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Gistel (Municipality, Province of West Flanders, Belgium)

Last modified: 2019-07-30 by ivan sache
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[Flag of Gistel]

Municipal flag of Gistel - Image by Arnaud Leroy, 21 July 2005

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Presentation of Gistel

The municipality of Gistel (11,170 inhabitants on 1 July 2007; 4,225 ha) is located 10 km south-east of Ostend and 20 km south-west of Bruges, in the middle of the polders of West Flanders. The municipality of Gistel is made since 1976 of the former municipalities of Gistel, Moere, Snaaskerke and Zevecote.
Gistel is mostly known for its patron saint, St. Godelive, its mill and its most famous citizen, the cyclist Johan Museeuw, aka the Flemish Lion or the Gistel Lion.

Gistel is the cradle of the veneration for St. Godelieve, one of the most revered saints in Flanders and the north of France. Godelieve was born in the second halfth of the XIth century in a noble family from the County of Boulogne. She married Bertolt (aka Bertulf), lord of Gistel in a marriage of convenience. Godelieve was refined and well-educated, whereas Bertolt was a rough guy, and the marriage turned wrong. The husband remained absent during the three days of the marriage celebration. Godelieve lived in loneliness and humiliation since Bertold did not care at all for her. He lived in his own castle and exiled her wife to his mother's domain, where she was sheltered in a farm by the villagers. Her condition there was worst than a maid-servant. Godelieve escaped and came back to her parents, who complained at the Bishop of Tournai and the Count of Flanders. Bertolt was ordered to take her back and to behave correctly with her. Bertolt put on an "accident" during a short trip to Bruges: on 6 July 1070, Godelieve was strangled by Bertolt's henchmen and her body was thrown down into a well. Godelieve was eventually buried in the chapel of Bertolt's castle. Bertolt remarried and his second wife got a blind daughter named Edith. Thirteen years later, the second wife died and was buried in the chapel near Godelieve's tomb. Edith entered secretely the chapel, kneeled down on one of the two tombs and implored to recover her sight. After the miracle, she could see that she had kneeled down on Godelieve's tombstone. When told the miracle, Bertold put on a penitence habit, repented and did several pilgrimages, after which he retired in a monastery until his death.
Drogo, monk at the former St. Winnok abbey in Bergues, wrote her biography, Vita Godeliph. Drogo's work was the base of the canonization of Godelieve, proclaimed by Radout II, Bishop of Tournai-Noyon, on 30 July 1084.

The tradition says that Edith founded the women's monastery of Putte (in Dutch, put means well) on the place of Godelieve's martyrdom. The abbey was sacked by the Protestants (Geuzen) in 1578 and a new monastery was built inside the city of Bruges. A priory was reconstituted in Gistel in 1891 and conferred the rank of abbey (Abdij ten Putte) on 8 November 1934. The St. Godelieve's Museum was opened in the abbey in June 1987.

The procession celebrating St. Godelieve (Godelieveprocessie) takes place every year in July since (at least) 1459. The modern procession, managed by Frans Vroman, requires dozens of actors and floats playing the life, martyrdom and miracles of the saint. The scenography of the procession was completely revamped in 2000-2001 by the artist Mon Camelbeke, from Ieper.
There are several Flemish sayings associated with Godelieve's day (30 July):
Als het op St. Godelieve regent, zal het zes weken lang duren(Rain on Godelieve's day shall last for six weeks).
Regen op St. Godelievens feest, water binnen zes weken het meest (Rain on Godelieve's fest, water mostly for six weeks).
Als het op St. Godelieve regent, vult zij haar putje voor 40 dagen (Rain on Godelieve's fest fills her well for 40 days).
Als het op St. Godelieve regent, de Heer de groentetuinen zegent (Rain on Godelieve's Day, the Lord is blessing the vegetable gardens).
Godelieve is also invoked against fever and neck pain (because of her martyrdom).

The Oostmolen (Eastern mill) is one of the oldest mills in West Flanders, already mentioned in 1302. It is pictured on the map made by Jacob Van Deventer (ca. 1659-1573) as well as on Sanderus' encarved plate (1641). The modern mill dates from the XVIIIth century and is shown on Ferraris' map (1770-1778). It is a typical Flemish stick-mill (staakmolen), used in the past both for flour and oil production. The mill was stopped in 1934 and purchased in 1971 from the Ronse family by the municipality of Gistel. After a blaze in 1979, the mill was revamped and inaugurated on 19 May 1984.

