The whole and its parts

The whole & its parts

Creation of an urban legend

This morning I enjoyed a morning stroll through Mons. The town was still quiet, apart from workers on the Grand Place who were preparing the space for a big event. It would be the final event to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the town’s liberation.

The Grand Place in Mons is a place where people meet, it’s a beautiful describing the town’s history. Many of the buildings are from the XVII and XVIII centuries, with one of the youngest being the theater of Mons dating from 1841.

The building that draws most of the attention though is the Hotel de Ville or Town Hall. It was built in 1458, but its current appearance dates from the eighteenth century. As splendid as the place is, one of the first things I was told about Mons was to pass by a little monkey located in front of the town hall. He’s famous as the “singe du Grand Garde” and supposed to give you a year of happiness if you caress his head with your left hand. So pay attention to the hand you’ll use!

I had to search a bit to find the singe du Grand Garde.

While knowing that he was small I somehow still expected that a known attraction would be easily visible. It took me a bit to figure out that the stage built for the evening was hiding it. Finding it I naturally did as “everyone” else. Who would avoid more luck?

Someone had told me, that I should wish something. Someone else talked about being lucky for a year. Another story I found was that originally the monkey was there to bring luck to couples hoping to establish a family.

The monkey has become one of the symbols of the city. No one can clearly when it was placed where it is. His origins are mysterious leading to three hypotheses. One is said to be an apprentice blacksmith seeking mastery. Another that it was the sign from a tavern which was closed meanwhile. And the last one being less pleasant for children as it seems that they were told that if they don’t behave they would have to go to the monkey where there was a pillory for “disruptive” children.

Somehow all of this made me more curious. And so I researched the story. Doing it in English only brought up some short a variable descriptions. Mons being a town in the French speaking part of Belgium the more extensive description were in French and made me smile. I had thought that I would find some description of how the story had changed along the years but what I found, was that the legend was created out of “nothing”.

Paul Heupgen (1868-1949) was a judge and historian interested in the folklore of Mons. As such he published several articles, initiated a museum and the Jardin du maïeur which has become part of the tourist attractions around the Grand-place.

In 1930 he created the legend. He did so by writing that the only truth known about the monkey is that caressing its head brings a year of happiness.

It was not totally out of nothing as the custom of caressing the monkey’s head was already established.

To create this urban legend, or shall we say ideavirus, he might simply have connected the dots. Next to the Grand Place in Brussels, you’ll find the monument to Éverard t’Serclaes, a stroke on his hand brings luck.

And yes, I was very lucky today. Being the human I am, I established the correlation between both. I’ll find myself sneezing the story of the little monkey.



Singe du Grand Garde, Grand Place, Mons

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