The Abbey of Egmond and the rise of the Gerulfings
Updated: 2 days ago
Monk Ecgberht of Ripon was the driving force behind the Christianization of the heathen Frisians. From the influential monastery Rath Melsigi in Ireland he released salvo after salvo of monks, priests and other clergymen on Frisia. Monks Willibrord and Adalbert were yet another two of his spiritual soldiers. After having received their education at Rath Melsigi both were fired off too and hit the broad beaches of western Frisia. Their D-Day was around AD 690. Despite the fact the two men and their fellowship were able to convert only a handful of Frisians, their presence did trigger a butterfly effect. It eventually led to establishment of the Abbey of Egmond. It was this abbey that played a crucial role in the rise of the counts of West Frisia, the Gerulfings, and subsequently the emergence of county Holland.
Willibrord, Apostle to the Frisians, set off with a party of clergymen to Frisia. One of his assistants was monk Adalbert. Just like their colleague Ecgberht in monastery Rath Melsigi (also Rathmelsigi, today's Mellifont's abbey north of Dublin), they were Anglo-Saxons too. It was during a period that Frisia, under the command of King Aldgisl and King or Count Radbod, still was able to withstand the land-hungry imperialistic Franks from the south. The spot where the party of clergymen went ashore was probably at Rodulfsheim, what is today the town of Rijnsburg at the mouth of the river Old Rhine. The wider region is called Kennemerland, which basically is a series of elevated sandy, thus dryer, ridges (geests) running north-south parallel to the dunes of the North Sea coast, from the present-day town of Munster to that of Petten. Some writers have named this area a 'fine highway' since a series of settlements along the North Sea coastal zone was tightly knitted together with paths and roads since ancient times. Kennemerland even is mentioned in medieval Icelandic verses about a.o. the Vikings as Kinnlimasiðe.
Another apostle who travelled together with Willibrord and Adalbert to Frisa, was Suitbert. Again an Anglo-Saxon monk and who had studied at the monastery of Rath Melsigi too. Besides Frisia, he also did a lot of work evangelizing the Old Saxons in among others Westphalia, current Germany. He ended his career at a small Island in the river Rhine near Dusseldorf where he built a monastery. After his death he was declared a saint as well.
Willibrord did what apostles do. He preached the gospel and founded churches. The churches preferable were built on top of places of pagan cult. An example frantically copied by the Spanish conquistadores in Latin America centuries after. Wooden churches were erected in for example in the settlements Heiloo, Noordwijk, Oegstgeest, Petten, Velsen and Voorhout. In addition, chapels were sprinkled around lavishly. After all this hard work Willibrord saw it was good. He retreated to his warm abbey in Echternach in Luxembourg of which he was the abbot. The churches he founded therefore resorted under the Abbey of Echternach, although many other after his death did too. In the eleventh century, no less than twenty-four churches and many more chapels in West Frisia belonged to this powerful abbey and it understandably was very influential in Frisia west of river Vlie (viz West Frisia). In Frisia east of the river Vlie (modern provinces Friesland and Groningen in the Netherlands) the abbeys of Fulda (near Frankfurt) and Werden (near Essen) were influential. A final remark about Willibrord: a big statue of him, riding a Friesian horse with on his open hand a typical Frisian church, can been seen at the Janskerkhof square in the historic city center of Utrecht. Next to the eleventh-century church of Saint John.
What about his help Adalbert? Well, assistant Adalbert became a hermit. Maybe it was one of the targets of his job assignment. Maybe it was his in-breast. No, in fact, it all fitted within the new Irish tradition of which he was an apprentice, of the peregrinatio dei 'wander for God'. Exile and voluntary suffering, in combination with preaching the gospel in foreign lands. In the Vita Sancti Adalberti we can read that what Adalbert adviced others in words, he himself performed in deeds first. According to Adalbert it would be harmful if his words wouldn't be put in practice. Whatever the reason, he retreated somewhere in the area between Swithardeshaga (around the present-day town of Lisse, province Zuid Holland) and Fortrapa (the present-day hamlet Vatrop at Wieringen, province Noord Holland). Besides spiritual well-being, Adalbert also took care of worldly matters. When pirates arrived he made sure the coast of Egmond was like a fog. By the way, pirates belong to this coast, already since the Late Antiquity; read our blog post It all began with piracy.