The Belgian cyclist Jan Museeuw (b. 1965) is known as the Lion of Gistel, the place where he lives and ended his career on 2 April 2004 during the Gistel Rally. During his career (1988-2004), Museeuw was Champion of the World (Lugano, 1996), won twice the UCI World Cup (1995-1996), was twice Champion of Belgium (1992, 1996), won three times the Tour of Flanders (1993, 1995, 1998), three times Paris-Roubaix (1996, 2000, 2002), Paris-Tours (1993), the Amstel Gold Race (1994), the Het Volk (2000), two stages of the Tour de France (1990), and many other races.

Source: Municipal website

Ivan Sache, 21 July 2005

Municipal flag of Gistel

The municipal flag of Gistel is red with a white chevron of ermine.
According to Gemeentewapens in België - Vlaanderen en Brussel, the flag was adopted by the Municipal Council on 30 August 1984, confirmed by the Executive of Flanders on 3 December 1984 and published in the Belgian official gazette on 8 July 1986.
The flag is a banner of the municipal arms.

According to Servais, Gistel used the same arms before the municipal fusion, whereas the former municipality of Moere used nearly identical arms, "Gules a chevron argent".

The banner of arms of Gistel reuses the old arms of the lords of Gistel, then written Ghistelles. This was a powerful family with several possessions all over Flanders and Artois, allied to the other most famous families of the time.
The EarlyBlazon website shows the arms of Gautier de Ghistelles, who took part to the battle of Bouvines (1214) and to the Fifth Crusade, as "Gules a chevron argent", with the following comment: "Chamberlain of the Count of Flanders. The Ghistelles' coat of arms is known to be "Gules a chevron ermine" (Walford's Roll). But on a seal dated 1237 the chevron is plain."

The Gelre Armorial has six entries for "Ghistelles":
- "Gules a chevron ermine" for Jean VI, lord of Ghistelles (Die Hne v. Gistele, #930, folio 80r);
- "Gules a chevron ermine (Ghistelles) three cross moline shadowed" for Jean de Ghistelles, lord of Nevele (Die v. Nevel, #939, folio 80v);
- "Gules a chevron or" for Sohier de Ghistelles, lord of Herzele (Die He. v. Haerzele, #965, folio 81v) - today the arms and banner of arms of the municipality of Herzele.
- "Gules a chevron ermines (Ghistelle) three mullets argent" for Gérard de Ghistelles, lord of Hekelsbecke (Heckelsbeec, #1009, folio 82v) - in 1299, Beatrix d'Esquelbecq married Gauthier de Ghistelles; the today's municipality of Esquelbecq, located near Dunkirk in the north of France, uses "or a chevron azure three mullets gules" as its municipal arms;
- "Quarterly, I and IV gules a chevron ermine (Ghistelles), II and III barruly argent and azure eight pieces a lion gules crowned or (Luxembourg)" for Jean de Ghistelles (H. Jan v. Ghistelles, #1074, folio 85r) - Jean III de Ghistelles (d. c. 1315) married Marguerite de Luxembourg in 1289; their son Jean de Ghistelles was killed in 1346 during the battle of Crécy
- "Quarterly, I and IV gules a chevron ermine (Ghistelles), II and III barruly argent and azure eight pieces..." [unfinished] for Jean de Ghistelles (H. Jan v. Gistele, #1537, folio 106v).

The Heraldus website shows the arms of the branch of Le Rœulx of the Ghistelles family, founded by the marriage of Louise de Ghistelles with Eustache de Croÿ, as "gules a chevron ermine three mullets argent".
In the XIVth century, Marie de Ghistelles married Louis, the illegitimate son of Count of Flanders Louis de Mâle. The British Museum has a mazer (drinking bowl made of wood) with cover, showing the shields of Flanders and Ghistelles combined, a probable reference to the marriage.
Philippe-Alexandre-Emmanuel-François-Jospeh de Ghistelles (d. 1808) was made Prince of Ghistelles by Empress Maria-Theresia on 6 August 1760.

Arnaud Leroy, Pascal Vagnat & Ivan Sache, 7 July 2007