(in English also Gheel
) is a municipality
located in the Belgian province
. The municipality rather recently (80's) got the status of a city.
It comprises Central-Geel which is constituted of 4 old parishes a/o towns : St-Amand, St-Dimfna, Holven and Elsum. Further on around the center are the parish-towns of Ten Aard (N), Sas 7 (NE), Bel (E), Winkelomheide (SE), Stelen, Oosterlo and Zammel (S), Punt (SW) and Larum (W). On January 1 2006
Geel had a total population of 35,189. The total area is 109.85 km² which gives a population density
of 320 inhabitants per km². Geel’s patron saint
, the Irish Saint Dymphna
, inspired the town’s unique method of care for the mentally ill
. The city is also featured in Ciaran Carson
's novel Shamrock Tea
Origins and Middle Ages
Archeological finds in the area point to iron-age
settlements, but the name of Geel, from a Germanic
root meaning “yellow”, dates from the early Middle Ages. A hamlet already existed in the mid-13th century, at which time a certain Petrus Cameracencis, canon
, wrote the Vita Sanctae Dimpnae
(i.e., life of Saint Dymphna
) set in Geel according to oral tradition
. The cult of the saint attracted numerous pilgrims to the area, leading to a substantial population growth: 2,136 inhabitants in 1374.
In the 12th century, the extended territory around Geel was given to the Grimbergen Abbey. It then became property of one noble family after another throughout medieval times. The noble lords or dames were masters of their community, but pledged feudal allegiance to the Dukes of Brabant. Some form of municipal government was granted to Geel as early as the first half of the 13th century. Throughout the Middle Ages to the end of the 18th century, the history of Geel follows that of the Duchy of Brabant. During all this time, the economy of the city depended on the breeding of sheep for the cloth industry, complemented by the cultivation of flax for the manufacture and trade of linen. A cloth hall was built at the beginning of the 15th century, which was later transformed into the city hall. The Eighty Years' War greatly damaged the Geel economy as well as its buildings and churches. The textile industry recovered to last until the early 19th century, but the economy was now mostly supported by agriculture, specifically rye, oat, barley, and buckwheat. Geel was also known at that time for its Latin School, which attracted students from far away to prepare them for entry at the Catholic University of Leuven.
From the French Revolution until today
In 1795, the Duchy of Brabant was dissolved and Geel made part of the French department
, the precursor of the present province of Antwerp
. The nobles and clerics of the Ancien Régime
gave way to a mayor, who was now answerable to the town’s people. Geel actively participated in the Belgian Revolution
of 1830, resulting in the award of an honorary flag from King Leopold II
. The 19th century also saw the building of several new churches at the demand of the various parishes.
A model of psychiatric care
Geel is well known for the early adoption of deinstitutionalization in psychiatric
care. This practice is based on the positive effects that placement in a host family gives the patient, most importantly access to family life that would otherwise have been denied. The 7th-century Saint Dymphna
, who had moved to the Geel area from Ireland, is usually credited for this type of care. The earliest Geel infirmary and the model where patients go into town, interact with the community during the day, and return to the hospital at night to sleep, date from the 13th century.
Originally, this practice was religiously motivated and organized by a chapter of canons, attached to the church of Saint Dymphna. By the 18th century, however, the placement of patients was mostly done directly, without the intervention of the canons. The number of patients grew in proportion to the growing city’s reputation abroad and the economic benefits flowing to the city provided further motivation to the inhabitants. Attracted by the gentle care of patients, Vincent Van Gogh’s father considered sending his famous son to Geel in 1879. The high point came in 1938, with a total of 3,736 placed patients, compared with only 700 a hundred years earlier.
This novel type of psychiatric care was evaluated by various other institutions around the world (see for instance Eastern State Hospital in Virginia), but often seen as too revolutionary to implement. It is only in the early 20th century that the idea of deinstitutionalization was adopted more widely elsewhere. Today, a modern psychiatric centre stands on the place of the old infirmary, and close to 500 patients are still placed with inhabitants.
- The market square, facing the St-Amand church and bordered by attractive café terraces, is the focal point of the city. The oldest part of the city hall dates from the 17th century. Not far away, the St-Dymphna church marks the place where the saint was buried.
- Geel is located along the river Nete, in the Campine region, which offers to its visitors a varied landscape of forests and dunes, and a natural reservation, de Zegge, owned by the Antwerp Zoo.
- Among the city's attractions one counts a field of orchids, a centenary linden tree, three wind mills, a military cemetery, and a handful a museums including a clock museum, a lamp museum, and an old bakery. The Saint-Alexis college is emblazoned with Art Nouveau sgraffiti by Gabriel van Dievoet.
Geel is a regional agricultural, industrial, and commercial center offering medical and educational services to the neighboring communities. The city is the location of a Janssen Pharmaceutica chemical factory
and a production site for the biotech company Genzyme
. It also hosts the Institute for Reference Materials and Measurements (IRMM)
, which is one of the seven scientific institutes of the European Commission
’s Joint Research Centre
Sports and cultural events