The Unique Leuven Male Ritual Listed by Unesco
Meeting in Bali in 2011, a UNESCO committee added Leuven’s Jaartallen, or ‘age set ritual’, to its list of intangible world heritage.
Dating back to 1890, this unique rite of passage involves men from Leuven born in the same year who get together on their fortieth birthday. They take part in various cultural and charitable activities that last for the next ten years. Some of the meetings take place in the Gothic cellars under the town hall.
On turning fifty, they all get together again in front of a statue of Abraham in the Stadspark (city park). The statue of Abraham, famous for his longevity, was created by the men’s organisation.
When asked why they participate, almost everyone gives the same answer. ‘Friendship,’ they say. A bit like Facebook, you might think. Yet the bonds go much deeper than any social media website. Everyone is welcome to join, regardless of status or politics. You might be a banker, or you might be a street sweeper. The one common bond is the year of birth.
Each cohort gives itself a unique identity by creating a flag, medal and uniform. The men of the year also choose a godfather from the previous cohort, formed ten years earlier.
© Leven in Leuven
They also pick a godmother, who gets to join the otherwise all-male group. ‘The rituals provide participants and the entire city with a strong sense of identity,’ UNESCO says. It could be a model for the world.