Street name honour for unloved ‘castle lady’ dismays Belgian village

·2 min read
<span>Photograph: AP</span>
Photograph: AP

People of Moorsele say Marie Cornillie preferred her dog to her tenants and would often urinate in the street


Cities around the world have been inspired by the #MeToo movement to rename their streets after women, correcting an imbalance that had favoured great and not so great men of the past.

In Brussels, Madrid and Geneva, such figures as the Belgian singer Annie Cordy, the Spanish civil war hero Dolores Ibárruri and the Jamaican writer Una Marson have belatedly received acknowledgment.

But in the Flemish village of Moorsele, there is despair. While the residents have been enthused by five new street names – Marie Curiestraat, Augustina Peutermanstraat, Heilige Theresiastraat, Koningin Fabiolastraat and Maria Rosseelsstraat – a sixth, Marie Cornilliestraat, has prompted howls of protest.

Cornillie, a landowner known as the “castle lady of Moorsele” who lived there between 1793 and 1867, may have been wealthy, but the people of the village have a long memory. They say she was no role model but a haughty figure who loved her dog more than the locals and had a tendency to urinate in the street. Her coachman had to clean up.

“It’s a real shame”, said Lut Vanoverberghe and Lothair Vanoverbeke, who lead the local history club.

Vanoverberghe, who wrote a 170-page book about Cornillie three decades ago, said she was despondent about the lack of care shown by the council in choosing to honour the landowner.

“She never meant anything to Moorsele,” she told Het Nieuwsblad. “If she did anything it was because she could spin her own yarn. She threw small change around from her carriage in a big gesture and then you heard the pastor cursing because there were men who stood in the front row to pick up the money and get drunk with it in the local bars.

“If she had to take a pee on the way somewhere, she just did it next to the carriage,” she added. “And no, I’m not talking about her dog, I’m talking about Cornillie herself.”

So well known was Cornillie’s preference for her dog over her tenants that an enterprising thief got ideas, Vanoverbeke said. “While the inhabitants of Moorselen had to fight for survival as weavers, she offered large sums of money if her dog went missing. It didn’t take long before her dog was kidnapped to collect the reward. Cornillie preferred her dog to her fellow villagers.”

Kevin Defieuw, an alderman from the Wevelgem municipality, said the cultural committee’s decision to honour Cornillie had been unanimous. “Cornillie certainly has her merits: she donated the land on which our school was built,” he said.

The history club has proposed that the council instead name the new street Sara Nieulantstraat, after the woman who was first to lead the Cistercian Guldenberg Abbey that existed in the 13th and 14th century. The municipality has said the name is too difficult to pronounce.

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