The Dragons of Saint Ghislain, Belgium

(Selections translated from L’Histoire de la ville de Saint Ghislain (1737). Originally posted on Patreon in April 2021).

[Title page]. History of the Town of Saint Ghislain.

Containing everything of utmost interest that happened since its beginning. The list of Abbots & their principle deeds, with an ample description of its Sieges, its Ruins, its Reestablishments, its Foundations, & other very-surprising Events.

By the Lord G. J. De Boussu, Ecuyer.

[Page 63, concerning the years 1078-1081]

[A former Abbot] died, according to the Chronicles of the Monastery, on the 1st of April 1081. He had for his successor Oduin, who led an Angelic life. During the eleven to twelve years he occupied the Prelature, we see monks applying themselves to the study of the Holy literature and instructing the people of the holy Mysteries of the Catholic Religion. They succored the Sick in their infirmities, the Poor in their needs, and they did not cease to edify one and all by their example as well as their discourse.

The inhabitants of this Township were finding in this some relief and comfort when, in the year 1094, the Land was infected by a Pestilential air that carried away two thirds of the People.

This plague was accompanied by a frightful horror caused by the sight of a fire Dragon that appeared on the first of August. This Phenomenon was seen flying through the air and spreading terror everywhere, according to the report of the author of the Chronicles of Lobbes: one would have said that this mass of fire was going to launch itself on several Townships to reduce them to cinders. Alas! in these moments of affliction when our conscience opens our eyes, how many frightened people threw themselves into the arms of the Religious Saints to reconcile themselves to God? But a discussion on morality is not the style of this chronicle.

[Page 66, concerning the years 1112-1133:]

Historians note nothing in particular happening in this little Township, nor in its environs, until the year 1133, memorable for the remarkable victory Gilles de Chin won against a raging Dragon that occupied a cave near Wasmes, a Village a half league from St. Ghislain of which the Abbot is the spiritual and temporal Lord. This generous Knight was of the house of Berlaimont. Every Historian has made mention of this perilous combat. It is reported rather briefly in the History of Mons but given better details and context in the history of Notre Dame de Wasmes. The register of the Convent also makes mention of it under the Authority of the Venerable Oduin of the second of this name. This tale is too relevant to the history [of the Township and Monastery St. Ghislain] to not insert it here, even more so that this generous Soldier is buried in the Monastery of St. Ghislain to which he gave great gifts.

What follows is the depiction of this combat reported in these cited works.

An appalling Beast, a Monster of enormous size was ravaging the Land, and rendering it desolate by its insatiable hunger and its terrible roars. The Monster would not leave the cavity that is still seen at Wasmes except to dart out and pin Beasts or Travelers to make them its prey by devouring them with a mouth foaming with blood and rage. Everyone fled its environs; the Land was gripped by the most bitter fear, when a valorous Knight named Gilles de Chin, Chamberlain to Bauduin VI the Count of Hainaut, resolved to fight this carnivorous Monster.

After securing the Count’s agreement, Gilles de Chin prepared himself with prayer and fasting in order that Heaven might bless his enterprise. He armed his Servants most skilled with the lance. He had a machine of war made of an admirable height, and after having trained his Hounds & his Horses in manège and to fight against an inanimate figure, he left Mons with his little troop to go fight this monstrous beast who had the similitude of a Dragon. He passed near the Chapel of Notre Dame de Wasmes. There, he entered, and, after having prostrated himself at the foot of its Altar while asking for Heaven’s aid, he left full of confidence and marched with haste to the awful den where this cruel monster had its retreat. He did not search for it long: this Beast scented him from afar off. At the sight of this little troop of Knights, it leaves its hole, and, with rapid flight, heads straight for them to make of them an appalling carnage.

Already its eyes are full of fire, shining bright with anger. Already the open mouth armed with horrible teeth seems to present an abyss that is about to bury these courageous Champions in its starving entrails. But these Knights’ demeanor terrifies it. The Monster falters. It back-wings, it surges with rage, it beats its wings, it retreats, it endeavors to surprise the troop: it spins around. Chin approaches, the Beast spears him with a horrible look and comes at him. The combat commences; the Monster is rebuffed. In its wrath, it strikes the earth with powerful blows of its massive tail. It returns to the charge, it launches itself with fury on the troop. It kills instantly several Dogs, knocks several Horses to the ground: victory hangs in a balance, Gilles de Chin lifts his eyes to Heaven, he calls the Holy Virgin to his aid, & in this same moment, alive with a new courage, he buries his lance in the open mouth of this Monster descending on him, & strikes so hard that the lance pierces its throat from skin to skin–all the way through. The vanquished Dragon falls, and amidst its dreadful roars, it expires in its own blood.

Noise of this victory spread everywhere immediately; the count Bauduin felt a joy at the news equal to the worry he had felt by the uncertainty of this dangerous enterprise’s success. He went to see the field of Battle, he embraced the Vanquisher and had the frightful Dragon brought to Mons, the sight of which–even dead–still provoked terror.

The head of this Monster is preserved with care in the Treasury of the Maps of the Country, and is shown to curious visitors. In gratitude for this remarkable victory, Gilles de Chin took it upon himself to adorn the Chapel of Notre-Dame de Wasmes & presented it with several beautiful gifts. He engaged the People to reestablish themselves in this area & gave them the communes & the neighboring woods; & after having filled to overflowing these Inhabitants with a thousand other good deeds, he went to find death at the siege of Roucourt where he was killed by lance strike while fighting valiantly in the year 1137. His body was brought back to the Church of Saint Ghislain where he was buried.

A Mausoleum of black marble was raised on his sepulcher on which he is represented lying armed with his powerful weapons of the most exquisite workmanship. He bears on his left arm an escutcheon which carries this inscription:

Here lies Messire Gilles de Chin Chamberlain of Haynau Lord of Berlaimont as well as of Chièvres & of Sars by way of his Wife Lady Idon : Personage worthy of memory as much for his zeal in the service of God as for his valor in weaponry, who, aided by the Virgin, killed a Dragon that was wreaking great destruction in the territory of Wasmes. He was at last killed at Roullecourt in the year 1137.  And here buried, having given great Goods to this house in the Village called Wasmes. Requiescat in pace. [Rest in Peace, Latin].

If you’ve enjoyed this series of folklore translations and would like to support my further translation endeavors, please feel free to support my work on Patreon.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: