It's been fifty years since de Jan de schoenmaker had removed the threat of the Norman invasion from the town of STEINFORT. Since then, the inhabitants have lived happily ever after, praying unceasingly to the good St. Peter, patron saint of the town, to thank him for having endowed them with a shoemaker brimming with courage and simplicity.
The atmosphere in the village was calm and serene. This was STEINFORT's golden age. Harvests were plentiful, and the lord of the manor carried out his duties with wisdom and loyalty. His name was MODRED le JUSTE, a direct descendant of THIBAUT le HARDI, and he lived peacefully in the company of his wife and his daughter GUENIEVRE, radiant with beauty.
The latter was slender. Her radiant complexion emphasized the grace of her face. Her hair, as blond as ripe wheat, fell to her hips like fine gold.
Alas, so much beauty failed to conceal a malignant flaw. And as the stained fruit no longer attracts the greedy hand, GUENIEVRE found herself alone, bereft of gallant company. She was immensely capricious, and her parents satisfied her every whim as best they could, for she alone could perpetuate the line of sieurs de STEINFORT.
Gambrinus le Grand 1982
Then, one fine summer's day, she rose at the same time as the sun, went to call her father and said to him in a tone that was both prayerful and commanding:
"Father, I want to be married on Saint Leger's Day, not to sieur GOBLIN, grand chancellor of the Châtellenie de CASSEL, as you understand it, but to a knight who will manage, after drinking my weight in beer, to lift with one hand the brilliant mount on which I shall sit".
To these words, MODRED le JUSTE could only reply with a nod, such was his whim that it far exceeded anything he had ever imagined. So he sent messages from castle to castle to spread the news.
As fate would have it, a group of Lords happened to be staying with the Lord of WATOU, a few leagues from STEINFORT. The lords were enjoying the good beer they were so fond of. As soon as MODRED's messenger had delivered his dispatch to the lord and his guests, they took leave of the lord as quickly as possible, and set off in haste for STEINFORT, with the happy prospect of this marriage in the back of their minds. Among these knights, there was one who could fulfill the conditions set by GUENIEVRE. He alone represented the profile needed to achieve this feat.
He was built like an oak. The protruding muscles of his limbs had the circumference of a beer barrel. His shoulders, six feet three inches broad, supported a head whose rugged features inspired sympathy. Dark brown hair surrounded a ruddy face, in the middle of which protruded a nose curved to the point, like the tendrils of a hop plant running along its thread. His brown eyes sparkled with courage, and an equally twisted moustache graced a face that exuded bonhomie. His name was JEAN PRIMUS, Duke of BRABANT, more commonly known as "GAMBRINUS".
By the time they got within sight of the church steeple, daylight was beginning to fade, and their first concern was to find lodgings for the night. The inn on the outskirts of STEINFORT, along the road leading to KASSEL BERG, seemed hospitable, and they settled in. In the course of the night, the innkeeper ran out of beer, as the knights' thirst was so hard to quench.
GAMBRINUS had the largest number of barrels around him, and was awakened the next day by AYMAN, a former pirate turned brewer, who had come in search of them. Once the bell had rung ten times, the suitors presented themselves before the castle gates.
From there, they were ushered into a large hall. Moments later, MODRED the JUST, his wife and daughter took their seats. He invited them to a hunting party in the woods of BEAUVOORDE and to a feast where the game would be eaten and washed down with a stream of beer.
GAMBRINUS shone particularly brightly in the afternoon, killing numerous stags and wild boars. Indeed, he demonstrated his skill with bow and arrow, as well as with the slingshot.
In the middle of a thicket, the killers flushed out a huge, raging boar. All the courtiers retreated, except for GAMBRINUS.
Using his slingshot, he hurled a stone with such force and skill that the wild boar fell to the ground with a cracked skull. This event caused quite a stir, and confirmed the knight's courage, albeit with a great deal of sensitivity.
He was on the lookout and getting ready, when a doe came out of a bush. GAMBRINUS immediately asked that no one aim at it, and fired a shot into the air to scare it away. This delicate gesture greatly pleased GUENIEVRE, and she thanked him with a promising smile that no one had ever seen on her lips before.
The next day was spent resting and preparing for the festivities. Dawn broke very early on the horizon, and the city streets came alive early in the morning.
Saint Léger promised to be particularly beautiful. The first rays of sunlight made the banners emblazoned with the Flanders coat of arms blaze. They adorned the entire square, where clever merchants displayed their fabrics and wares, knowing that people would flock to this exceptional day. From the balconies of STEINFORT's houses, you could make out the undulating shapes of the high crests majestically topping the competitors.
They poured in from all directions, followed by their squires and friends. The Sieur de WATOU was the first to arrive, and the courtyard of the châteaux was soon filled with the coats of arms and crews of all the lords. The most notable arrival was that of the Grand Chancellor de CASSEL, announced by triumphal trumpet blasts. He was preceded by a considerable number of knights, whose gleaming armor underlined their presence.
The sundial marked half past eleven when, at the far end of the courtyard, the last of the knights, our soberly dressed GAMBRINUS, appeared. He lined up alongside his rivals, to the jeers of Sieur GOBLIN.
