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Westerlo (Municipality, Province of Antwerp, Belgium)

Last modified: 2012-02-25 by ivan sache
Keywords: westerlo | merode | herselt |
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[Flag of Westerlo]

Municipal flag of Westerlo - Image by Arnaud Leroy, 4 February 2006

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Presentation of Westerlo and its villages

The municipality of Westerlo (23,230 inhabitants on 1 January 2007; 5,513 ha) is located 25 km south-east of Antwerp in the valley of Grote Nete, on the border of the regions of Kempen and Hageland. The municipality of Westerlo is made since 1976 of the former municipalities of Westerlo (including Tongerlo and Zoerle-Parwijs since 1971) and Oevel.
Westerlo is mostly a green town, nicknamed "The Pearl of Kempen", with woods and pastures, whereas Oevel is an industrial area.

Westerlo was already mentioned in 994. The name of the town most probably comes from the Germanic word westara, "western" (in Dutch, westelijk) and lauha, "a small wood on a sandy hill". Ansfried, Count of Toxandria, then appointed Bishop of Utrecht, transferred all his possessions in Westerlo, Olen and Westmeerbeek (today Meerbeke) to two chapters in Utrecht. In the 13th century, the chapter owning Westerlo transferred the domain to Arnold I van Wezemaal as a pawn. Around 1360, Margaretha van Wezemaal maaried Rijkaard de Merode, and the Merode family became owner of Westerlo; this was confirmed in 1482 and 1620, and the family remained there until the French Revolution. Westerlo became a Barony in 1473 and a Marquisate in 1626 (Letters Patented signed by Philip IV on 21 May).
The castle of Merode is located in the south of the municipality of Westerloo. The first castle was built in 1066, on the probable site of a Roman fortress. Around 1300, the lords of Wezemaal increased the fortifications of the castle and transformed it into a waterburcht (castle partially protected by water, here the river Grote Nete); it was a part of the defense system of the border of the Duchy of Brabant. The castle is still inhabited by members of the Merode family.
In 1798, the Boerenkrijg broke out in Flanders against the French rulers. E.J. Van Gansen (1766-1842) and A. Meulemans (arrested and shot in Tournai in 1799), played an important role in the insurrection. In 1898, a monument was erected in Westerlo to commemorate the Boerenkrijg.
In the past, the inhabitants of Westerlo were nicknamed flierefleuters (revellers) and leeglopers (lazybones) by their neighbours; this is commemorated by the Flierefleuters bier created in Westerlo in 1982 after an old recipe from Kempen.

Tongerlo was known in 1133 as Tungerloo, from Germanic tungri, "trunk", and lo, "a wood on a sandy hill". Around 1130, Giselbertus van Castelre transferred a part of his domain in Tongerlo to the Norbertine St. Michael abbey in Antwerp. A new abbey, dedicated to Sts. Barbara, Catherine and the Blessed Virgin, was built, which played an important role in the religious, social, economic and politic development of Kampen. The abbey has kept a linden planted in 1676; its perimeter is 4.5 m and its height 25 m. The masterpiece kept in the abbey is a replica of Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper (4.5 x 9 m, original in the Dominican Convent of Milan), painted in 1506-1507 by Andrea Solario. The abbey was closed during the French Revolution and resettled in 1840. The monks still brews a traditional abbey's bear (abdijbier).

Zoerle-Parwijs was mentioned as Zuerle in 1286, meaning "a small, acid wood". The village was enclaved inside Westerlo and was divided into two parts: Zoerle-Westerlo, that belonged to the lords of Westerlo, and Zoerle-Parwijs, that belonged to the lords of Geel. The second part for long belonged to lord Perwez, therefore its name.

Oevel was known as Ovelo in 1173 and Ovele in 1189, from Middle Dutch oven, "on a height", and lo, "a small wood on a sandy hill". That year, Bishop of Cambrai Ogier transferred his rights on Oevel to the abbey of Tongerlo, that owned most of the village. From the 13th century onwards, Oevel belonged to the domain of Geel, owned by the Berthout family and later by the Merode family.

