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6The Church of Sainte Elisabeth
The hunt for the dragon begins in the Castle Gardens, which offer a magnificent panorama of the city!
The 87 metre high Mons belfry, recognised by Unesco in 1999, is the only baroque belfry in Belgium. It is built of brick and bluestone and has 49 bells, the oldest of which dates from 1673. The chimes, together with a mechanical drum, set the daily rhythm of life in Mons: if you listen, you will hear a different tune every quarter of an hour. Concerts are also given in the high season and on commemorative or festive occasions, including of course the Ducasse, when the city streets echo to the joyful Doudou tune. Go down from the Gardens by the slope leading up to the Castle. At the foot of the slope, you will see the Youth Hostel on your left. Take the Rue des Clercs, on your right, and head for the Collegiate Church of Saint-Waudru.
For further information, please go to www.beffroi.mons.be .
It is here in the Collegiate Church of Saint-Waudru that the Ducasse ritual begins on Trinity Saturday evening. The Descent of the Shrine is the first event in the festival.
The shrine containing the saint’s relics is displayed throughout the year above the altar in the choir of the Church. In 1250, in order to facilitate access to the relics for the large numbers of the faithful, the head was separate from the body. The head is in the first chapel in the south aisle. The shrouds in which the saint’s relics were previously wrapped are now kept in the Church treasury. Under the organ, a short film presents the descent of the shrine and the procession. The Car d’Or is kept nearby in the north aisle.
Trumpet fanfares, kettle drums and organs resound in the Church marking the start of the solemn ceremony during which the Dean hands over the relics of Sainte Waudru to the Mayor so that they can be taken in procession through the city streets. Traditionally, this procession of the saint’s relics originates from a procession organised in 1349 to ward off the Plague that was afflicting Europe at the time. The current ceremony, an event of pomp and fervour in Mons, was only established in 1962! At the end, the Doudou tune resounds in the Church to cheers and applause from believers and non-believers alike. On leaving the Church, head for the foot of the Rampe Sainte-Waudru and note how steep it is.
For further information, please go to www.waudru.be .
On Sunday morning the shrine of Sainte Waudru is placed on the Car d’Or, a dray cart dating from the 17th century and drawn by six horses. More than 1,800 participants, representatives of the ancient guilds and brotherhoods of Mons walk through the city. When the Procession is over the Shrine is taken back to the Church. Then comes the uphill climb of the Car d’Or. This key part of the Ducasse marks the transition from the religious nature of the event to the secular. Perched at windows and on roofs, the crowd masses together to share this unique moment so full of emotion. Shouts go up and amid general enthusiasm thousands of hands push the Car d’Or on to the Rampe Sainte-Waudru. There is much at stake: legend has it that it must climb the slope in one go or the city will suffer misfortune. In just 20 seconds, the Car d’Or is at the top and the crowd moves off to witness the battle.
Retrace your steps to the Rue des Clercs.
Once the Car d’Or has completed the climb, the breathless crowd watches from the Rue des Clercs for the arrival of the dragon. At 12.25 pm, the belfry bells begin to ring out the Doudou tune, followed by the first gunshot from the fire brigade. Drums and fanfares sound, announcing the imminent battle. Urged on by the spectators, Saint George drags the dragon towards the Grand-Place. During this process, the spectators and members of the procession, who are the chin-chins, a sort of “dog-horse”, and loyal companions of Saint George, and the devils and leaf men, the dragon’s accomplices, challenge each other, while the excitable dragon twists and turns in the hands of the white men and sends the first “unsuccessful” flick of its tail towards the crowd. The observant passer-by will see a sign depicting the “chin-chins” at number 15 Rue des Clercs.
Go down the Rue des Clercs and stop on the Grand-Place, opposite the Hôtel de Ville.
The relics of Sainte Waudru are hardly back in the Church before Saint George prepares to confront the dragon. On the Grand-Place, thousands of people are assembled round the sand-filled arena, keen to snatch the lucky mane of hair at the end of the beast’s tail. Excitement and enthusiasm rise in the crowd, while the bravest among them jostle each other for the best view of the battle. At the end of the carefully choreographed movements, the dragon, symbol of disorder, is brought to the ground by Saint George, who finishes by re-establishing order. The enthusiastic crowd then chants “And the citizens of Mons are saved!”. The future of the city is assured…until the following year.
Since the 1970s, the battle has been played out in precise steps, under the watchful eye of the team responsible for directing it. On the following Sunday, the Petit Lumeçon takes place on the Grand-Place. Thousands of children come together to re-enact the famous battle, in an exceptional event produced by children for children, the origins of which date back to the early 20th century. Through this event and in other ways, children are at the heart of the passing on of tradition recognised by Unesco in the Mons Ducasse ritual.
A number of features on the Grand-Place evoke this confrontation. The internationally renowned artist Gérard Garouste immortalised the pair in a bronze sculpture on the right-hand steps of the Hôtel de Ville. In the centre of the Grand-Place, a stone circle symbolises the battle arena and the municipalities that make up Greater Mons. To the left of the Hôtel de Ville is Saint George’s chapel, where the saint’s relics were kept until the French Revolution. Originally, in homage to the saint, the battle took place in this chapel.
Now cross the Grand-Place and take the Rue de Nimy, on your right, as far as the Church of Sainte Elisabeth.
6The Church of Sainte Elisabeth
The Church of Sainte Elisabeth (18th century) near the Grand-Place houses the relics of the protagonist in the battle known as the Lumeçon: the knight Saint George. This martyr from Cappadocia (a region in present-day Turkey), who probably lived in the 4th century, inspired a universal legend that has grown over the centuries, spreading to the four corners of the world and acquiring different meanings. In the 13th century, the legend was related by the chronicler and Archbishop Jacques de Voragine in “The Golden Legend”. In this tale, Saint George confronts a dragon that has come to attack the city. In Mons, it was not until the 14th century that the first traces are found of a story which continues to evolve to this day. Helped by various supporters and encouraged by the citizens of Mons, the knight fights the dragon and saves the city from danger. He remains today a figure symbolic of the city of Mons.
The shrine of Saint George is kept throughout the year (except during the Ducasse) in a chapel near the choir (sixth chapel from the door on the right). Saint George’s three lances are also displayed there.
Retrace your steps and go through to the Hôtel de Ville courtyard. Take the underground passage leading to the Mayor’s Garden. Go past the Ropieur statue and turn right to face the former Mont-de-Piété building.
In order to raise awareness of its rich heritage among citizens and visitors, in 2015 the City of Mons plans to open the “Doudou Museum”, devoted to the Ducasse ritual and the legend of Saint George. The aim of the museum is to understand and explain the various aspects of this centuries-old, universal story. The theme of Saint George and the dragon, part reality and part imagined, will be the leitmotif of the walk-through experience. The rooms will contain items from collections in Mons and various technical installations. The “Doudou Museum” will be housed in a former Mont-de-Piété, built in 1625 and currently being renovated. This building was originally the office of the “charity bank”, offering monetary loans in exchange for the loan of personal items. For further information, please go to www.museedudoudou.mons.be .