Virga Yes divers

Joint trajectory and exhibition

Museum: Het Stadsmus
Years: 2017

Het Stadsmus

Het Stadsmus, Hasselt’s city museum (baseline: 'home in Hasselt'), wants to discover, together with the people of Hasselt, what connects them with the city’s past, present and future. Intangible heritage, which is mostly implicit, is interwoven throughout every aspect of this museum.

The permanent exhibition explores this heritage as it is expressed in clubs and societies, songs, street and building names, festivities and religious traditions. The Hasselt dialect has been given a special place in Het Stadsmus, and is actually put into practice there. In the 'Hessels Oüer' events, held five times a year, people meet to discuss a topic related to the city in dialect.

In a close collaboration with 'De Roode Roos' chambers of rhetoric, Het Stadsmus is taking a closer look at the legend of Don Christophe, the giant of Hasselt. The museum also maintains the Carillon Museum in St Quintinus’s cathedral in Hasselt and supports projects and guided tours by the city carillonneurs

Het Stadsmus engages in temporary collaborations to help develop projects by local partners that explore specific themes in more depth. By doing so, it gives heritage associations a platform and a partner, and boosts their activities. Het Stadsmus has participated in collaborations concerning Hasselt speculaas biscuits, gastronomy in general, the fairground, Hasselt bands and the Holy Sacrament of the Miracle. Wherever possible, links are made to the museum collection and the top items housed there. The KEIK (Spotlight on Art and Heritage) series of lectures focuses equally on collection items and other aspects of Hasselt’s heritage, both tangible and intangible.

Intangible heritage is registered in the online encyclopaedia at Data on persons, associations, places and stories for neighbourhood and other projects is supplemented and documented by visual material. It is a challenge to conceive of the online encyclopaedia in an even more participatory manner.

The role of the museum in activities concerning intangible heritage varies according to each project and partner. As 'Hessels Ouër' is primarily a meeting of individual participants, supported by 'Veldeke', the dialect association, the museum is responsible for much of the programming and organisation. The museum’s contribution to other activities is mostly limited to content-related and logistical support.

Making the concept of “intangible heritage” more explicit in practice is something that both the museum and all its partners (volunteers and professionals) must work on. Mostly it is so closely interwoven in the museum’s functioning that it does not find enough conceptual expression. Registration could help with this.

Virga Yes divers

Description of the project / practice / program

The intangible heritage at the heart of this project is the Virga Jesse festivities. A brief explanation:

Once every seven years, Hasselt celebrates its patron saint, Maria Virga Jesse. Hasselt dialect concisely refers to the year in which the festivities are held as “’t sevenste jaer” (the seventh year). For each edition, preparations for the festivities start from scratch. A new procession route is devised, with new, contemporary texts and songs. Apart from its religious core, there is also an important folklore element to the Virga Jesse festivities. The street decorations are a good example of this: street and neighbourhood residents band together in committees known as 'rotten' to decorate their 'rot' in a festive manner. Another example of folklore is the pea soup which is handed out by Don Christophe, the Giant of Hasselt, who only appears in public for this special occasion.

The primary aim of 'Virga Yes diverse' was to prepare for the Virga Jesse festivities together with residents of Hasselt with a different worldview, faith or cultural background. A two-part process was set up to accomplish this.

  • As part of an interview project, inhabitants of Hasselt from diverse faiths and world views were asked about their experiences and insights regarding the Virga Jess festivities and about parallels with other public or folk festivities from their country of origin. These testimonies formed the heart of the exhibition in Het Stadsmus. Short videos and quotations gave insight into how various people experience the festivities today, ranging from seventeen-year-old Katlijn Vandebroek to Sameer Srivastva, who has a Hindu background.
  • The exhibition had also had a creative aspect, linked to the tradition of Hasselt’s street and neighbourhood committees, which are known as 'rotten'. During the Virga Jesse activities the carriage gate – the entrance to the museum – was decorated with colourful paintings, made by and together with the inter-faith network in joint workshops. The paintings were supplemented by the flags of the world. At the network’s request the decorations embellishing the museum’s entrance were kept up for six months instead of the customary two weeks.

The inter-faith network was an important bridging organisation for the museum. They took the initiative to invite secondary schools in Hasselt. A visit to the exhibition was always followed by a conversation with representatives from different creeds and religions. PXL college visited the exhibition with trainee primary school teachers. This visit prompted them to think about integrating inter-faith dialogues and heritage in their lessons.

After the Virga Jesse festivities the project was brought to a festive conclusion on a Saturday afternoon, when the participants met to review the results.

How were practitioners of intangible cultural heritage involved?

The Virga Jesse committee

As the initiator of the Virga Jess festivities, the committee was closely involved. The theme they chose for latest edition was ”hope” , a universal theme that every resident of Hasselt can relate to, no matter what their background, culture, faith or world view. The committee actively participated in the consultations with the inter-faith network and the integration council in a demonstration of their willingness to bring the tradition to all inhabitants of Hasselt in the future.

Hasselt citizens with a different creed, religion or cultural background.

A collaboration with the city department for diversity and Orbit vzw was set up to built a bridge to residents of Hasselt from a different cultural background, creed or religion. The city’s inter-faith network and integration council, with representatives from diverse faiths and organisations, were important partners in this venture.

Thanks to this project, the new citizens of Hasselt took an active part in the Virga Jesse activities. They expanded the current ICE community that upholds and gives form to the Virga Jesse festivities.


  • Reaching citizens with a different creed, religion or cultural background is a project on itself: try to rely on an existing network, for example through a collaboration with the city department for diversity.
  • Getting to know each other takes time. But don’t wait too long, to start co-creating and achieving actual results. Once this first step is taken, the intention becomes much more clear for everyone.
  • Visibility (over a longer period of time) and promotion for the project-results are much appreciated by the network.




29 May 2018 from 13:37 to 13:37



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