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Wellen (Municipality, Province of Limburg, Belgium)

Last modified: 2008-04-26 by ivan sache
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[Flag of Wellen]

Municipal flag of Wellen - Image by Ivan Sache, 31 December 2007

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Presentation of Wellen and its villages

The municipality of Wellen (6,998 inhabitants on 1 January 2007; 2,672 ha) is located in the region of Hesbaye, north of the town of Borgloon. The municipality of Wellen is made since 1976 of the former municipalities of Wellen, Berlingen, Herten and Ulbeek.

Wellen emerged in history as Wellene (1158) and Welnis (1163), a settlement founded, probably in the Frankish times (V-VIth centuries) by cattle breeders in a wide alluvial cone of the river Herk. Wellen is a typical aquatic toponym, made in the Middle Dutch word wellene, "a source" or "a well"; this name refers to the numerous sources and wells folund in the valley of the Herk and on the foot of the hillside separating Lower and Middle Belgium. Wellen has also been related to the Latin words villina terra, "an agricultural estate".
In the Middle Ages, the domain of Wellen, part of the County of Loon, was ran by the abbey of Munsterbilzen, that exerted the administrative, civil and religious powers. It is therefore possible that Wellen once belonged to Dame Landrada, a relative of Pepin of Landen, who founded the abbey around 670 and bequeathed all her goods to it. In the XIIth century, Munsterbilzen evolved to a noble nuns' abbey, ran by a chapter of canonesses presided by a princess-abbess, and owing the religious rights over the parishes of Bilzen, Eigenbilzen, Hoelbeek, Waltwilder, As, Kleine-Spouwen and Wellen, as well as the civil and administrative rights on the domains of Munsterbilzen, Haccourt, Hallembaye, Kleine-Spouwen and Wellen.
Wellen was a bone of contention between the abbey of Munsterbilzen and the Prince-Bishop of Liège, which caused several damages to the village until the end of the Ancient Regime. In 1460-1467, the village was the heart of the resistance against the Burgundian rule in southern Limburg.
In 1774-1776, 27 bokkerijders were executed in Wellen, which caused a big fuss among the villagers, who all had at least lost a relative or a friend, and "prepared" them to support the Liège revolution of 1789-1791. From 1789 to 1793, the village was ruined by a civil war opposing the burghers to the patriots. The so-called Wellen Revolution ended on 15 June 1793 with the execution of the captain of the patriots on the village square.

The inhabitants of Wellen are nicknamed bokkerijders (goat's riders), because the village was the main center of the bokkerijder movement in the XVIIIth century. The bokkerijders' bands were also active in Kempen and in the valley of Maas. In the beginning of the XVIIIth century, Wellen, belonging to the County of Loon, was part of the, theoretically, neutral Principality of Liège, which did not prevent the village from being regularly plundered by more or less controlled troops. The farmers had to work very hard for a very limited profit they had to share with the landlords and the church or to abandon to soldiers. Criminal activity remained the sole means of subsistence for the farmers, who organized the bokkerijder movement. The bokkerijders' main procedure was blackmailing: they threatened their victims with blaze and murder until they paid them a given amount of money. Their letter were always signed with a bokkepoot (goat's footprint) mark. The bokkerijders allegedly "flew" nightly, riding goats; this legend is related to ancient Germanic tales involving demons, considered in the Christian religion as assistants of the devil. The name of bokkerijders was coined by Jan Van Muysen in a blackmail letter he sent on 2 January 1774 to the Wouters farm.
The most reprehensible act of the bokkerijders was the burning of Jan Corfs' farm on 4 November 1773. Corfs refused to pay 400 guilders; to scare him, the bokkerijders set fire to a hay stack and the resulting blaze destroyed most of the farm. The farm was rebuilt and Corfs did not pay the bokkerijders, inspite of having receiving another two letters.
The headquarters of the rascal was the De Puim inn, owned by Katrien Billen, whose husband was the clog-maker Jan Lycops, one of the leaders of the bokkerijders. Lycops was executed on 1 August 1774 in Munsterbilzen after having sent three letters, while Billen was garroted on 17 August 1775 in Wellen for host desecration and sacrilege. She had baked a cook with meal, eggs and hosts stolen from a church; according to the trial's minutes, the bokkerijders ate the cook "on the devil's name". From 16 June 1774 to 5 February 1776, 36 bokkerijders were sentenced in Hesbaye, 31 of them coming from Wellen; 27 were executed, 2 died in jail, one escaped and another one was released.

Berlingen claims to be the oldest settlement in Wellen, which is probably legitimated by the findings of a Roman villa and tumulus. Part of the County of Loon and then of the Principality of Liège, Berlingen was in 1466 the place of a battle between the armies from Burgundy and Liège.

Herten belonged to the County of Loon. Robert van Herten (1174) was the root of the local lineage. Until 1976, Herten was a "mini-municipality", with only 84 inhabitants.

Ulbeek is also a very ancient settlement. In 1995, Milly Henckaerts offerred her priceless collections of 150 prehistoric artefacts to the Gallo-Roman Museum of Tongeren. The center of the village was used as the model for the recreated "typical" Hesbaye village in the Outdoor Museum of Bokrijk.

Source: Municipal website

Ivan Sache, 31 December 2007

Municipal flag of Wellen

The municipal flag of Wellen is horizontally divided blue and yellow, eight stripes.
According to Gemeentewapens in België - Vlaanderen en Brussel, the flag was adopted by the Municipal Council on 14 June 1988 [the dates of confirmation and publication are missing].
The colours of the flag are taken from the municipal coat of arms, while the stripes might recall the County of Loon.

The municipal arms of Wellen, as shown on the municipal website, shows St. Brigit flanked by a cow and a tree, all or, on a blue shield. The arms are based on a municipal seal from the XVIIIth century. St. Brigit is already mentioned as the parish's patron saint in a church register dated 1593, St. John the Baptist being the co-patron. The respective functions of the two saints were swapped in the early XIXth century. The church still has an altar dedicated to St. Brigit and its bigger bell, cast in 1524, also bears the saint's name. Brigit was invoked in Wellen against cattle diseases.

A photography taken during the Stroopstokerij (lit., "Syrup Distilling") festival shows the municipal flag with the municipal coat of arms in the middle.
The International Civic Heraldry website reports a gossip by Jo Billen, from Wellen. Accordingly, the Catholic party in the Municipal Council objected against the use of the saint on the municipal arms just because this was an idea of the Liberal Mayor!

Pascal Vagnat & Ivan Sache, 31 December 2007