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Courtrai

COURTRAI (Flemish, Kortryk), an important and once famous town of West Flanders, Belgium, situated on the Lys. Pop. (1904) 34,564. It is now best known for its fine linen, which ranks with that of Larne. The lace factories are also important and employ 5000 hands. But considerable as is the prosperity of modern Courtrai it is but a shadow of what it was in the middle ages during the halcyon period of the Flemish communes. Then Courtrai had a population of 200,000, now it is little over a sixth of that number. On the 11th of July 1302 the great battle of Courtrai (see Infantry) was fought outside its walls, when the French army, under the count of Artois, was vanquished by the allied burghers of Bruges, Ypres and Courtrai with tremendous loss. As many as 700 pairs of golden spurs were collected on the field from the bodies of French knights and hung up as an offering in an abbey church of the town, which has long disappeared. There are still, however, some interesting remains of Courtrai's former grandeur. Perhaps the Pont de Broel, with its towers at either end of the bridge, is as characteristic and complete as any monument of ancient Flanders that has come down to modern times. The hôtel de ville, which dated from the earlier half of the 16th century, was restored in 1846, and since then statues have also been added to represent those that formerly ornamented the façade. Two richly and elaborately carved chimney-pieces in the hôtel de ville merit special notice. The one in the council chamber upstairs dates from 1527 and gives an allegorical representation of the Virtues and the Vices. The other, three-quarters of a century later, contains an heraldic representation of the noble families of the town. The church of St Martin dates from the 15th century, but was practically destroyed in 1862 by a fire caused by lightning. It has been restored. The most important building at Courtrai is the church of Notre Dame, which was begun by Count Baldwin IX. in 1191 and finished in 1211. The portal and the choir were reconstructed in the 18th century. In the chapel behind the choir is hung one of Van Dyck's masterpieces, "The Erection of the Cross." The chapel of the counts attached to the church dates from 1373, and contained mural paintings of the counts and countesses of Flanders down to the merging of the title in the house of Burgundy. Most if not all of these had become obliterated, but they have now been carefully restored. With questionable judgment portraits have been added of the subsequent holders of the title down to the emperor Francis II. (I. of Austria), the last representative of the houses of Flanders and Burgundy to rule in the Netherlands. Courtrai celebrated the 600th anniversary of the battle mentioned above by erecting a monument on the field in 1902, and also by fêtes and historical processions that continued for a fortnight.

Courtrai, the Cortracum of the Romans, ranked as a town from the 7th century onwards. It was destroyed by the Normans, but was rebuilt in the 10th century by Baldwin III. of Flanders, who endowed it with market rights and laid the foundation of its industrial importance by inviting the settlement of foreign weavers. The town was once more burnt, in 1382, by the French after the battle of Roosebeke, but was rebuilt in 1385 by Philip the Bold, duke of Burgundy.

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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