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Wetteren (Municipality, Province of East Flanders, Belgium)

Last modified: 2008-04-26 by ivan sache
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Municipal flag of Wetteren - Image by Filip van Laenen, 22 October 2001

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Presentation of Wetteren

The municipality of Wetteren (23,304 inhabitants on 1 January 2007; 3,668 ha) is located on the river Scheldt, 10 km east of Ghent. The municipality of Wetteren is made since 1976 of the former municipalities of Wetteren, Massemen and Westrem.

Wetteren was mentioned for the first time, as Vuethre, in Vita Sancti Landualdi, written by Bishop of Liège Notger and dated 19 June 980. The bishop relates the transportation of the relics of St. Landoaldus and his fellows from Wintershoven to the St. Bavo abbey in Ghent. Wetteren is formed on the Germanic words haar / haruf, "a sandy hill", and hwata, "steep".
Massemen was most probably Maximus' estate, revealing a Gallo-Roman origin of the village.
Westrem means "the western estate"; the suffix -gem ("estate") reveals a Germanic origin (VIth century).

The valley of the Scheldt, especially between Ghent and Dendermonde, is very rich in archeological remains. The area was settled in the Prehistoric times. A bone dagger made in an aurochs' rib, dated from the Mesolithic (9000-4300 BC), was found in Wetteren. Several lance arrows from the late Age of Bronze (1100 BC) were also found, as well as urn cemetaries used until the early Age of Stone (900-400 BC). The urn cemetary of Massemen was thoroughly excavated in 1957-1959.
In the early Middle Ages, Wetteren was split between the County of Flanders (northern bank of the Scheldt) and the Duchy of Brabant (south of the Scheldt). In the Xth century, the lords of Dendermonde, vassals of the Count of Flanders, progressively increased their domain on the southern bank of the Scheldt. In 1047, the Count of Flanders incorporated Western Brabant to his state, including the Countries of Aalst, Dendermonde (including Wetteren) and Bornem, which would form the Imperial Flanders (Rijks-Vlaanderen).
In 1579, Wetteren was seized by the militias from Ghent, that totally plundered the village and burned down 52 houses. They destroyed the church and the bridge over the Scheldt, built in 1571, and the church of Massemen as well. The Ghent calvinists were expelled from Wetteren in January 1581 by the Malcontents. In 1584, some 3,000 Spanish soldiers settled in Wetteren to prepare the siege of Ghent and Dendermonde.

The increase of the population of Wetteren in the XVIIIth century caused parcelling of the arable land; the small farmers relied on home flax spinning as an additional source of outcome. Mechanization and the English competition caused the decline of Flemish clothing industry. In 1842, the Wetteren cloth market sold only flax and cotton thread. In 1846, 155 out of the 350 cloth weavers and 600 out of the 900 flax spinners were jobless. Several of them attempted to work as farmers, which cause a 96% increase in the price of arable land between 1830 and 1856. Because of frost and of the late blight epidemics, price of potatoes on the market of Wetteren increase by 104% from 1841 to 1846. At the same time, price of rye bread increased by 50%.

Source: Municipal website

Ivan Sache, 1 January 2008

Municipal flag of Wetteren

The municipal flag of Wetteren is vertically divided green-yellow.
According to Gemeentewapens in België - Vlaanderen en Brussel, the flag was adopted by the Municipal Council on 25 October 1984, confirmed by the Executive of Flanders on 5 March 1985 and published in the Belgian official gazette on 8 July 1986.
The colours of the flag, already in unofficial use before the municipal reform of 1976, are taken from the municipal arms.

