Could Hercule Poirot from Elzele have saved his fellow villager Quintine from being burned at the stake?


Could Hercule Poirot from Elzele have saved his fellow villager Quintine from being burned at the stake?


Brace yourself for a visit to this village on the linguistic border in the Pays des Collines natural park, where Hainaut rubs shoulders with the Flemish Ardennes. Especially mentally, because secrecy is the key word here.


If you are enchanted by mysterious creatures, Elzele will not disappoint. From facades, from behind windows, from front gardens in the centre of the village but also in the hills, forests, meadows and fields all around, you will feel you are being constantly watched by all kinds of strange creatures. Witches, devils, goblins, scarecrows, bats, weird dwarves, dragons, werewolves, forest spirits, the Green Buck, multiple-headed monsters and other hideous monsters, usually with evil intentions, re-awaken our childhood fears. Most of them have been created by the local folk painter, sculptor, author and folklorist Jacques Vandewattyne, also known as Watkyne. He is obsessed with witchcraft. But all events and references to witchcraft are based on historical events. Archival documents show that between 1599 and 1640, various women from Elzele were burned at the stake on suspicion of having dealings with the devil and violating divine and human dignity. This was the horrific fate of the youngest of them, Quintine dele Clisserie, just 38 years old, in 1610. The convicts were chained to the column next to the church twenty four hours before their execution in the neighbouring Lessen.


Who knows, perhaps the real Quintine could have benefited from the detective skills of her 300-years-younger fictional fellow villager Hercule Poirot. He was fictional, right? The inhabitants of Elzele would obviously refute this opinion, referring you to his 'birth certificate' at the Maison du Pays des Collines. Indeed, the civil register states clear as day that one Hercule Jacques was born on 1 April 1850 to the family of Jules Louis Poirot and Godelieve Van Prei. On the facade there is even an image of the world-famous inscrutable, phlegmatic and balding detective with the bowler hat and waxed pointed moustache. The British author Agatha Christie (1890-1976) called on the ingenuity of our compatriot to solve the crimes in her numerous whodunits. She was known to have taken care of Belgian refugees during the First World War. Was our Hercule a 'historical' figure or an amalgam of the character traits of the people she was looking after? The haze of mystery lingers, much to the annoyance of foreign journalists, among others, who came to Elzele to uncover the roots of one of the most famous sleuths in the world.


We know the truth, right? Let's look at the facts: Hercule was born on 1 April, his family name was Poirot and that sounds exactly like poireau, which in turn is the French translation of Van Prei (leek), his Flemish mother's maiden name. About as Belgian as it gets, for sure, but authentic? Judge for yourself...