MODRED le JUSTE welcomed them and made clear the rules of the contest.
After he had clapped his hands twice, a long line of pages arrived from the back of the courtyard, bringing bocks and barrels so that the contest could begin. It was said that 55 pints had to be drunk to pass the second test. At first, the mugs were quickly emptied, and no one stood out. But as the sun climbed higher in the sky and the beer level dropped in the casks, the number of candidates dwindled. Some gave up, poking their heads into their barrels because they were so drunk.
Only Sieur GOBLIN, Sieur de WATOU and the DUC de BRABANT saw the bottom of the barrel after a good hour's hard work. Without wasting any time, a squire brought in GUENIEVRE's horse, feathered in white. The crowd fell silent as the princess sat on her mount. Sieur GOBLIN, given his rank, took precedence and stepped forward first to put his strength to the test.
After a moment's reflection, he gave a loud shout and abruptly lifted the animal. The spectators cheered the knight, who already believed himself to be the victor. He passed in front of the grandstand where MODRED le JUSTE congratulated him. He then went on to taunt the other two contenders, looking down on them as if he were choosing a beast for his herd. Then it was Sieur de WATOU's turn to stagger forward. Before accomplishing his feat, he wanted to greet the princess, but his head jerked back and he lost consciousness against the horse's hooves. The squires threw water on him to wake him up and make way for the last competitor. Everyone agreed that GOBLIN was the winner, because no one thought that GAMBRINUS could do better. When he reached the mount, he made no speeches and, without hesitation, to everyone's astonishment, lifted GUENIEVRE.
This feat accomplished, he continued to carry his load to ensure victory, and headed for the stands where Abbé JEROME was to pronounce the nuptial blessing. The latter was delighted by the hero's gesture and blessed him. Then he urged him to allow GUENIEVRE to put his foot back on the ground, so scared was he. Everyone had noticed his fright, for whenever a competitor submitted to the test, he quickly signed himself and closed his eyes, murmuring prayers.
The proof of his temerity was in the pudding. MODRED proclaimed his daughter's marriage to a standing ovation. Sieur GOBLIN, vexed, left as quickly as he could for the KASSEL BERG.
GAMBRINUS was asked if he felt up to going all the way to the church to have the ceremony performed immediately, as it was feared that GUENIEVRE might change his mind again. He responded with a vigorous "YES" from the top of his head, and the bridal party formed.
Abbé JEROME congratulated himself on the happy ending to the contest, and could already see the hundreds of gold coins he would receive during the ceremony falling into trays. The ceremony was short, at the request of the happy bridegroom, who preferred the pleasures of the flesh to the pomp and circumstance befitting his rank.
As he left the church, GAMBRINUS took GUENIEVRE in his arms and carried her like a feather to the castle.
From that moment on, the festivities began and lasted until the other knights had recovered their spirits and strength after the ordeal of the beer.
Photo: Daniel Decoune - Terre de Géants
Gambrinus le Mini-Géant 2015
Since that day, the town of STEENVOORDE remained grateful to beer, and fields of hops stretched as far as the eye could see, their regular furrows carefully unfurling at the foot of tall, refreshing foliage with mysterious backdrops, inviting us to dream.
Hops became an artisanal crop, and farmers learned to enjoy their "Beer Harvest".
When the god GARGANTUA decided one thirsty day to sow hops on our fertile land, he cast a beneficial spell on the region. It's certainly to him that the inhabitants of Flanders, not very spoiled by the climate, owe their jovial temperament, like that of GAMBRINUS, apparently austere, but genuinely bon vivant and courageous.
It was by the same chance that led GAMBRINUS to STEENVOORDE that this legend was discovered among papers yellowed by the years.
A group of young people, captivated by the story of these brilliant exploits decided to revive this character, so well reflecting the profile of the Nordiste, and to perpetuate the memory at each hop festival, which coincides with St. Leger's Day.
Michel.M & Pascal.C - August 1977
References and sources: Bulletin Officiel Municipal 3ème trimestre (1964) -Bulletin Officiel Municipal N° 2 (1970) - Steenvoorde Info N°4 Juin (1994) - Revue Le Lion de Flandre Artois Boulonnais Hainaut N° 30 Juin (1943) - Jean Yves Cnapelynck, photo archive (Carnaval de Steenvoorde 1950 et 1951) - L'homme qui fabrique des géants, Nord-France (1948) - La Ballade des Géants de la Flandre maritine Française, Maurice Millon (1970) - Indicateur des Flandre, April 1979 - Indicateur des Flandres, Geo Hennebelle - Voix du Nord Hazebrouck, April 1981 - Patrimoine oral, audio recording:Georges Delaeter et Michel Haverbeque (1979) - Fiche PCI en France - Géants du Nord/Pas-de-Calais, Robert Chaussois (1998) - Dictionnaire des Géants du nord de la France, Gérard Tourpier (2007) - Gigantia, Un Mundo de Gigantes (2021) - Web archives: geant-belle-helene-org - les-amis-de-fromulus.com - mcsteenvoordois.fr - musique-steenvoorde.fr.
There are no sources that are never wrong, and no sources that are always wrong.