On the evening before the 14the August 1637 (Our dear ladies ascension day) two young boys - Petrus (Peeterke) and Jan(neke) Van den Brande were walking along a willow in the Lange Nieuwstraat (the road leading between Mechelen and Lier
Suddenly Jan(neke) saw something in a crack of the willow and it seemed that inside a 12 cm small statue of Holy Mary (Our dear lady) was fastened inside with a brandnew and rosty old nail.
The day after news was spreading fast throughout Duffel, but also wide surroundings and people came to bring offers to the statue in the willow tree.
September 1637 already 29 guilders were given and one descided to protect the statue by a chapel. It must have been around 7 or 8 meter long. On the 25th of March 1638 the bisshop himself came to preach at the mess in honour of Our dear ladies message-day, together with the deaken of Hilvarenbeek (NL) and the pastor of Tilburg (NL). About 6.000 pelgrims came, which was a huge number compared with Duffel's 1200 inhabitants. The chapel has been enlarged on several occasions and the statue has been stolen and found back. French came, Dutch came, even the Germans damaged the chapel considerably, but eventually it is still there attracting still hundreds of pelgrims each month.
Capels oldest monument is for sure the chapel that is on the Souther bank of the river Nete and named after "Onze Lieve Vrouwe van Goede Wil" (Our dear lady of good will). Already in the 11th century there used to be a wooden chapel on this spot, the Saint Mertens chapel. Duffel belonged then to the bisdom of Kamerijk. Though the chapel was rebuilt in stone in the 16th and 17th century, difficult times were ahead because of the independance war of The Lowlands and the connected religious fights between Catholics and Protestants. The plague and a town fire were disasterous for the community and Duffel almost disappeared from the map. But then in 1637 a miracle happened ... (see next tip).
Duffel had actually three castles on a very small surface. One castle now-a-days actually is the manucipality hall. The other is the castleruin of Ter Elst and across the Nete river there is a small park with in it's centre the place where the Perwyn castle used to be. This castle disappeaered however, leaving the lustal gardens that surrounded it as a small park on the South banks of the Nete.
Cutting Duffel in two unequal parts is the little river Nete, that at this point has been transfered into a enormous storage facility for water. It's called the Antwerpse waterwerken (waterworks). Dikes are raising high above the average waterlevel and the riverbed looks far more wide then it necessarily should be. Still, the Belgian rivers need an enormous capacity when massive rain falls and floading danger appears all over Flanders. To prevent this from happening here, these waterworks are capable of taking in an enormous amount of water and safeguard many other terrains.
The main church of Duffel is the Sint Martinus kerk (Saint Martin's church) and it's graveful slim tower is visible all over the small town. The building is arisen in romanic and gothic styles, that are delicately mixed toegther.
In Dutch the water willow tree (with the hanging branches) is called "treur wilg". This literraly means "moarning willow" or "sad willow". In Duffel a famous place is the "Treur" (= sad) island as for the many water willow that are on it. The name in combination with the place indeed gives a bit of a depressing atmosphere, though it is actually a wonderful green place.
One of the most scenic items at the castle ruins of Ter Elst is the completely intact bridge over the canal towards the castle. It is one of the most photographed places within Duffel, just because of - when the water is perfectly still - the wonderful reflection of the bridge in the water. For me it came out to be a pitty as it just started raining, but still ... the picture will give the idea how it can be.
The Muggenbergpark is a masterpiece in parks. It is not well taken care offm it is done in such precision that it is breathtaking. Everything is so perfect: plants, grass, trees, water runnings. The park holds a dazzling amount of colours green (especially as I was there in springtime) and is flanking the dikes of the river Nete (Antwerpse waterworks). Inside the park some signs are posting "physic tests". A full course can be obtained at the manucipality hall, sport services.
On the western flanks of Duffel there is a very romantic place. It's the small Ter Elst Park with in it's midst the beautiful ruins of castle Ter Elst. I never knew that ruins actually could be pretty and if only one tries to imagine what the castle must have been like. The graceful central tower, surrounded by a colourful wall, equally decorated with small towers. This all in a green setting surrounded by a canal. Truely, this is a very nice place to tell medieval stories of knights and ladies in a time that honour still ment something. Aside the park the dikes of the Nete screen off the Antwerpse waterworks. In summertime (every Tuesday in August) there are theatre plays at this location.
Within the centre of Duffel there is a huge castle shaped buidling, which is the town hall (or manucipality hall) of Duffel. The building, a square with gracefully formed towers on each corner is made out of red bricks and has baroc influences all over.