Two miles north of Maldegem lies the village of Middelburg with its 600 inhabitants. It is on the Belgian side of the border between Zeeland and Flanders and the two neighbouring towns in the Netherlands are Aardenburg ("aarde" = Earth and "burg" means Fortress) and Sluis (a "sluis" is a lock for ships or a sluice or a floodgate).
In 1433 the estate called "Hof te Middelburg in Vlaanderen"— Middelburg Farm in Flanders—property of the Abbey of Middelburg in Walcheren, came in the hands of Pieter Bladelin, a well-to-do bailiff of the great Philip the Good. In 1444 he united his possessions with this estate and with part of the Seigneury of Heille into the totally new "Seigneury of Middelburg in Flanders".
He built there a fortress (1448), a church (1452), a hospital, ramparts which he later (1456) connected with the Middelburg Canal to the Lieve River, walls with archways (1464). Middelburg became a prosperous little city that received the braziers (coppersmiths) from Dinant with open arms when they had to flee their town after its destruction in 1466 by Philip the Good. The Seigneury had its own justice, a bailiff and a bench of aldermen. It had 283 subfiefs dispersed all over the Flanders coastal region.
Bladelin died childless in 1472. Four years later his widow, Margaretha Van de Vagheviere also died and Middelburg was acquired by Guillaume Hugonet, chancellor of Burgundy. Under Willem Hugonet II Middelburg reached the zenith of its prosperity.
The castle and the city suffered great damage in the battle against Maximillian of Austria. Middelburg was promoted to a county in 1617 with Philips de Merode as its first count but that did not alter its descent. In 1796, now under the Revolutionary French, Middelburg was reclassified as an ordinary town without having kept anything of its great past except a richly decorated church. Even today the layout of the streets perfectly shows the way the mediaeval town had grown.
The Saint-Peter and Paulus Church has a long past, rich but also painful. It was built between 1452 and 1458 and consecrated in 1460. It was then a single nave church. In 1470 it became a collegiate church with a canonical chapter. And this is how it was until 1796.
In 1581 during the Religious Troubles the church was badly damaged. In 1604 the 8 altars were reduced to 3. In 1648 it became a three nave church under one saddleback roof. And finally the structural alterations of 1889-1893 give the church its actual look. At the same time also almost all its furniture was renewed: gothic and neogothic go hand in hand.
Next to the neogothic main altar with its polychrome altar piece is the tomb of Peter Bladelin with the arms of Bladelin and his wife Margaretha Van de Vagheviere and those of Middelburg and Heile. Long ago behind his tomb was the prayer chapel of the founder.
On 19 September 1836 Constant Duvillers became Middelburg's village priest. He was a very intelligent pro-Flemish poet and author who stood for the common man and his language against those who considered Flemish too base and preferred to speak French. He was happy here in the quiet land of the polders. Here he wrote practically all his works except for "The Almanak van 't Meetjesland" whose publication he didn't start until 1859. But that was years after he had been transferred on 14 October 1854 to tiny (and poor) Woubrechtegem which is near Aalst, more than 70 km away from Middelburg. And he remained in Woubrechtegem until his death on 14 March 1885, aged 82. (Those of you who understand Dutch can read here all about Father Duvillers, a booklet by F. Van Es published in 1949.)
Despite the enormous damage of 1944 many works of art could be restored: the richly sculpted baroque confessional of 1676 with the statues of St. Peter and St. Paul, the neo-gothic side altars of about 1900 devoted to Notre Dame and to St. Hubert, the elegant Louis XV style pulpit of the 18th century and the communion rail also of the 18th Century.
In 1983 the pillory was put up again. Most of it had been found in bits and pieces in the gardens of the vicarage. The lower part dates from the 15th Century. The part above that was added by Elisabeth Vilain in 1776. And the lion on top is a recent addition.
In 2001 archaeologists started working in a dig to find out more about Pieter
Bladelin's castle. About a quarter of the chateau has been brought to
light. It was a brick building with 2 meter thick walls. They found
i.a. a round corner tower, part of the south side wall and part of the main
entrance. Unfortunately some of the last remains of the old remparts have
finally disappeared under a new residential estate.
The source for most of the above is the excellent "Streekgids Meetjesland", 1998, 50-51 by Walter Notteboom. See also: Our Sources.