According to the municipal website, the arms of Wetteren were granted by Royal Decree on 26 February 1851, as In goud een Sint-Gertrudis als abdis in natuurlijke kleur, vergezeld rechts van het Romeinse cijfer X en links van het Romeinse cijfer IIII van sabel, op een losse grasgrond ("Or an Abbess St. Gertrude proper, flanked dexter by the Roman number X and sinister by the Roman number III, all sable, standing on a grassy terrace").
St. Gertrude (626-659), the daughter of Pepin of Landen and St. Itta, was the first abbess of the abbey of Nivelles, founded by her mother in 640. She is often represented with a mouse climbing on her abbess' crozier (on the arms of Wetteren, two mice are climbing), a means used by the devil to tempt her, to no avail. The patron saint of hospitals and pilgrims, Gertrude is invoked against mice and rats pullulations. Relics of the saint were brought to Wetteren in 1664, which made of the town a popular place of pilgrimage: the saint was celebrated three times a year, on 17 March (the day of her death), 3 May (blessing of the church) and on the first Sunday of September (Wetteren village festival).

According to Servais, the arms of Wetteren are based on a municipal seal dated 1785. The Vilain changed their name to Villain Van Gent in the XIIIth century, and, subsequently to Vilain XIIII (Adriaan Vilain XIIII is listed as a knight in Eeklo in 1437). The Roman number XIIII recalls the Vilain XIIII family. In 1576, Emperor Philip II transferred the domain and parish of Wetteren to Maximiliaan Vilain, Count of Izegem, Baron of Ressegem, lord of Kalken... Count Charles Jospeh Vilain XIIII was Mayor of Wetteren in 1803-1809, so was Charles Hypolite Vilain XIIII in 1822-1873. Charles-Eric Vilain XIIII's website gives more details on the origin of the Vilain XIIII family.
Until the XIXth century, the Vilain lineage claimed to descend from the Dukes of Saxony, but there is no evidence to support that claim. The root of the lineage is more probably Wenemar (b. 860/870), who owned a big piece of land east of Ghent and in the Waasland. Wenemar might have been the manager of the St. Peter abbey in Ghent.
Knight Hugo II, Viscount of Ghent and lord of Heusden belonged to the ninth (or tenth, or even eleventh) generation of the family. Deceased in 1232, he was succeeded as the Viscount of Ghent by his elder son Hugo III. His second son, Knight Walter of Ghent, lord of Sint-Jans-Steen, took the nickname of Vilain, written for long with two l's (Villain), in Dutch, Vileyn.
Vilain has nothing to do with the mythic Saxon Wichman Bilung / Bylaing. The name is most probably derived from Latin villanus, itself derived from villa; around 1250, Walter was manager of the villa of Temse. In 1254, he was called "Walterus dictus villain, dominus villae Sancti Johannis te Steene" (Walter aka Vilain, lord of the villa of Sint-Jans-Steen).
The today's Vilain XIIII family directly descends from the second son of Jan III of Ghent "Villain", Philippe Villain (d. 1460), lord of Moerbeke, Councillor and Chamberlain of Philip the Good and Great Bailiff of the Country of Aalst. The senior branch of Vilain extincted in 1767.
François Ignace Vilain, lord of Welle, Idergem and Wackene in 1734, used to sign "Vilain XIIII", but the Vilain XIIII name was already used long before. Lindanus (Van Der Linden) wrote in 1612 in his "History of Dendermonde": Villanus quondam Saxo, dum fortititer Urbes hostiles caperet, bis septem,tota diebus: Virtute sertum posuit, numerique trophocum Fortuna, titulos sibi gens Villana reservat.
This means that a Villain conquerred in twice seven days twice seven towns, and was crowned accordingly with laurel XIIII. Villanus quondam, "once a Villain", seems to indicate that the exact origin of the XIIII was already obscure to Lindanus. Another hypothesis relates the number XIIII to 14 inn keepers in Ghent and Aalst belonging to the same lineage, but there is no historical evidence for them.
E. Friest (Maisières, Voyage à travers les siècles, 1969) gives as the "less unlikely hypothesis" of XIIII the similarity between veertien (in Dutch, "fourteen") and verdien ("to serve"), "to serve" being commonly found in family mottos (Servir, Je sers, Ich dien...)

Pascal Vagnat & Ivan Sache, 1 January 2008