Article by Anne van Oorschot
On Sunday, June 11th a small group of TIC members stepped into the past in Alphen at an annual festival day for Dutch and Belgium Guilds. Members Sondra and Jean Francois have lived in Alphen for many years and enjoy the unique charm of this village. When they learned that the local St. Willibrordus Archery Guild in Alphen would be hosting the national Guild festival, they invited TIC members to come and join the fun. Since Sondra and Jean Francois’s beautiful home is on the main street – which was also the parade route for the guild celebration, TIC members would have a front row seat!
After a simple lunch, we carried chairs out and admired the different Guild groups as they paraded by. 45 different Guilds participated and it was a treat to see the different costumes and flags from each group. Sondra had invited their neighbor (a former Guild member) to watch with us and he was a wonderful source of information regarding the history and customs of the Guild. There were small and large groups in the parade, but all had a group of drummers and a pennant carrier. Many of the groups were named after Saint Sebastian, the patron saint of archers, but there were references to other saints in the Guild names as well. The bigger groups had more drummers, Clarion (kind of trumpet) players, flag flourishers, a “ royal Couple” and the “Emperor” wearing much medieval silverwork. The most impressive groups also had a beautiful horse to carry their pennant and they walked in a zig zagging manner down the street at the front of their group. Very impressive!!
Some of the guilds are very old – the oldest I noticed dated from 1394!!! – and their origin stems from archers who provided defensive military support for the local civic authority. The members were expected to buy their own weapons and uniforms. (A very Dutch approach: the citizens were responsible for the defence of the city and keeping the peace, without cost to the local government. ) While there is no longer a practical function for the Guilds, their members enjoy meeting to participate in the ancient skills of archery, drumming and clarion playing, as well as flag-flourishing.
After the parade, the groups all went to a large open field on the outskirts of town where there was a marching up of the combined mass of the group, followed by a day full of competitions in all the Guild’s ancient arts. It was such a treat to see observe the festivities! Thank you Sondra and Jean-Francois for your fun and hospitality!