Around AD 740 Adalbert died and he was buried at the settlement of Hecmunda (Egmond). Soon, the site where Adalbert was buried started to attract pilgrims after miracles occurred. Always a potential lucrative phenomenon and a wooden church was built over his grave. From the rule peregrinatio dei Adalbert followed after his death after all the monastic rules of stabilitas loci 'steadfastness on site' and claustrum 'seclusion'. Not only the few converted Frisians worshipped here. Interestingly, unconverted Frisians made pagan offerings at this site as well. That, however, didn’t prevent the also heathen Vikings from sacking the church several times around AD 800. Apparantly, the church had hoarded some wealth with all these pilgrims to be of interest to these greedy sea bandits living so close to Frisia they could smell the gold. Thanks to a certain priest named Amalat, and he must have been a phlegmatic personality considering the pagan offerings that took place at his church, the church was rebuilt. All this according to the Vita Sancti Adalberti.
Peregrinatio dei became fashion around AD 700 under Irish monks. Adalbert was only one of many, and region Kennemerland only one of the areas whereto these monks travelled. In the Liber de mensura orbis terrae of AD 825, written by the Irish monk Dicuil, this phenomenon is described. Fearless Irish monks crossed open seas in traditional (fragile) Irish currach boats made of leather-skin and settled on islands as hermits. Hence, Irish monks were the real explorers of the North Atlantic, before the Vikings claimed this title. They had settled at the Faroe islands, Iceland, Orkney Islands and Shetland Islands before the arrival of the Norseman. The Vikings called them papar 'fathers'.
We have to mention the Irish monk Saint Brendan of Clonfert and the Navigatio Sancti Brendani Abbatis 'Voyage of Saint Brendon' too. This famous voyage took place in the first half of the sixth century. Saint Brendan, born with the name Mobhi (or should we write it as Moby?) in the south-west of Ireland, is one of the twelve apostles of Ireland. He travelled the North Atlantic in search of the Garden of Eden. Never found it by the way, but maybe he found America. Could have been worse. Along the Frisia Coast Trail, on the Wadden Sea island of Terschelling, stands an old lighthouse named after this saint, namely the Brandaris. The lighthouse was orinally built in AD 1323, but after it was detroyed during a storm, rebuilt in AD 1594. With that still the oldest lighthouse of the Netherlands.
Hecmunda, or Egmond, where Saint Adalbert was buried, is not the same spot as the present-day village of Egmond-Binnen. Hecmunda was located closer to the dunes at the North Sea. Climate-wise it was a period of strong dune formation. There’s even a legend telling about these drifting sands. It is the story how the famous Danish warlord Rorik of Dorestad, ruler of West Frisia those days, visited with his ship the church of Egmond. When he learned the church was buried under sand and dunes, Rorik for some reason ordered his Vikings to dig out the church the following day. When they woke up, the church miraculously was freed from the sand. Of course, it was all the work of Saint Adalbert who probably didn't want to give any credits to the northern devils for freeing his church.
Egmond can be translated as ‘Eg mouth’. The river Eg (egg/ hegge) or IJ (ei) might have been a branch of the estuary of the river Oer-IJ which initially was connected to the North Sea. The fact Egmond was still connected to sea in the ninth century, explains too why the Godfrid the Sea-King supposedly built his stronghold here too (see further below).
Sorry we brought up the Vikings, but they do form an essential part of this history. Viking-rule in West Frisia started in AD 841 when the aforementioned warlord Rorik of Dorestad became a vassal of King Lothair I and West Frisia was given in fief to him. West Frisia then encompassed the area west of river Vlie stretching from river Meuse in the south of the Netherlands all the way north to the island Texel. But also much of the central river lands of the Netherlands, including the river Vecht area (see map above). Of course, the jewel of the Rhine, emporium Dorestat (present-day town of Wijk bij Duurstede; check out our blog post The batwing doors of northwest Europe) then the biggest trading town of northwestern Europe, belonged to Rorik’s jurisdiction as well. All these territories together almost coincided with today’s combined provinces Noord Holland and Zuid Holland. Some argue therefore that during the Viking Rule in the ninth century the foundation for Holland was laid already. The estuaries of the rivers Scheldt and Meuse, what is today province Zeeland, also belonged to (West) Frisia but were since AD 837 de facto being ruled by different Danish warlords with their power base at the Walcheren Island. Read more about this history in our blog post Island the Walcheren: Once Soddom and Gomorrah of the North Sea.
Most probably Rorik had his seat at Dorestat, although it is also possible that from around AD 860 he used the area of Egmond as his seat (too). Albeit Rorik’s liaisons with the Franks remained particularly troublesome, he nevertheless more or less continuously ruled over western Frisia until ca. AD 880, the year around which Rorik must have died.
There is another legend connecting Rorik to the area of Egmond, that of the Runxputte or Runx well. It is located three kilometres southeast of present village of Egmond-Binnen as the crow flies and just south of the village Heiloo, also known as Oesdom. Supposedly, the Runx well was named after Rorik since he renovated the well. This well sprung up, according to legend, in the first quarter of the tenth century. Rorik, however, lived in the ninth century. We are still working on it to bring these two legends together in time, without the help of a DeLorean time machine.
The Runx well was situated next to a mound called Kruisberg 'cross mountain'. During the High Middle Ages this became a pilgrimage site. That was after a statue of Virgin Mary was found in the fields nearby. The statue was handed over to the local church but it miraculously returned to the fields, there where the Runx well was as well. After a merchant, who was saved at sea by worshipping this Virgin Mary statue, had built the chapel of Our Lady for Distress on top of the Kruisberg, things went crazy. It became and stayed a very popular place pilgrimage, even after the chapel had been destroyed in AD 1537 and even after the new Protestant religion cleaned up everything, i.e. the remains of the ruined chapel and of the Runx well. As extreme measure the Protestant authorities excavated the whole Kruisberg-mound in AD 1769. Again, it didn't help. Pilgrimage continued. It was the Catholic church that finally played down the pilgrimage in the beginning of the nineteenth century. But a century later, that same church renovated the place again. In 1930 they built a brand new Our Lady for Distress chapel, placed a statue of Saint Willibrord on the site and, in the footsteps of Viking Rorik, they restored the well again. It is a popular place of pilgrimage till this very day.
In AD 882 another Viking warlord, Godfrid the Sea-King, also named Godfrid Duke of Frisia, received West Frisia in fief from King Charles the Fat. Godfrid built his stronghold near Egmond. It was the death of Godfrid the Sea-King that opened the door for the West-Frisian noblemen to step in. Marking the definitive start of the rise of the Frisian dynasty of the Gerulfings. And, it was all thanks to a treacherous murder. The assassination was documented in the Annales Fuldenses and went as follows.
In the spring of AD 885 warlord Godfrid send two of his vassals, the Frisian noblemen Gardulf and Gerulf (brothers according to some scholars), to representatives of King Charles the Fat at Herispich, probably at present-day Spijk near the town of Lobith in the Netherlands. They dutiful delivered the message that Godfrid demanded to receive in fief -believe or not- certain wine-producing areas near among others Koblenz. Maybe for his wine cellar, but historians suggest it was merely meant to provoke the king. After both had conveyed the message for more alcohol a second meeting was set up at Herispich. This time between Godfrid and, the Saxon, Henry Margrave of the Franks. During this meeting Godfrid was murdered by Henry. Also, Godfrid's army present at Herispich was slaughtered by a contingent Frisians and a contingent Saxons.
