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Mesen (Municipality, Province of West Flanders, Belgium)


Last modified: 2008-03-29 by ivan sache
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[Flag of Mesen]

Flag of Mesen - Image by Arnaud Leroy, 5 February 2006

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Presentation of Mesen

The municipality of Mesen (in French, Messines; 983 inhabitants on 1 January 2007; 358 ha) is located in the mounts of Western Flanders, on the linguistical border between French and Dutch. Accordingly, Mesen is a Dutch-speaking municipality with "facilities" for the French-speaking population. Mesen is located only 6 km fromf the border with France, between Armentières (France) and Ieper (Belgium).
In spite of being the smallest Belgian municipality, Mesen proudly brews its own beer, called De Mesenaere / La Messinoise, which can be enjoyed in the seven cafes of the village, which has also seven Municipal Councillors.

Mesen is one of the oldest pilgrimage places in Flanders. The Blessed Virgin is honoured in Mesen since 933. Every year, from 14 to 22 September, there is a novena and a procession called De Groote Keer.
In 1057, Countess Adèle of Flanders, daughter of King of France Robert le Pieux (996-1031) founded a Benedictine abbey for noble ladies. The abbey was transformed into a royal Institute by Empress Maria-Theresa (1745-1780) in 1776. Like the village of Mesen, the abbey was completely destroyed during the First World War. The crypt, located under the choir of the St. Nicholas abbey-church, was used as headquarters by the German staff, and has been preserved, as well as Adèle's grave. The church was rebuilt in 1928 exactly as it was before the war. It is lit by a big brass chandelier and wall lights made and donated to the church by Otto Meyer, a German veteran of the battle of Mesen. Under the Dutch rule, Mesen lost its municipal status and recovered it only by the Law of 19 July 1985.

The first battle of Mesen took place from 30 October to 3 November 1914, and was nicknamed "The London Scottish's Battle". The second battle of Mesen, nicknamed "The Mines' Battle" took place on 7 June 1917. Nineteen mines (410,000 kgs of explosives) blew up under the German positions; during the assault, 25,000 German and 17,000 allied soldiers were killed. In April 1918, the German seized back Mesen, which was eventually liberated on 28 September 1918.

There are several monuments in Mesen commemorating the War:
- the London Scottish Regiment's Monument was inaugurated by King Albert I in May 1924. The London Scottish was the first regiment of territorial infantry to fight in Belgium. 394 of its 700 men were killed during the battle.
- the New Zealanders' Monument, a white stone obelisk, was inaugurated by King Albert I on 1 August 1924. There is every year a ceremony on Anzac Day (25 April) in Mesen, in the presence of the Ambassador of New Zealand in Belgium. Since 1975, Mesen is twinned with the town of Featherstone in New Zeland, where there was a training camp during the First World War.
- the Mesen Ridge British Cemetery honours the remains of 1,503 soldiers (985 British, 322 Australians, 115 New Zealanders and 56 South Africans). Only 549 of them were identified. A Memorial shows the names of 840 New Zealanders lost or disappeared in Mesen and in the neighborhood.
- the Bethleem Farm East Cemetery is made of 43 graves, for 42 Australian and one British, who died in 1917. It is one of the smallest British War Cemeteries. From December 1914 to February 1915, a German caporal stayed in the Bethleem Farm, where he painted the abbey-church of Mesen. His name was Adolf Hitler. A copy of the painting is shown in the historical museum of Mesen.
- the Bethleem Farm West Cemetery contains 166 graves, for 114 Australians, 26 New Zealanders and 24 British. It contains also the grave of a British soldier killed near Mesen during the Second World War.
- the Peace Peal of Bells, located in the tower of the St. Nicholas' Church, was inaugurated in June 1986. It is made of 50 bells and plays every fifteen minutes. The first Peace Bell was blessed by Pope John Paul II in Ieper on 17 May 1985.
- the Japanese Peace Pole was inaugurated on 17 September 1989. It was offered by the Japanese Movement for Peace, with the following dedication: "May Peace Reign Over the Earth".
- the Irish Peace Memorial was funded by the Irish organization A Journey of Reconciliation Trust and built in 1998 by young people coming both from Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland. It was inaugurated on 11 November 1998 by the Irish president Mary MacAleese, Queen Elizabeth II of England and King Albert II of Belgium. The International School for Peace was inaugurated on 14 September 2001.

Source: Municipal website

Ivan Sache, 8 January 2004

Municipal flag of Mesen

The municipal flag of Mesen is blue with a white fleur-de-lis.
According to Gemeentewapens in België - Vlaanderen en Brussel, the flag was adopted by the Municipal Council on 23 March 1989, confirmed by the Executive of Flanders on 6 June 1989 and published in the Belgian official gazette on ? (the date given is 8 January 1989, most probably erroneous and to be replaced by 8 October 1989 or 8 January 1990).
The flag is a banner of the municipal arms, without the golden crown which tops the shield.

Ivan Sache, 6 February 2006