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Visiting Sainte-Marguerite, Comines, France: rural hamlet with memories of the Crusades

Updated on June 23, 2011
Flag of France
Flag of France | Source
The Church of Sainte-Marguerite in the hamlet of Sainte-Marguerite, Comines, France
The Church of Sainte-Marguerite in the hamlet of Sainte-Marguerite, Comines, France | Source
Buchard de Comines, giant from Comines representing a lord who departed for the Crusades in 1099
Buchard de Comines, giant from Comines representing a lord who departed for the Crusades in 1099 | Source
The town of Comines (France) within its administrative 'arrondissement'
The town of Comines (France) within its administrative 'arrondissement' | Source

Ancient memories and waves of damage

The neo-Gothic church of Sainte-Marguerite shares a name (1) with a hamlet in northern France, belonging to the municipality of Comines. (Bear in mind, also, that there is a neighbouring town of Comines in Belgium.)

Plenty of history

This church building was begun in 1858 and inaugurated in 1864, during the French Second Empire, at a time when church building was a particularly common activity. The name of the local church square — Parvis de l'abbé Derveaux — recalls the first clergyman attached to the parish from 1864.

Damage resulting from World War One was restored in 1923.

However, the history of this church goes back much further. On the site of the existing church building was a chapel of Sainte-Marguerite. It is known that Franciscan monks would regularly preach at the former chapel of Sainte-Marguerite. A structure was built in 1606 (with previous damage having occurred during the 16th century Wars of Religion) but this was again badly damaged in 1792 and demolished in 1794 during the French Revolutionary period; however, woodwork from this chapel was salvaged and subsequently housed in a church in Tourcoing.

But it is also known that this chapel dated from the Crusades, as recalled by a local, 19th century archeological review (1). The lords of Wynhem were local patrons. Interestingly, since 1984 in a regular, local procession of costumed, Flemish giants, the character of Buchard de Comines has appeared, commemorating a local lord who departed on a Crusade in 1099. His folkloric re-emergence is striking (and in any case would be almost inconceivable in this form in the more secularized, urban areas of France such as the greater Paris area).

Geographical and psychological space

Sainte-Marguerite hamlet is actually within walking distance of Belgium — via the bridge over the Lys River in the town of Comines. We may remember also that the current border with Belgium was fixed only in the 19th century, and that the Kingdom of Belgium in any case dates from 1830.

I honestly struggle with the whole concept of the Crusades. But it is apparent in terms of historical memory that the psychological space occupied by this borderland hamlet, belonging to Comines, runs deep.

Notes

(1) There is also a local stream named Becque [a transliterated, Flemish word] de Sainte-Marguerite .

(2) Statistique archéologique du département du Nord , Première Partie, Lille & Paris: Commission historique du départment du Nord, 1867, p. 88.

Also worth seeing

Comines, France (distance: approx. 1 kilometre) has a Town Hall with a striking belfry. The grounds of its Saint-Chrysole church have a monument to Medieval chronicler and diplomat Philippe de Commynes.

...

How to get there: Brussels has the nearest large international airport to Comines. Brussels Airlines flies from New York to Brussels Airport (Brussel Nationaal / Bruxelles-National ), from where car rental is available. The Belgian railroad company SNCB maintains a service between Brussels and Comines/Komen, on the Belgian side, which is easily accessible from Comines-France. (There is also a less frequent public transit link to Sainte-Marguerite via Lille.) Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. Please 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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