La Croix des fiancés (The Cross of the Betrothed)

La Croix des fiancés (The Cross of the Betrothed)

The story is about Marie Solheid, a maid at the Niezette farm in picturesque Haloux, near the village Limbourg. She was born on October 10, 1846 in Xhoffraix. And about Francois Reiff, worker at the Gileppe dam, born in 1829 in Bastogne. They had met at the fair in Jalhay and soon fell in love. They got engaged and decided to get married. On the wintry Saturday, January 21, 1871, Marie and her Francois went to the village Xhoffraix, where Marie was originally from. They had to collect the necessary documents for their intended marriage. They started their 20-kilometer hike around 9 in the morning.

Young and in love as they were, they chose to go on foot. Along the way, they paused in cafe Mixhe in Jalhay, before starting the 12-kilometer journey through the fairly well-known area. The innkeeper and Marie’s brother, who also worked in the cafe, tried to prevent them from going on foot. But in vain. Marie said that as a real girl she would master this situation. They left Jalhay around noon. Overwhelmed by a snow storm and fog, they got lost and Francois had to leave the exhausted Marie near boundary stone 151. On her dress, Marie wore a note written in pencil that read “Marie vient de mourir et moi je vais le faire“. This means: Marie has just died and so will I.

He went looking for help but didn’t make it. Marie’s brother already started searching for the two from Jalhay on January 23, because Marie had not yet returned. Only through a letter that reached them on January 25, they too were alarmed. Just on this day began a severe frost period in the Hautes Fagnes, accompanied by snowfall that covered the bodies of Francois and Marie. The search efforts made in the following weeks were fruitless because of the thick snow. His body was found in early March after the first snow melted in the Hautes Fagnes near Solwaster.

On March 16, 1871, the Verviers newspaper “Le Nouvelliste” read: “Last Monday, around 5 o’clock in the evening, the body of an unknown person was found in the Hautes Fagnes, about a mile from Solwaster. Description reads: height about 1.60 m, round founded, high forehead, gray eyes, medium sized nose, small mouth, round chin, blond hair and blond mustache, he wore a linen jacket, a flat felt hat and black satin trousers. He also wore a shirt made of fine linen, an undercoat made of white-blue striped cotton and almost new, thin shoes with laces. He was carrying a sum of 24 Francs in various Belgian coins. Death was the result of frostbite, which was probably caused by exhaustion. No traces of violence have been found. The time of death is probably more than six weeks ago.”

Already the next day, the same newspaper stated: “Two months ago, on the eve of his wedding, the young man left with his betrothed to obtain the necessary documents for the marriage. Since then, neither of them has been seen again. The judiciary is busy solving this mysterious event.”
A week later, on March 22, 1871, a border guard at border control, probably the first time after the snow had melted, found Marie’s body at the foot of boundary stone 151. This spot is about two kilometers from the place where Francois had been found. The letter written by Francois was found on her dress. On the next day she was buried by pastor Joseph Heinen in Xhoffraix.

There is now a cross on the spot where Marie was found. The first cross was erected by Marie’s father in the summer of 1871 on the old road la Vêcquée to Xhoffraix where Marie had passed out. At that time (until 1877 at least) this road was still widely used. So not near boundary stone 151. Farmers also erect a cross on the spot where Francois was found. This cross soon fell into disrepair, as did the cross that Marie’s father had erected. To replace both crosses, a new cross was erected in 1893, which also bore the year 1893. This quickly led to confusion and many people believed that the events had taken place in that year. In 1906 the cross was replaced and in 1931 it was placed in the museum of Verviers. A new cross was placed on it in 1931 by the Touring Club. Today, however, there is again a new cross.

Some more thoughts on the deaths of the two love ones:
Francois, not from the Hautes Fagnes, was apparently dressed in his Sunday clothes, not at all suitable for the terrain at this time of the year. He had no sturdy shoes, no neckerchief and no gloves. There is also nothing to read about an extra supply of food, which is urgently necessary during such a demanding journey. Marie, who should have known the terrain much better, probably didn’t die right away, but fainted first.

Unfamiliar with the terrain at all, but thinking he had to save his loved one, Francois wandered about, hoping to find help. He tried to go back the way they had traveled. However, he got lost in the wilderness unknown to him and died.
Marie probably regained consciousness after passing out and tried to reach Baraque Michel, 1800 meters away. She saw the border marker marked 151 and knew she had to walk past it on her way to the inn. She stumbled towards it through the deep snow, only to be hit so hard by the cold and exhaustion that she couldn’t go any further. She could still find the strength to take off her underskirt and hang it in a bush as a marker. Then she sat against the boundary post with her face out of the wind. There she fell asleep and never woke up again.