In 2018, Malmedy is going to celebrate 1370 years of its foundation, which began in 648 with the building of a Benedictine monastery. In fact, of a double-monastery – that of Malmunderio/Malmedy and Stabelaco/Stavelot. The Frankish King Sigebert III, ruler of Austrasia and next to the last Merovingian king, granted part of his property in the Ardennes to the Aquitanian Abbot Remacle with the commission to build a monastery in the heart of the forest.
The two monasteries not only belonged later to different dioceses, but they were also in a constant rivalry. That in Stavelot obtained the relics of its founder, meanwhile canonized, while in Malmedy (whose monastery was erected on the demolished by Remacle Diana sanctuary) were in the 9th century translated the relics of Saint Quirinus – a priest and martyr, who was beheaded during the reign of Emperor Domitian. The Saint was known for setting free the place he was in charge of (Vexin in France) from the local dragon. The authenticity of that personality or of the whole story about the saint is very disputable and unproved, though Malmedy bears in its coat of arms the figure of a dragon to this very day.
There are legends about at least 8 other saints (excluding the most popular Saint George) slaying a dragon – in Italy, France, and other countries, from the first to the sixth century. Either the collective unconscious (since the dragon is perceived as a symbol of the paganism defeated by the Christianity through the miraculous hands of a Christian priest, obligatory a saint) had spread these conceptions through the legends and myths, or there were really too many dragons on Earth at the dawn of Christianity.
However, Malmedy and Stavelot formed together in 1146 an independent principality in the Holy Roman Empire within and have never fallen under foreign domination until the French Revolution.
After in 1689 the French troops burned down a major part of the town along with the monastery, it was not until almost a century later (in 1784) that Benedictine monks managed to erect a new church, dedicated to the Saints Peter, Paul, and Quirinus. In 1796, the French revolutionary army banished the Benedictines and the church began to serve as a stable until the prominent local leather manufacturer Henri Steinbach (see below) bought it out and used it as a storehouse and a carpenter’s shop. As late as 1818, it became a municipal property and in 1819, it was declared the parish church of the town.
The marble high altar dates from 1877. On the wall behind is a stuccowork with the scene of the Assumption of Mary.
The side altars came from the demolished in 1822 Parish Church of St. Gedeon. That with Mary and Jesus is attributed to Jean Del Cour – pupil of Bernini himself.
The pulpit from 1770.
The organ from 1780.
Here is Saint Quirinus with the dragon on a leash. He holds in hand his skullcap as a symbol of his martyrdom. The shrine with his relics dates from 1698.
With the end of the reign of Napoleon in 1815, Malmedy fell into a possession of Prussia and as late as 1919, after the Treaty of Versailles, with a short interruption in 1940-1945 when it was added to Germany, the town passed into German territory, along with the German-speaking towns of Eupen and of St. Vith.
I am listing this chain of events only to go to the point when I have to say something about Belgium as a land and a state. It is founded in 1830 as a buffer state between France and Prussia. Today it is divided into two administrative regions – the Walloon Region, which is supposed to be French-speaking, but that is not quite so, because the Walloon language is a regional language that varies in every single Walloon town; and the Flemish Region, which is supposed to be Dutch-speaking, but that is not quite so, because the Flemish language is a regional language that varies in every single Flemish town. Besides, in the Walloon Region (Malmedy belongs to it, although the town’s population is mixed lingual and in 1900, the Walloon-speaking were a minority. Yet today only 5% of the residents are German-speaking) is included the German-speaking population, which counts about 80 thousand people and its main towns are Eupen and St. Vith. So, the official languages in Belgium are three. This, of course, is not always observed, even by the administration, and the German-speaking community, in view of its history and culture, remains a bit isolated in its own country. They are somewhat of a „detached nation“ – they watch German television (broadcast from Germany), prefer to take a walk in the neighboring Germany, rather than familiarize with their ‘motherland’, go on holiday in German-speaking resorts like South Tyrol, for example. (Yet at the same time, they speak among themselves a dialect that many Germans, depending on where they live, can’t understand.)
That is understandable to some extent. According to my observations, in many places of interests in Belgium, there is tourist information in three languages – French, Dutch, and English. Not in German. Thus, the English-speaking are more privileged than the German-speaking in their own home, although this is one of the three official languages of the country.
I continue with Malmedy:
At “Place de Rome” stands one of the three music pavilions in town used as a concert stage. It dates from 1922. You can see the coat of arms with the dragon of Saint Quirinus above.
Behind is “Maison Cavens”, a building that was constructed by Jean-Hubert Cavens in 1930 as an orphanage. Today it houses the public library and the two museums in town.
A monument of the Мaecenas and philanthropist Jean-Hubert Cavens, who gave away a major part of his wealth to the needy.
On Rue Jules Steinbach/Jules Steinbach Street. Jules Steinbach was a grandson of Henri, whom I mentioned above. Not only that he built the edifice that today houses the town hall (on that same street), but in 1901, he also built Villa Lang for his daughter Juliette who married in 1902 the leather manufacturer Hubert Lang, whose name the villa took (what a patriarchy – almost incredible to me when it comes to Western Europe).
Today it houses the Court and the Civil registry.
Behind Villa Lang, there is Villa Steisel – built in 1897 for the other daughter of Steinbach, Laure, who married Louis Steisel, founder of a paper-mill.
In 1928, Steisel sold the villa to the Belgian National Bank, which was its owner until 1956. Between 1976 and 2005, the Police Office of Malmedy was housed here.
One last image of Malmedy, again of a building on Jules Steinbach Street – a house with a dragon weather-vane.