Four years after the murder, in AD 889, most of West Frisia that had been given in fief to the warlords Rorik and Godfrid before, was given in fief again. This time King Arnulf of Carinthia gave the lands in loan to a Frisian, the nobleman Gerulf who was -as said- a former vassal of warlord Godfrid the Sea-King and involved with the events at Herispich. All very intriguing, of course. This fief included the gouw 'shire' Nifterlake with the strategically important river Vecht. We know this, because later shire Nifterlake was a possession of Gerulf’s son Waldger. Historians do not agree whether Gerulf was part of the murder conspiracy against Godfrid. Whatever his role, West Frisia no longer was ruled by Danish axes. Gerulf presumably was a descendant of Gerulf the Elder. To avoid confusion, he is therefore generally named Count Gerulf II. Gerulf the Elder (Gerulf I) is known from the Viking attack at the Walcheren in AD 837. Gerulf the Elder was somehow blamed (too) for the disaster by the Frankish king and as a punishment his fiefs in Mid Frisia, being more-or-less modern province Friesland, were taken away from him. Both, therefore, Gerulf the Elder (Gerulf I) and Count Gerulf II had assets in shire Westergo which was part of Mid Frisia, and it is assumed by most historians both originated from this region as well.
The next phase in the genesis of the Abbey of Egmond started when in AD 923 King Charles the Simple gives the Adalbert Church at Ekmundam (Egmond) in allodium to Count Dirk I, son of Count Gerulf II, including all its possessions in Suithardeshaga (near the village of Lisse), Fortrapa (at former island Wieringen) and Kinnem (probably at island Terschelling). Soon after this gift, Dirk I ordered to move the relics from the Adalbert Church to the nearby settlement of Hallem and to be placed in a wooden church. The fact that he moved the relics to Hallem, a bit away from the sea and its dunes, might also have had to do with the strong dune formation then, as mentioned earlier. And somewhat predictable, during a translatio 'transfer' in general, miracles happened. On the spot where Adalbert’s bones were excavated a sweet-water well sprang up from under the tomb. This quickborn (viz the Adalbertusput) of clear water turned out to be medicinal and is considered to be so to the present day. Both the relics and the well have the power to cure possessed, crippled and blind people. It is said that the daughter of count Dirk II was cured of her blindness thanks to the water of this well. The name Egmond, travelled along with Adalbert’s remains to Hallem. Gradually the name Hallem was replaced by the name Egmond, later to become the current place-name Egmond-Binnen. Count Drik I also commissioned the construction of a wooden monastery for nuns in Hallem (Egmond-Binnen) around these years.
The church of Hallem was a so-called proprietary church, a church owned by a secular power. The feudal lord, therefore, nominated the ecclesiastic personnel of the church.
In the eleventh century, church and state clashed in Europe, the so-called Investiture Controversary. It was the long-lasting conflict between ecclesiastical and secular powers about who had the right to install higher ecclesiastic personnel. The famous Road to Canossa of King Henry IV was part of this struggle. After a long travel through the cold mountains of the Alps, King Henry IV arrived on January 25, 1077 at the gates at the castle in Canossa where the Pope and Henry had agreed to meet. The Pope, however, let Henry wait for three days standing in the snow, before the gates were opened. It did not, however, settle the investiture issue yet. That only came to an end in the first quarter of the twelfth century, when finaly it was settled only the church had the right to invest bishops and abbots and no longer secular leaders as well.
Before we continue, the name Hallem needs to be explained in more detail and to be placed in the early-medieval context of central-place-complexes (CPC).
Hallem refers to the presence of a hall as vividly described in the Old English epic poem Beowulf. It were long-houses where kings and big men drank, ate and -the next day- broke rings to forge new or reconfirm existing alliances. 'The next day' because tradition of Germanic tribes was the drink together the first day and to do business the second day. But this aside. Besides Hallem, the local topographical place-name 'Smithan', which has been preserved in the surrounding area, means it must have been a place of craft. A hall(em) and a (black) smith(an) indicate the presence of comital family property. Additionally, the etymology of the pre-Christian place names of nearby Hargen and Heiloo indicates places of heathen worship. Lastly, the etymology of De Schepelenberg, also nearby Hallem, was probably a ding or ting. A place to gather, make new laws and for justice. For long it was tradition that new counts were honoured by his subjects at De Schepelenberg and this custom possibly originates from the times it was still used as a ting. Trade, also an essential function of a CPC, was possible with the North Sea via a branch of the estuary of the river Oer IJ or perhaps via Velsen. As explained above, Egmond can be translated as ‘mouth of the (river) Eg'.
