Local Heart, Global Soul

May 12, 2013

Mechelen’s Very Strange Tradition of Doll Tossing…

Filed under: BELGIUM,Mechelen — kiwidutch @ 1:00 am
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(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

This set of photographs is from the visit we made to Mechelen in the rain.  Unfortunately the rain was pouring down and it wasn’t easy to get the photos without rain on the lens.

When we went back a second time and the weather was better, I was keen to photograph it again for better quality and more detailed pictures but alas we got distracted by a local chocolate shop and ended up walking back to the car by a different route.

The statue represents the “Op-signoorke doll’ which from around the 1640’s was a wooden doll tossed up in the air during special events in Mechelen.
I found a website that details the tradition (link below) and from this website learned:

It was named “Sotscop” (which means fool), but later the name changed to “Vuilen Bras”, “Vuilen Bruid” and “Vuilen Bruidegom” (unfaithful drunkard, disloyal Bride and Bridegoom). Then since 1775 it has invariably been called “OP-SIGNOORKE”.

The most interesting incident in the Story of OP-SIGNOORKE occurred on the 4th of July 1775. On that day OP-SIGNOORKE was taken for a walk at the tail-end of a cortege, and as it entered the St.-Katelijnestreet, OP-SIGNOORKE fell amongst the spectators.

One of them, named Jacobus de Leeuw (from Antwerp), stretched out his arms, to avoid being hurt by the fall of the doll, and was accused by the people of trying to steal it. 

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

The Mechliners seized the supposed delinquent, beat him, took him before the Magistrates of the City, and afterwards put him in jail. He nevertheless managed to escape, and returned to his home in Woolstreet, Antwerp, covered with blood.

On August 28, Jacobus de Leeuw, addressed a letter of protest to the Mechlin Magistrates.

By this adventure the doll’s name was changed into Signor or OP-SIGNOORKE (derived from the Spanish name “Señor”, nickname of the Antwerp people) and so remains to this day.

From that time on, the Mechliners took precautions to prevent any revenge from Antwerp and OP-SIGNOORKE was put away in a big trunk with strong locks. The original doll is kept in the Communal Museum (Fred. de Merodestraat) where one can have a look at it.

On December 7, 1949, however, Mechelen was in commotion. OP-SIGNOORKE had been kidnapped. Indeed, Antwerp students, acting to be American tourists, had managed to get into the Municipal Museum and were on the run with the doll as well as the trunk. On January 7, 1950, OP-SIGNOORKE was brought back to Mechelen. The kidnappers were summoned to court but acquitted.

The statue appears to show the doll being bounced on a cloth that would have acted a little like a trampoline…  why the tradition started in the first place is a little unclear, but the statue is certainly rather unusual  the weird whimsy of it appealed to my sense of humour.

Also as an aside note: in the first photograph there is a tree decorated with large ornamental Easter Eggs (these photos were taken just after Easter and I later found out the decorating of this tree is a well known tradition in Mechelen too.)


(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

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