The Horse Bayard

Horse Bayard is the unsurpassed symbol of Dendermonde. It is the pride of every inhabitant of the town. The parades are so rare that already years ahead scores of fellow citizens look forward to them in eager anticipation and many years later they still enjoy the afterglow of the event. The spectacle continues to inspire young and old.

The slow dance pass beats the specific rhythm with which the horse is carried through the streets. Yet, it can also greet gracefully as well as prance frightfully. As if in a daze, the bearers carry out their heavy task: with a weight of more than eight hundred kilos, Horse Bayard moves light-footedly and graciously. It never shows any fatigue as at the very end of the parade during the gunfight on the Market
Square, it makes a furious charge at its assailants.
That is real high level class, Horse Bayard class!

In the past Horse Bayard was also prominently present in other parades throughout the Low Countries. Yet Horse Bayard of Dendermonde is so unparalleled that it adds to the self-esteem of the inhabitants of our town. Its head is decorated with ostrich feathers in the colors of the city, red and white. The saddlecloth is burgundy red and has a fine gold and silver lining. On top of it there is a purple cover carrying the town’s coat of arms and the blazons of the guilds. Horse Bayard’s black tail is made of hair of more than thirty horses.
From the ground to the highest part of the head, it measures 4.85 meters. If the ornamental plume is added, it even reaches a height of 5.80 meters. From the nose to the tail the Horse is 5.20 meters long. It is exactly 2 meters wide. The wooden frame contains three spaces and offers room for twelve bearers called ‘pijnders’. They are given the glorious task of carrying Horse Bayard.

 The head of Horse Bayard is a wooden sculpture that dates back to 1600. It is hollow and measures 130 cm by 50 cm. For centuries there has been an enigma about the circumstances in which this work of art was carved. According to tradition, the current head of the Horse would be the work by Lieven Van De Velde. The folktale starts a few weeks before the parade on the occasion of the Joyful Entry of the Duke of Burgundy John the Fearless. The magistrate noticed that the horse's head was completely worm-eaten. Only one artist in town was considered capable of carving a new one: Lieven Van de Velde. However, the sculptor was in prison. Because of misconduct, assault and theft he had been sentenced to be hanged. The magistrate made concessions to Van De Velde. In exchange for carving the head his corpse would not remain exhibited at the gallows after execution, but would be buried in sacred ground. The artist did not agree at all. In his turn he put forward his conditions: his liberty in exchange for carving a new horse’s head. There was no alternative. The parade had to be secured. That is how Lieven Van De Velde carved the graceful head for our Horse Bayard. Since then it has been the pride of the city of Dendermonde. Lieven Van De Velde became a model citizen after his release.
Throughout the ages, storytellers spread their version of the story of Lieven Van De Velde. Although purely fictitious and not historically accurate, these stories contribute to the entertainment of the inhabitants of Dendermonde.
An alternative story tells us that the sculptor's eyes were put out after he had completed the work in order to avoid that he would carve a second identical head.
There is also a version that tells how a high-ranking person from Aalst tried to persuade the sculptor to sell him the head for as many gold pieces as could be stored in the head. However, the artist was so touched in his self-esteem as inhabitant of Dendermonde that he replied: "My work is only meant for our Horse Bayard town”.

 

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