Willem Vandenameele

Willem Vandenameele

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Croix des fiancées

Cross

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Source: Gite ardennais

La Croix des fiancées is less than 2 kilometers away from Baraque Michel. In the background you see the landmark 151. The cross tells the dramatic story of two young people who got lost in a snowstorm in the peat.
It was the time of the Franco-German war. On January 18,1871, the King of Germany was crowned Emperor at Versailles.
The story tells the story of Marie Solheid, servant at the Niezette farm. She was born on October 10,1846 in Xhoffraix. It is also the story of François Reiff, a worker at the Gileppe dam, born in 1829 in Bastogne. François lived in a shack near his workplace in Béthane. They had met at the Jalhay fair and soon fell in love. They got engaged and decided to get married. On Saturday, January 21,1871, Marie and her fiancée François went to Xhoffraix, where Marie was born. They had to gather the necessary documents for their marriage. They started their 20 km long hike at about 9am. They could also have taken the train to Francochamps via Pepinster and from there they could have travelled to Malmedy by stagecoach. She would have arrived at 3:30 p. m. and from there they could have reached Xhoffraix after two hours of easy walking. But as they were young and in love, they chooded to walk. Along the way, they stopped at the Mixhe Café in Jalhay, before starting their 12 kilometer journey through the peat they knew quite well. The bartender who was Marie's brother, who also worked at the café, tried to stop them from walking. But in vain. Marie said she could handle the situation like a real girl. Around noon, they left Jalhay. They got lost in a storm of snow and fog, and Francois had to leave Mary exhausted near landmark 151 of the Belgo-Prussian border. Mary wore a pencil-written note on her dress saying,"Mary has just died and I will do it. He was still looking for help, but he didn't get it either. From Jalhay, Mary's brother had already begun looking for them on January 23rd, because Mary had not yet returned. Her parents were less worried at first, because they were aware of the couple's visit, but thought they would not come because of the bad weather. They were not alerted until a letter arrived on 25 January. Just that day, a period of severe frost began in the Hautes Fagnes, accompanied by snowfalls covering the bodies of Francis and Mary. The search attempts that were made in the following weeks failed because of the thick snow. His body was found at the beginning of march, after melting the first snow in the peat of Bioletes near Solwaster. On March 16,1871, in the newspaper of Vervier "Le Nouvelliste":"Last Monday, at 5 o' clock in the evening, the body of an unknown man was found in the Hautes fagnes, about a mile from Solwaster, municipality of Sart. The description reads as follows: length approx. 1.60 m, rounded erect, raised forehead, high forehead, grey eyes, moderately large nose, small mouth, round chin, blond hair and blond moustache. He was wearing a flax jacket, a flat felt hat and black satin trousers. He also wore a nice linen shirt, a blue-white striped cotton undercoat and almost new shoes, thin and lace-up. He carried a sum of 24 francs in several Belgian currencies. Death is the result of freezing, probably caused by fatigue and exhaustion. No evidence of violence was found. The time of death is probably more than six weeks ago.
Already the next day the same newspaper said:"Two months ago, on the eve of his wedding, the young man left with his fiancée to obtain the necessaire documents for the wedding. From that moment on, nobody saw them. They say he's from Pruces. The judiciary is busy examining this mysterious event.
A week later, on March 22,1871, a Prussian border guard found Marie's body at the foot of landmark 151 at border controls, probably the first time after the snow had melted. This place, Sart Lerho, is about two kilometres from where François was found. The letter written by François was found on her dress. The next day, she was buried in Xhoffraix by the parish priest Joseph Heinen.
At the place where Mary was found, there is now a cross. The first cross was erected in the summer of 1871 by Father of the Maries on the ancient road of Xhoffraix where Mary had fainted. This road was still heavily used at that time (until at least 1877). So not near landmark 151, because there was no real road along the border at the time. Farmers also point to a cross where Francis was found. This cross soon disappeared, just as Maries fathers' cross.
To replace the two crosses, a new cross was erected in 1893 neer border post 151, which also bore the year 1893. It quickly created confusion and many people thought the events Took place in that yeat. In 1906 the cross was replaced and in 1931 it arrived at the museaum in Verviers. A new cross was placed by the Touring Club in 1931. Today, however, there is another new cross.
Some additional considerations on the death of the two fiancées:
Francis, not of the veins, was apparently dressed in his Sunday clothes, which did not suit the high fagnes of this season at all. He didn't have sturdy shoes, no necks, no gloves. Nor is there anything to read about an extra supply of food or a bag in which they could have taken it with them and urgently needed it on such a difficult journey. Mary, who must have known the Fagnes better, probably did not die immediately, but fainted first. Because Francis didn't know the fagnes at all, but he thought he had to save his fiancée, he walked around and hoped to find help, trying to do what they had done. However, he lost himself in the desert, unknown to him, and died.
Marie probably recovered after fainting and tried to reach Baraque Michel, 1800 meters away. She saw the border crossing with number 151 standing and knew she had to cross it on her way to the inn. She stumbled in the deep snow, but was so struck by the cold and exhaustion that she could not go any further. She could still bring the strength to pull out her skirt and hang it as a mark in a shrub. Then she sat down against the edge of it with her face upwind. There, she fell asleep to stop waking up.

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