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by Olivier Touzeau
The city of Lillers (9,892 inhabitants; 2,689 ha) is the center of a small region called Lillerois, limited in the north by the river Lys, which forms the border between the departments of Pas-de-Calais and Nord, and watered by the canal of Aire and a network of small rivers. Lillers was once one of the French capital cities of shoe industry.
The origin of the name of Lillers is linked to the story of the Irish saints Lugle and Luglien. In year 700, on their way to Rome, the two missionaries were murdered by rascals near Ferfay, c. 8 km south of Lillers. The two victims were buried in the valley of the river Scyrendale. However, a thunderstorm miraculously transported the bodies of the two saints to Hurionville, near the castle of the bishop of Thérouanne, who ordered to bury them there. Since the region was threatened by the Normans, the inhabitants decided to transport once again the saints' bodies to a safer place, a small island isolated in the middle of marshes. A few years later, the saints' sister Lilia visited the island, where a chapel had been built, and gave it her name. Therefore, Lillers has nothing to do with the capital city of the north of France, Lille.
In the Middle Ages, the domain of Lillers depended of several families, including Wavrin, senechal of Flanders, Berlettes and Croy. The collegiate church Saint-Omer was erected in the XIIth century and is the only remaining monument of importance from that time in the north of France. The miraculous statue of Christ of "the Holy Blood of Miracle" is kept in the church, which was a popular place of pilgrimage, along with saint Lugle and Luglien's grave.
The oldest house of the city is the so-called Maison de l'Argentier, built in 1631 and decorated with a wooden sundial. The house was explicitely described by the writer Louis Aragon (1897-1982) in his book La semaine sainte. The novel, written in 1958, is a complex historical story a la Stendhal relating the flight to Ghent of Louis XVIII's partisans after Napoleon's return from Elba during the Holy Week in 1815. The narration is organized around the painter Géricault (1791-1824), presented as a Bonapartist who felt pity for the infirm king and loved too much horses, and is therefore the symbol of the uncertainty of History. Louis XVIII's pathetic flight made the fortune of the neighbouring city of Estaires.
The domain of Lillers became a marquisate in 1726.
Shoe industry was initiated in Lillers in the XIXth century by Ovide Fanien. Before the Second World War, Lillers was one of the three French capital cities of shoe industry with Romans (Dauphiné) and Fougères (Brittany). After the Liberation, Lillers stopped the production of smart shoes and specialized in utility shoes. The last shoe factory was closed in 1996 and a shoe museum was recently opened.
The cyclist race Paris-Lillers was run for the first and last time in 1939, and was won by Gabriel Galateau. The Grand Prix de Lillers - Bruno Comini, run in the beginning of March, is opened to professionals since 1996.
The giants of Lillers are the shoemaker Ovide, named after Ovide Fanien, and his wife Marie. They married on 1 May 1995 and their daughter Lilia was christened on 1 May 2000. Lilia symbolizes the cultivation of watercress, which was very important in the past in that wet region. The giants parade through the city during the "Lillierades festival", which takes place every year on 1 May.Sources:Lillerois website
Ivan Sache, 11 April 2004
The municipal flag of Lillers, as seen in situ, is white with the municipal coat of arms (Gules three chevrons or) and the name of the city below the shield.
Olivier Touzeau, 11 April 2004Red dog casino