Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Belgian Popes

From 1789 to 1929, the hamlet of Lodomez, near Luxembourg, has had its own pope.

It all happened because of the French revolution (1789-1799), which on top of having a number of noble heads rolling had also taken upon itself to de-Christianize the country. But despite the reign of terror imposed by the revolutionaries, many kept their faith. And in Lodomez, it is the farmer Antoine Hurdebise who took over for the exiled ecclesiastics, assembling everyone for prayer, baptizing newborns and giving the last sacraments, and that despite the new edicts forbidding it. It is therefore no surprise that the abandoned parishioners started calling Hurdebise "le pape."

A habit that didn't stop once churches officially reopened their doors in 1794. In fact, the villagers went even further, nominating their own bishops as well, and creating rules that stipulated that any new pope had to be of Hurdebise's family, and that the chosen one had to be celibate himself. The pope's role was to preside over All-Saints Week, Christmas, the Passion of Christ, as well as to conduct the annual procession to the tomb of Saint Remacle and, most importantly, regale everyone with special cakes during the day of Saint-Sebastien, Lodomez's patron.

Papal Tiara
I doubt the Lodomez popes
had one of these...
The first signs of trouble appeared in 1851, when the newly-elected pope, Antoine II, acquired land in Beaumont [Burteaumont?], a neighboring village. Something the people of Lodomez did not approve of! So the villagers gathered again to elect a new pope, Antoine's twin Jacques.

And thus Lodomez ended up with two popes, the hamlet divided. The only solution was to depose both popes and elect a third one, Louis (the twins' younger brother). Except the latter decided to get married (ah, l'amour!) and so it was his cousin, Joseph who ended up taking up the helm of the papacy.

In 1929, after his only two "papal heirs" were lost (one to death, the other to a pretty farm girl), the last of the Lodomez popes retired in a small farm called "The Vatican" (the estate was unfortunately destroyed during the Battle of the Ardennes). And that was the end of the Belgian popes.

Curieuses Histoires de l'Histoire en Belgique, D-C. Luytens
L'extraordinaire et curieuse dynastie des papes de Lodomez - Schisme et saga familiale; Le Soir

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