THE TEMPLARS ESTATE IN WAVRE
In 1128, Count William of Flanders donated land to the Order of the Knights Templar.
A few years later in 1139, this example was followed by the Count of Henegouwen and in 1142 by the Duke of Brabant.
During the Crusades in the Holy Land, these nobles had enjoyed the help of the Knights Templar, and, upon their return, they expressed their appreciation with gifts of land.
The oldest document mentioning the establishment of the Templar Commandry in Wavre is a papal bull from Pope Lucius III, dating from 1181-1183, giving his approval for its foundation. The estate is made up of "15 manses (surface area measurement) of land to be farmed” together with the meadows and marshes extending to the river Lasne.
What is meant by “land to be farmed”? It was principally “work of a financial nature”. Although the Templars never held many possessions, they always tried to establish properties from which they could manage their financial affairs i.e the collection of money and bills of exchange owed to them. The Order of the Templars became the first international banking organisation. Their money was collected in the West and used to maintain the armies protecting the Holy Land.
Their second activity was, of course, the farming of their land, which was also the role of many abbeys at that time.
According to the rules of the Order, another activity was military and religious by nature. In fact, the Knights Templar were known as being both monks and soldiers.
Their great devotion to the Virgin Mary certainly contributed to their choosing a location not far from the pilgrim site of Basse-Wavre, dedicated to Mary. Situated at the edge of the large forest and along the road to Brussels, the farm was able to offer lodging to pilgrims and travellers and afford them safety on the dangerous roads of the time.
In 1312, under pressure from the French King Phillipe IV, Pope Clement V suppressed the Order of the Templars. The Wavre farm, together with all other Templar possessions, was transferred to the Order of the Knights of Malta.
During the Wars of Religion, in the second half of the 16th century, the farm came under the protection of Don Juan of Austria and his lieutenant, Farnese, Duke of Parma. However, vandalism from soldiers still took place.
Under Louis XIV, more than 3,000 French soldiers camped in the area surrounding the farm, slaughtering the livestock for food and burning all the wood for fuel! The farmer had his entire holding plundered.
In 1768, during the rebuilding of the road to Brussels, which ran through their estate, the Templars farm lost over 2 hectares of land. Not long after, the farmstead was partially destroyed by fire.
During the French Revolution, all church orders were suppressed and the farm of the “ci-devant Ordre de Malte” was sold off in 1796.
There has been no agriculture on the farm since 1952, at which time the farmstead became a country house.
The farmstead and its land are situated on a wide plain fanning out to the East of the farm. The soil here contains much clay, suitable for cereal crops and sugar beet.
To the West, the plain descends into a deep and marshy valley extending down to the river Lasne. It was in this valley that the monks built their fish ponds.
This is the oldest building on the farm: 8.50m long – 6.30m wide. Above the clock tower, one can see the Maltese Cross and a cockerel.
The chapel has five gothic windows, finished in blue stone. The entrance is on the left.
Above it, are the coats of arms of the Commander of Chantraine and of Jérôme de Homblières, both of the Order of Malta. Remnants of the coat of arms of the Commander Pierre de la Fontaine are also visible.
In the 18th century, a Carmelite friar came three times a week from the Wavre friary to celebrate mass.
In 1799, during the French Revolution, the chapel was sold off and fell into disrepair but was restored in around 1930. The middle stained-glass window bears the image of Our Lady with the baby Jesus with, on the right, St. Hubertus and, on the left, St. Eloi.
It is a typical triangular-shaped Brabant farmstead. Above the entrance gate, one can see the coat of arms of the Commander of Chantraine.
On the left of the interior courtyard are the residential quarters, completely independent of the other buildings. On the other side, in the longest part, there was accommodation for some 200 sheep and some pigs and calves. There were also stables for 18 horses and 16 cattle.
The granary was located in the smallest building. We can therefore conclude that these buildings all went to make up a substantial and busy farmstead.
The sergeant's house
Near the farmstead and the chapel is the house of the estate sergeant. Dating from 1739, it has no upper floor and consists of a kitchen, a bedroom, a stable and an attic.
For the town of Wavre, the Templars farm provides evidence of its important past.
The well-maintained farm buildings are well worth visiting both for their aesthetic value and their historic importance. The surrounding woods and meadows and the picturesque banks of the Lasne not only add to the attraction of the property but are of great importance as a ‘green lung’ in the area.