iron extraction from the Celtic times have been found. There was an important Gallo-Roman villa in the 2nd century AD, with buildings, barns, a heating system (hypocaust) and a forge. In the Middle Ages, the emerging village depended on the lord of Aiseau and later of the Priory of Oignies. A record from 1439 shows that Le Roux belonged to the Duchy of Brabant, whereas Vitrivial and Fosses belonged to the Principality of Liège and Sart-Eustache and Biesme to the County of Namur. In 1554, Bastin de Denée owned a forge on the Biesme, in the place called Claminforge, close to Aisemont; lacking ore, the forge was stopped in 1735.
A chapel dedicated to St. Gertrud of Nivelles is called chapelle aux rats ("the Rats' Chapel"). Gertrude is often portrayed as an abbess with a mouse climbing to her crozier; she was invoked against the invasion of field mice. The name of the chapel might also be a deformation of the Latin Ora, from ora pro nobis, "Pray for Us". The farm of Belle Mottre, located on the borders with Aiseau and Falisolle, was the place of a violent fighting on 21-22 August 1914; the French military cemetery built near the farms houses 2,200 tombs.

Sart-Eustache is mentioned on a document of the abbey of Oignies as Sartum, "a cleared place" (which gave sart in Belgium and essart in France). In 1289, the village was known as Sart le Stache, a stache being a post, most probably used to mark a border. Another possible origin of the name of the village is "Sart à l'eustache de Biesme-al-Colonoise", à l'eustache meaning "depending on"; the village indeed depended on Biesme in the past. It was known as Sart-Eustache in 1665, Sart-Saint-Eustache in the 19th century (in spite of having nothing to do with the saint), and again Sart-Eustache.
The "old village" progressively moved to the "Petit Sart", near the river, where a mill was already mentioned in 1265; Hanosset set up there annexes of the forge of Biesme. When Pier de Sire owned the forges in 1571, there were two forges, a hammer and a refining workshop. In 1665, Marguerite de Sire sold the forge to Jean Desmanet, which bought Petit Sart in 1702 and became the first local lord.

Sart-Saint-Laurent was created as a municipality by Royal Decree on 27 May 1890, merging Sart-Saint-Lambert, which belonged to the chapter of Fosses and therefore to Liège, and Sart-Saint-Laurent, which belonged to the abbey of Floreffe and therefore to Namur. The early village was set up in a clearing in the early 12th century; at that time, the building of the abbey of Floreffe by St. Norbert and Hugh of Fosses required a lot of wood. Originally a lumberjacks' village, Sart-Saint-Laurent became a rural village: in 1126, Count of Namur Henry the Blind allocated land to anyone using his own plough. This grant is recalled by the big farms of Marlagne (1138), Wimbosteck (1294), Timansart (1289), Fuette (1305) and Malplaquée (1305). The erection of the village as an independent municipality was supported by the parish priest, in spite of the resistance of Floreffe and Fosses, which had already lost Vitrival in 1797 and Aisemont in 1871.

Vitrival might have been vetera vallis ("the Old Valley"), victoriae vallis (the "victory's valley" where Julius Caesar defeated the Nervians during the battle of Presles), or via trivium ("the Three Ways"). The Walloon name of the village, Viétrivaux, seems to confirm the "old valley" hypothesis. Until the French Revolution, the villagers of Vitrival had the rights of mazuyage in the Canons' Wood, aka Mazuys' Wood. This right, already recognized by the Prince-Bishop of Liège in 1287 and confirmed in 1522, concerned only the owners of a house and of a minimal area of land. Mazuyage included glandée (the right of sending the porks into the wood, from gland, "acorn"), champiage (the right of grazing, from champ, "field"), together with the right of picking deadwood and lumber. After the French Revolution, the villagers wisely omitted to mention these rights, which were extended beyond the mazuys to all the villagers in 1947.
The inhabitants of Vitrival are nicknamed Catulas. The local legend says that Qu'as-tu là ? ("What do you have here?" [in your basket]), was the traditional question asked at the toll marking the limit between Vitrival (Liège) and Le Roux (Brabant).

Ivan Sache, 6 July 2007

Flag of Fosses-la-Ville

The flag of Fosses-la-Ville is vertically divided green-red.
According to Armoiries communales en Belgique. Communes wallonnes, bruxelloises et germanophones [W2v03], the flag, adopted by the Municipal Council on 13 July 1992, is prescribed by a Decree adopted by the Executive of the French Community on 13 March 1995.

Green and red are the traditional colours of the town, also shown on the clothes of the farmer holding a flail portrayed on the municipal coat of arms.

Pascal Vagnat & Ivan Sache, 6 July 2007

1er Bataillon d'Austerlitz

[Flag]     [Flag]

Flag of 1er Bataillon d'Austerlitz, reverse and obverse - Images by Ivan Sache, 28 September 2009

Like in many other towns and villages of the region of Entre Sambre et Meuse, Vitrival has its folkloric group, the Marche Saint-Pierre. Resurrecting a group that escorted the processions in the village until 1880-1881, the Marche Saint-Pierre was recreated on 22 June 1963.
In the night of 25 to 26 September 1976, 40 members of the Marche Saint- Pierre marched, dressed in Napoleonic costumes, with arms, fifes and drums, from Vitrival to Waterloo (47 km) to commemorate the 155th anniversary of the death of Napoléon I. On 16 July 1977, the group went to Paris, placed a spray of flowers on the tomb of Napoléon in the Invalides, marched on the Champs-Élysées and placed a spray of flowers on the tomb of the Unknown Soldier under the Arc de Triomphe; it took them seven days to marched back to Vitrival (327 km).

On 2 December 1978, the group went to Slavkov (Czechoslovakia) for the commemoration of the Battle of Austerlitz, and decided to join the commemoration every year.
For its third participation to the Austerlitz pilgrimage, the group changed its name of Grenadiers de Vitrival to 1er Bataillon d'Austerlitz (website) and was granted a flag on the battlefield. The flag was blessed in the church of Vitrival on 21 March 1981. Beforehand, the group marched under the flag of the Marche Saint-Pierre.
Since then, the battalion has joined several reenaction events all over Europe, including the march from Golfe-Juan to Lyon (Course Napoléon), commemorating the return of the emperor from Elba.
On 6 October 2007, the new flag of the battalion, similar to the first one, was blessed in the church of Vitrival.

The flag of the 1er Bataillon d'Austerlitz is a square French tricolor flag with a golden fringe and with the golden writing "1er / BATAILLON / AUSTERLITZ / 1805". The obverse and reverse of the flag bear the same writing. The flag has a finial made of a golden Napoleonic eagle.

Ivan Sache, 28 September 2009