Source: Municipal website

Ivan Sache, 4 February 2006

Municipal flag of Westerlo

The municipal flag of Westerlo is vertically divided yellow-red-yellow-red-yellow-red-yellow-red-yellow (nine stripes) with a blue engrailed border.
According to Gemeentewapens in België - Vlaanderen en Brussel [w2v02a], the flag was adopted by the Municipal Council on 24 April 1989, confirmed by the Executive of Flanders on 21 November 1989 and published in the Belgian official gazette on 8 December 1990.
The flag is a banner of the dexter shield shown in the municipal arms, that is the arms of the family of Merode.
The adjacent municipality of Herselt has a similar flag, differentiated by a blue "H".

The municipal arms of Westerlo, granted by Royal Decree on 29 April 1842, were already mentioned in 1644. The Decree describes the arms of Westerloo as Van lazuur met open kasteel van goud, met vijf kleine hangtorentjes van hetzelfde, beladen rechts in de punt van een gouden wapenschild met vier palen van keel met uitgeschulpte zoom van lazuur, en links een gouden wapenschild met Sint Maarten van lazuur. De vermelde wapenschilden gedekt door een gouden kroon.
The arms represent on a shield azure a castle gate with two towers on each side, all gold. Two shields are placed in front of the towers, on dexter the shield of arms of Merode and on sinister a shield or with St. Martin cutting his cloak for a beggar, all azure. The greater arms are topped with a golden crown.
The two shields recall the two former owners of Westerloo, the family of Merode, owner of the domain, and the St. Martin chapter in Utrecht, owner of the church.

Merode is one of the oldest Belgian nobler lineage; there were Counts of Merode in the Middle Ages, as well as Barons of Merode and Princes of the Holy Roman Empire, and Princes of Merode in 1759. The current titles of the Merode are:
- Prince of Rubempré, in the Holy Roman Empire (1759);
- Prince of Rubempré, in the Kingdom of Belgium (1846);
- Prince of Everberghe, in the Holy Roman Empire (1759);
- Prince of Everberghe, in the Kingdom of the Netherlands (1827);
- Prince of Grimberghe, in the Kingdom of Belgium (1842);
- Prince of Merode, in the Kingdom of Belgium (1929).
The head of the House of Merode is since 1980 Charles-Guillaume (b. 1940), third Prince of Merode, Marquis of Westerloo, Prince of Rubempré and Grimberghe. Prince Alexandre of Merode (1934-2002) was Vice President of the International Olympic Committee and President of the Royal Association of the Historic Houses of Belgium. Princess Baudoin de Merode (b. 1948), née Nathalie van den Abeele, is the unique lady-in-waiting of Queen Paola since 1997.
Count Frédéric de Merode (1792-1830) fought during the Independence War of Belgium in 1830; injured during the battle of Berchem on 25 October 1830, he died in Antwerp ten days later and became a national hero, being the first noble of higher rank to die for the new Belgium. His brother, Count Félix de Merode (1791-1857) was one of the political leaders of the War; appointed member of the Provisory Government and then of the National Congress, he refused the throne because he was not a Prince and was member of the delegation that proposed the throne to Prince Louis d'Orléans, to no avail, in Paris on 3 July 1831. King Leopold I appointed him State Minister in 1831 but he resigned in 1839 because he did not want to sign the treaty of abandon of parts of Luxembourg and Limburg by Belgium. His son, Count Xavier de Merode (1820-1874), served in the French Army in Kabylia (Algeria) in 1844-1847 and then was ordained priest. Pope Pius IX appointed him Director of the Pontifical Prisons and Minister of War in 1860. After the defeat of Castelfidardo against the Piemontese troops, Merode carried on the reorganization of the papal army and also contributed to the modern urbanization of Rome. Forced to resign in 1865, Merode was appointed Archbishop of Mytilene (in partibus) in 1866. After the seizure of Rome by the Piemontese in 1870, Merode withdrew with the pope into the Vatican.

Arnaud Bunel's Héraldique Européenne website shows the arms of several branches of the Merode lineage.
The House of Merode bears "Or four pales gules a border engrailed azure", whereas the House of Scheiffart de Merode, the senior branch extincted in 1733, bore "Or four pales gules".

Arnaud Leroy, Pascal Vagnat & Ivan Sache, 4 February 2006