Visiting Halluin, France, and its Saint-Hilaire church: a neo-Gothic landmark in a border town
Visible symbol within deeply rooted, territorial psychologies
This French town in Nord department is situated on the border with Belgium. Halluin actually forms a conurbation with the Dutch-speaking, Belgian town of Menen in the Flemish Region. A local landmark, visible from the Belgian side of the border, is the spire of Saint-Hilaire church (Eglise Saint-Hilaire ), situated at place de l'Abbé Bonpain . (I have also included a photo, taken from the Belgian side of the border, of the skyline of Halluin, in which the spire of Saint-Hilaire church is just visible towards the centre of the picture.)
The current, neo-Gothic building known as Saint-Hilaire church dates from 1857; the principal building material is brick. Its architect was Charles Leroy (1816-1879), who was responsible for many church buildings in the north of France. Interestingly, as at Halluin, the church at Abeele, also by Leroy and situated in Nord department, the building is clearly visible from the Belgian border, a short distance away. Given that Belgium is traditionally less anti-clerical than France, the proximity of Belgium has played a significant role in religious life in the border areas of northern France.
Halluin was formerly noted for a Communist, strongly secularist, composition of its electorate. Particularly since the separation in France of church and state in 1905, funding for repairs to church buildings has been a perennial challenge. However, in recent years, the municipality of Halluin has proved willing to assist in the funding of significant expenses in the repair and restitution of features of Saint-Hilaire church, including its stained glass windows by Christian Chibout and Alexandra Giès.
Halluin and other towns in the border areas of the Nord department feature in the novels of Maxence Van Der Meersch (1907-1951), some of whose writings are informed by the theme of the 'worker-priest' movement, and by the powerful presence of the greater Flanders area.
Halluin is officially completely French-speaking, but it has a Dutch name: Halewijn. In turn, adjoining Menen, in Belgium, is officially completely Dutch-speaking, but its French name is Menin.
(1) It is interesting that in a major study of the Communist electorate of Halluin in the early 20th century (Michel Hastings, Halluin la rouge 1919-1939 , Lille: Presses universitaires de Lille, 1991) it has been suggested that the origin of such adherence was partly related to the fact that much of the urbanized workforce, of rural Flemish and Belgian origin, lacked roots in France and thereby sought a community support newtwork. This adds an intriguing aspect to the secular/clerical and Franco-Belgian, border paradigms which are deeply rooted leitmotive in this extremity of France.
Also worth seeing
In Halluin itself, the striking town hall (Hôtel de Ville ) on rue Marthe Nollet was formerly a private dwelling. The busiest shopping area of Halluin, also leading to the border with Belgium is on the rue de Lille. The Manoir aux loups (Wolves' manor) has a well-appointed arboretum. A 19th century windmill has been restored, which used to number one of five such structures in the town's vicinity.
Menen , Belgium (distance: 3.3 kilometres) has a noted Town Hall (Dutch: Stadhuis ) with an octagonal tower, various parts of which date from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.
How to get there: Brussels Airlines flies from New York to Brussels Airport (Brussel Nationaal / Bruxelles-National ), from where car rental is available. Brussels is the nearest large airport to Halluin (distance: 115 kilometres). The Belgian railroad company NMBS/SNCB maintains a service between Brussels and nearby Menen. For up to date information, please check with the airline or your travel agent. For any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities, please refer to appropriate consular sources.
MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada