Ros Beiaard 2022.

The Bayard Steed and the four Heems children in Dendermonde in 2022 | Dendermonde, Ros Beiaardcomité vzw, Geert De Rycke

Meaning & Religion
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The Bayard Steed of Dendermonde

Processions and Parades

Every ten years a gigantic wooden horse trundles through the streets of Dendermonde: the Bayard Steed. On its back sit the four ‘Heemskinderen’, played by four brothers born in Dendermonde. Each time this parade attracts crowds of spectators.

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Since the 15th century the Bayard Steed has been an important presence in popular processions in a large number of towns. The horse comes from a medieval saga, which originated in France but spread all over Europe. In the Low Countries the story lived on as De historie van de vier Heemskinderen. According to the Dendermonde version of the story the horse was the stake in a life-and-death wager between Louis, the son of Charlemagne and the four sons of Aymon, the lord of Dendermonde. The brothers won the bet and killed their adversary. They fled on the horse, chased by the soldiers of Charlemagne. After a protracted conflict and under severe pressure the brothers surrendered their immensely strong horse at Charlemagne’s request. The death of Bayard settled the account and restored peace.


Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, RP-P-2003-353

Fair and parade in a print by Pieter van der Borcht in the year 1553.

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Processions and Parades

The origin of processions like the Bayard Steed lies in medieval processions and parades. Processions have a religious character. Often, they are rooted, like many religious holy days, in still older customs. Usually they honour a specific saint, whose likeness or relica remnant of the body of a saint or an object that has been in contact with a saint. is carried around. People worshipped relics to be restored to health or to avert a disaster.

Parades mostly derive from religious processions, which gradually acquired more worldly aspects. In that way figures and animals from sagas and legends, like the Bayard Steed, made their appearance. From the 16th century on processions appeared with an exclusively worldly theme. However, religious and worldly aspects often continued to interweave.

At the end of the 18th century the Austrian Emperor Joseph II restricted processions. Later the French authorities also banned worldly parades too. They regarded these practices as superstition.

In the 19th century there was a revival of both religious and worldly parades. The increasing interest in the Middle Ages played an important part. From the 1960s on a large number of processions again disappeared. The Catholic church attached less importance to popular devotionpopular religious practices and traditions. , and traditional popular culture also came under pressure. In some municipalities processions survived thanks to strong local traditions and their attractiveness for tourists and today they are appreciated as part of the country’s intellectual heritage.

Focal points

Heilig Bloedprocessie 2022.

Bruges, Heilig Bloedprocessie vzw, Frank Toussaint

The Holy Blood procession in Bruges in 2022.

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The Holy Blood Procession of Bruges

Despite their turbulent history many parades and processions have an almost unbroken tradition. The Holy Blood Procession in Bruges dates back to the Middle Ages. The tradition originated in 1304 when for the first time the inhabitants of the town carried their most precious relic with them in the Holy Cross Procession. The relic was some blood of Christ which the Flemish count Thierry of Alsace according to legend had been given during the Second Crusade (1147-1149). In reality the bottle containing the relic had only been in the family chapel of the counts of Flanders, today the Holy Blood Chapel, since the 13th century.

In the many centuries of its existence the procession has undergone a great many changes. New story elements made their appearance, while others disappeared. For a while a Bayard Steed was included. Since 1900 the procession has shown mainly scenes from the Old and New Testaments and on the medieval worship of the Holy Blood. From the 1970s onwards the amount of play and theatre increased and the event grew further in size. For decades the procession has drawn foreign visitors. Like the Dendermonde Bayard Steed parade it was included by UNESCO in the representative list of humanity’s cultural heritage.

Reuzenstoet 2022.

Dries Luyten

The Borgerhout Giants’ Procession in 2022.

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Giants occur in the most diverse cultures. From the late 12th century on they also appeared in the Low Countries in many parades and processions. Later mythical giant figures cropped up, like the Bayard Steed, the Antwerp giant Druon Antigoon and the dragon of Sint-Joris. Giants can also portray local historical or fictional characters, or they symbolise districts, families or occupations. During processions, ceremonies and celebrations they are carried or pushed or pulled along on wheels.

The giant culture was widespread in the Low Countries, and also in Hainaut. It was and remains highly diverse. For example, in Borgerhout at the beginning of the 18th century the ‘Little Giants’ appeared. Every year the little giants march about on fair days, surrounded by musicians and floats. Beside four permanent giants, tradition makes room for new giants, from diverse cultural backgrounds.

The Little Giants of Borgerhout survived the French Revolution at the end of the 18th century because the French included them in their Republican celebrations. Many other historical giants were, however, destroyed at this time. In the 19th century giants again became popular. From the 1950s on they have seen a real revival. With restorations and new figures. Local committees promote them. Today the giant population of Flanders is estimated at from eight hundred to a thousand. In 2008 the giant culture of Belgium and Northern France, to which the Bayard Steed belongs, was also included in UNESCO’s representative list.

Leuven kermisommegang met het Ros Beiaard en de vier Heemskinderen.
Leuven, Stadsarchief, Liber Boonen

At the end of the 16th century Willem Boonen, clerk and archivist of the town of Leuven, wrote a history of his town in Dutch. It contains this depiction of the fair parade with the Bayard Steed and the four Heems children. There was already a Bayard Steed parade in Leuven in the early 15th century.




De Zeezegening van Wenduine in 1908. De legende wil dat vissers een groot kruis uit de zee haalden nadat de stormvloed Oud-Wenduine had overspoeld. Het kruis verdween de volgende dag, maar werd enkele weken later op dezelfde plek teruggevonden. Tijdens de Zeezegening brengt men het kruis naar de kerk van Wenduine.
De Haan, Gemeentearchief, DHGA PB (7054) A

The Sea Blessing of Wenduine in 1908. The legend has it that fishermen retrieved a great cross from the sea after the storm tide had inundated Oud-Wenduine. The cross disappeared the next day but was found a few weeks later in the same place. During the Sea Blessing the cross is taken to the church of Wenduine.

Ros Beiaard Mechelen.
Regionale Beeldbank Mechelen, Victor Van Durme

The Hanswijkcavalcade parades through the centre of Mechelen every 25 years. The Cavalcade originated from the annual Hanswijk procession, possibly the oldest procession in Flanders. In Mechelen too the Bayard Steed was involved. Around 1900-1911.

Boeteprocessie Veurne.
Stad Kortrijk

The central theme of a penitential procession is the story of Jesus Christ’s suffering. In Veurne the penitential procession has taken place since the 17th century. Women and children sing the Hosanna. Photo from the inter-war years.

Vuil janet.
Private collection Stijn Van der Stockt

Spring festivals of silliness, mockery and exuberance occur in various cultures. In the Christian tradition carnival heralds Lent. Aalst Carnival goes back to the Middle Ages. People celebrating carnival in 2018.

Reuzenteam Wetteren.
Het Laatste Nieuws, Didier Verbaere

The giant-carriers of Wetteren for Giant and Giantess, perhaps the oldest original giants in Flanders, 2018. Giant processions require the commitment of many volunteers. Some families provide carriers from generation to generation.

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Reuzen Borgerhout

Bron: VRT archief – 17 sep 2012

Ros Beiaard

Bron: VRT archief – 27 mei 2022


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Geybels Hans
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Geybels Hans
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Herzen Frank
De vier heemskinderen

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Ballon Comics, 2021. 

Van Dam Arend
Sterke Jan: volksverhalen over reuzen, aardgeesten en legendarische helden

Elmar, 2002. (13+) 

‘t Ros Beiaard doet zijn ronde: ommegangen, processies, gildefeesten

Traditionele muziek uit Vlaanderen (2001).