How it began
For nearly four centuries the Castle of Hingene has been the favourite summer residence of the noble d’Ursel family. Every year the Duke journeyed there with his family and servants. In the summer of 1877 the Duke’s daughters, 26 year-old Sophie and her sister Juliette, two years younger, went along too.
Gods and butterflies
During their holidays Sophie and Juliette made a collage to place above one of the doors. It is a print of a Buddhist goddess being worshipped by two children. Birds and butterflies fly around them and on either side stand flowers and fruits on the vine. Sophie and Juliette cut the figures out of Chinese prints. The plants and animals come from left-over pieces of the same blue Chinese wallpaper that is hanging in the same room.
And behind it a letter
But the sisters had another surprise up their sleeves. On the back of their collage they hid a letter. In it they describe themselves – not forgetting the large noses that were a family characteristic – and say how happy they are. In the postscript they reveal their real purpose: their letter is a message for the future!
Ghosts in the castle?
‘Let he who reads this make no mistake as to our intention’, is what it says, translated from the original French. ‘We speak to you, so that you will think of us and cherish our valued traditions: that everyone should sacrifice their personal interests to the general good and preserve family feeling like the precious treasure it is. So long as this beloved castle remains standing our shades will bless the rooms where so many generations have been happy. Hingene, September 1877’.
A name, a prayer and a brush
While Sophie and Juliette were making their collage, the Huygelens, father and son, were hanging the blue Chinese wallpaper in the same room. On each wall they wrote a short message. Translated from the original French, they say: ‘Done by B. Huygelen, Upholsterer Puers 1877’, ‘Continued by Joseph Huygelen, Upholsterer at Puers. 1877’ or ‘This room was re-wallpapered in 1877’. The Huygelens also jotted down a prayer: ‘Pray for the souls of those who commissioned this work and those who executed it’. Behind the hanging they left some of the typical tools of their trade: a brush, a needle and some thread.
The Huygelens were not the only ones to leave a trace behind them. Almost every room in the castle is decorated with Chinese wallpaper or cotton fabric. And on almost every wall a word, a sign, or a scribble is to be found. Often the upholsterers signed or dated the plaster layer behind their work. Sometimes they wrote numbers on it or practical indications like ‘Tapisserie’ [‘Cloth-hanging’] or ‘Papier’ [‘Paper’]. Here and there we find a couple of verses or a design for the decoration.
A fragile treasure
Cotton wall-coverings date from the seventeenth to the twentieth century. They come from India and Europe and may be either printed or painted. Although they were a popular wall-covering for summer residences it is extremely unusual to find them hanging in practically every room as here. For the upper rooms the d’Ursel family didn’t choose traditional furnishing fabrics but clothing fabrics with smaller repeating motifs. As a whole they form a unique collection of European importance: no other castle or country house has so many cotton wall-coverings still preserved in situ.
And what happened next
Now over to you…
These extraordinary wall-coverings are currently being restored and prepared for re-hanging. But before then –it’s your turn. Make yourself immortal and leave a message for the future on the walls of the castle. Your watchword for living, your favourite quotation, a poem you have written, a memory of the past or a prediction for the future, a philosophical insight or a declaration of love: anything goes. You can even choose in which language to do it: in English of course, in Greek, Hindi or Chinese if you like. The profits will go entirely towards the restoration of the wall-coverings.
In the castle for ever
We are also asking leading writers and poets, scientists and philosophers, artists and opinion-makers to think of a message for the future. Over the winter calligrapher Brody Neuenschwander will write all the texts in stylish letters on the walls of the castle. American Neuenschwander has been living in Bruges for many years and collaborated on the films of Peter Greenaway
Give a piece of the wall as a present
Are you looking for a unique Christmas present? Then reserve a piece of the wall for your family or friends. You will receive a beautifully wrapped booklet containing the text and photos of this story, all ready to place under the Christmas tree. Via a code for the website the recipient will be able to write his or her message for the future straightaway.
Come to the castle
By spring all the messages will have been placed on the walls of the castle. But before we hide them behind the cotton wall-hangings you will have the exceptional privilege of coming to see them. On 10, 11 and 12 March 2017 we will receive as our guests all those who have either written a text or given a piece of the wall as a present. They will also be given a special admission card for the future.
Your message unveiled
The messages are indeed destined for the future. We will unveil them for the first time in 2027 (after ten years) and then again in 2042, 2067 and 2117 (or in 25, 50 and 100 years’ time). On each occasion, during the second weekend of March, everyone is free to come and read the dreams, wishes and desires of 2017. Whoever at that moment remembers to bring the original invitation with them (well-cherished and preserved, of course) will be received like a Prince or a Princess. And with digital gadgets not yet invented future visitors will probably be able to look right through the hangings to the messages.
Do you too want to leave a message for those who come after us? Write then, not your last words but words that will last for ever, here in this castle.