A mural of Princess Theophanu in Wichelen, painted for the commemoration, Source: Heemkring Wichelen on Facebook

Belgian town celebrates being a dowry gift 1050 years ago

Belgian town celebrates being a dowry gift 1050 years ago

The town of Wichelen was given to the Byzantine princess Theophanu marking the first time it was mentioned in a historic document

A small town in Belgium called Wichelen is getting ready to kick off a month-long commemoration of the Holy Roman Empress Theophanu. The event is organised by the local historical society, Heemkring Wichelen, and it marks the year the Byzantine Princess married the Holy Roman Emperor Otto II.

Wichelen, along with a host of other territories were given to Empress Theophanu as a dowry, according to the 972 marriage certificate, which is remarkably well preserved, considering its age. Thus, the municipality would mark the 1050-year anniversary of the royal marriage.

Furthermore, this is the first time the town of just 11,000 people is mentioned in a historical document and according to representatives of the historical society, it could also be considered an anniversary of the town itself.

Days future and days past

The one-month celebration in the small Belgian municipality will attract some world-class guests and lecturers throughout its programme. On 19 August, for example, Dirk Callebaut, who spearheaded the initiative and also helped uncover early Medieval ruins in the area will give a lecture on local history.

Then, next Friday, 26 August, Herman Van Rompuy, the Honorary President of the European Council, will also come to Wichelen, to help present a book based on local history, especially in light of Empress Theophanu. Van Rompuy is the chair of the advisory board of the Empress Theophanu Foundation, based in Thessaloniki, Greece.

The book presentation itself will be accompanied by an exhibition of historic artefacts and a traditional local food, dress and music festival, to help immerse visitors into the historic atmosphere. Additionally, on 17 September, a quartet performing classical Byzantine chants called Gospodi will also make an appearance.

A look into the history

On 14 April 972, the 12-year-old Byzantine princess Theophanu married 17-year-old German Emperor Otto II at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. There, she was given a gold and purple-decorated marriage certificate, exceptionally well preserved to this day.

It describes Theophanu's particularly rich dowry, including prestigious domains in Italy, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium. According to official sources, the part about Belgium reads as follows:

Across the Alps (Theophanu gets) the areas of Walcheren, Wichelen with the abbey of Nivelles, with the associated fourteen thousand farms.”

Nivelles was one of the most famous monasteries in the early Middle Ages and it came under the direct authority of the Holy Roman Emperor in the 10th century, which is why the princess got it as a dowry.

The Empress died in 991 and was buried in Saint Pantaleon's Church in Cologne, a religious site she helped sponsor for its expansion. Now, every 15 June, religious figures St Pantaleon hold masses to commemorate her.



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