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Visiting Marchipont, France: an 18th century church building & an historically variable border with Marchipont, Belgium

Updated on March 1, 2016
Flag of France
Flag of France | Source
Saint Nicolas's Church, Marchipont
Saint Nicolas's Church, Marchipont | Source
The church of Saint Nicolas of the hamlet of Marchipont which bears the date of its reconstruction (1718).
The church of Saint Nicolas of the hamlet of Marchipont which bears the date of its reconstruction (1718). | Source

In France, but only just

Bear in mind that there are two Marchiponts. One is in France and one is in Belgium. One belongs to the commune of Rombies-et-Marchipont; the other, to Hainaut province's Honnelles commune. Yet there they lie, side by side, one Marchipont in France and the other in Belgium.

They are separated by the river Aunelle. At least, this is what you call it when facing the Belgian Marchipont from the French one. If, on the other hand, you walk over the small bridge which separates the two Marchiponts, and turn round and face the French one, with your feet in Belgium, then it is also called the Anneau (1).

In the French Marchipont, a quaint little church building dedicated to Saint Nicholas stands a few metres from the border. Dating from 1718 (the year in which it is built is clearly visible in large, brick number), its execution in red brick is typical of many buildings for the region.

Records of a church building at Marchipont go back to the 13th century. Particularly following the Battle of Malplaquet, 1709, during the Wars of the Spanish Succession, the state of the building had greatly deteriorated. However, in 1718, the structure was rebuilt by two builders from nearby Angres, in what is now Belgium, but which by then was the Austrian Netherlands (2). A bell was added in 1742.

The French Revolution brought its share of upheavals, but in 1806 Napoleon attached Marchipont to the neighbouring French village of Rombies (the 200th anniversary of this event was commemorated in 2006 by the installation of stained glass windows).

World War Two came, and this is where is gets interesting (if also ghastly for unrelated reasons). In the period of fascist administration, it was decided that clergy from the Belgian diocese of Tournai would serve the Church of Saint Nicholas at Marchipont, which had previously been under the French Cambrai diocese. This arrangement lasted until 2002.

So, yes, the Aunelle river at Marchipont marks the border between France and Belgium. But as far as the church building in the French part of Marchipont is concerned, even until recently, the border has proved to be rather fluid from an ecclesiastical perspective (3).

Quite aptly, maybe, a tiny, brick building standing next to the Church of Saint Nicholas, which formerly housed a French customs post, has been disused for decades. So if they are in the area, nationals of European Union countries can cross the Aunelle — or the Anneau — from Marchipont to Marchipont and be undisturbed by customs officials, who for decades now have apparently found better things to do!

The commune of Rombies-et-Marchipont is situated in the Valenciennes arrondissement of France's Nord department.

March 1, 2016

Notes

(1) See also (in French): http://www.haut-pays.be/marchipont.php .

(2) See also (in French): http://www.sainte-maria-goretti.com/lreglise-saint-nicolas-marchipont.html

(3) In fact, such a state of affairs with church buildings along France's borderland is not so unusual. For example, at Abeele, also in the Nord department, a church building is situated in France, but very close to the border with Belgium, and it is to a Belgian diocese that the parish church is attached. Alsace was not covered by the provisions of the separation between church and state in 1905. In southern France, Beausoleil's parish church is attached to the Archdiocese of Monaco; the border with the Principality being situated nearby. While in principle the French state lays great stress on 'la Republique une et indivisible' (the one and indivisible Republic), yet along the border areas issues relating to church buildings and administration have regularly offered exceptions to this administrative concept.

Map location of Valenciennes 'arrondissement'
Map location of Valenciennes 'arrondissement' | Source

Also worth seeing

At Blanc-Misseron, Quiévrechain, Sacré-Cœur church was completed in 1894. Former mine workings at Quiévrechain have been extensively grassed over into attractive parkland.

Valenciennes (distance: 13 kilometres); sights include its City Hall with an ornate, 19th century frontage; the 16th century Maison espagnole; the Saint-Cordon Basilica, the Beaux-Arts museum; and many others.

...

How to get there: Brussels Airlines flies from New York to Brussels Airport (Brussel Nationaal / Bruxelles-National; distance to Marchipont, France: 97.2 kilometres) from where car rental is available. The Belgian railroad company SNCB / NMBS maintains a service between Brussels and the Belgian border town of Quiévrain (distance to Marchipont, France: 8.2 kilometres). Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. Please note that some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. You are advised to refer to appropriate consular sources for any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada

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