1902 Encyclopedia > Mechlin (or Malines), Belgium

Mechlin (or Malines)

MECHLIN, or MALINES, a city of Belgium, in the province of Antwerp, on the river Dyle, about 14 miles north of Brussels. The general aspect of the town, belted by a fine avenue of trees, with well-built houses, extensive gardens, and broad airy streets and squares of proverbial cleanliness, is pleasing to the eye ; there is, however, a lack of life and motion, a repose bordering on stagnation; and the area occupied by the town is much too extensive for the population. Mechlin was for many centuries, and is to this day, the religious metropolis of Flanders, and its monuments and curiosities are in general of a sacred description. Among the most remarkable is the cathedral church of St Rornbold or Rombaut, mainly built in the latter half of the 14th century ; the square massive tower, rising 300 feet high and bearing four dials, each 48 feet in diameter, is visible from al] the country round. The interior proportions of the edifice are grand, and it contains some fine works of art - statues of the apostles, standing against the pillars of the nave, Vandyck's picture of the Crucifixion, the Adoration of the Shepherds, by Erasmus Quellin, and others. The church of St John possesses a celebrated triptych of Rubens, and another by the same master is to be seen at Notre Dame. The "Halle" or market still retains some vestiges of the splendid palace raised on the site by Charles V. in 1530, and on the chief market-place is a monument erected to Margaret of Austria, daughter of the emperor Maximilian. Mechlin is an archiepiscopal see, occupied by a cardinal, primate of Belgium, driving his spiritual power from Rome, and quite independent of (at times even openly opposed to) the civil Government. His palace is the headquarters of the Catholic party, and the seat of considerable moral and political influence extending over every parish in the land ; the university of Louvain, the Catholic schools, more than four thousand in number, and the great seminary of Mechlin, the nursery of the Belgian priesthood, are entirely under the direction of the archbishop. The industrial activity of the town, formerly very great, has constantly decreased in the present century, and is now almost extinct. The important corporation of weavers was scattered by the political troubles of the 15th and 16th centuries ; and the lace trade has gradually been transferred to Brussels and other towns. There still exist a few special manufactures, those of carved oak furniture, straw chairs, and wool and linen tissues being among the foremost ; some tanyards and breweries are also to be found, and the means of communication furnished by the Dyle supply a tolerably brisk market in corn, oils, flax, hemp, and hops. As a railway station Mechlin possesses peculiar importance, being a junction of the chief Belgian Government lines and the great central workshop for constructing and repairing the rolling-stock. The population of Mechlin in 1880 was 42,381.

Mechlin appears to have been about the 8th century a mere group of cabins surrounding a noted monastery where St Rombaut, now the patron saint of the town, suffered martyrdom on the 24th of June 775. After having belonged to the first Frankish monarchs, it was given by Pippin the Little to his relative Mon, and passed, at the commencement of the 10th century, under the dominion of the bishops of Liege, in whose name it was governed by the powerful house of Berthold until the year 1333. When this family became extinct, Mechlin and the surrounding district were divided in two portions and sold by the bishops to the duke of Brabant and the count of Flanders, the former of whom, ten years later, once more united the whole territory under his own sway. By the marriage of Margaret of Brabant with Philip the Bold, Mechlin was brought under the sceptre of the house of Burgundy, whose fate it shared from that time. Stormed by the French in 1572, by the prince of Orange in 1578, by the English in 1580, the town suffered much during the wars of the 17th and 18th centuries. Napoleon I. had its fortifications razed in 1804, and made it the capital of the French "Departement des deux Nethes " until 1814, when it was comprised in the kingdom of the Netherlands, and it finally became part of Belgium in 1830.

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