Everything put together leads to the conclusion Hallem (i.e. Egmond-Binnen) might have been the power centre of a local political entity since the Early Middle Ages comparable to the CPCs found in southern Scandinavia (Dijkstra 2011). The presence of a CPC may explain why the Dane Godfrid the Sea-King had his stronghold (or hall) around Egmond, as rumor has it. For more background on CPCs in early-medieval Frisia, read also our blog post Tolkien pleaded in favor of King Finn.
Besides Hallem in West Frisia (province Noord Holland), there is another Hallum in the Netherlands, namely in shire Oostergo in Mid Frisia (more or less province Friesland). Finds of gold, parts of a sixth or seventh-century vendel helmet at Hallum and a pommel of a so-called ring sword at the town of nearby Dokkum indicate an early-medieval power base here as well. Archaeologists still hope to find traces of the halls of both Hallem and Hallum to have actually proof local big men or kings had their citadels there indeed.
Halfway the tenth century, Count Dirk II replaces the wooden monastery of the nuns by a stone monastery for monks. The nuns had endured quite a lot during the relatively short period they lived and prayed at Egmond. According to the already mentioned tenth century Vita Sancti Adalberti 'the life of Saint Adalbert' the monastery was burned down twice. During these fires the shroud in which the bones of Saint Adalbert were kept, miraculously was preserved. Besides the fires, the nuns had to endure the so-called beastly and hostile men of Frisia as well. These men made it impossible for the nuns to live a pious life, and it was said that this was the true reason why the nuns had to leave.
For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart (Hebrews 4:12)
In the Middle Ages integration of church and state was rather the rule than the separation of the two, as is common in Europe nowadays. Back then, it gave the worldly ruler legitimacy. It was Count Dirk II who made of Egmond a prestigious religious centre with an abbey destined to be the grand mausoleum of the Gerulfing dynasty. Where monks prayed and sang for the spiritual welfare of deceased counts and countesses. Maybe the monks of Egmond created there and then the hymn Humili prece with 'Doctor Adalberte sint omnia prospera per te | et nobis famulis tu miserere tuis' as their call upon Saint Adalbert as their patron saint. Between AD 960-980 the construction of the stone church and monastery was completed, and with that the realization of the Abbey of Adalbert was accomplished. Actualy, the oldest abbey of the Netherlands. The foundation of the abbey has been preserved in an exquisite, tenth century, illuminated manuscript which is kept in the National Library of the Netherlands, the Evangeliarum (or Evangeliary) of Egmond. This too, documenting the glory and fame of the Gerulfings, was part of the works of the abbey. Around AD 1110 the monks started to write yearbooks, the Annales Egmundenses.
And to give the Abbey of Egmond even more prestige, another translatio took place. This concerned the remains of Saint Jerome of nearby Northgo or Nordcha (the present-day town of Noordwijk). His relics were dug up and placed in the new abbey too. Jerome was a Scott who travelled to Frisia in AD 847 to preach the gospel. It was the era the Vikings still wielded their axes in West Frisia. Jerome was beheaded when he refused to betray his faith towards the pagan Vikings. The spirit of Saint Jerome revealed himself to the person Nothbodo, a local farmer, and Jerome showed Nothbodo where his remains were buried. Like a zombie who needed some help to unearth himself. So, the relics of two saints, Jerome and Adalbert, were now in the abbey.
The library of the Abbey of Egmond (probably) also kept the so-called Four King's Charters. In these charters the West-Frisians counts received gifts and fiefs from (West and East) Frankish kings. From the twelfth century onward these four charters are being presented by the Egmond tradition as the formal bases of the county and dynasty of the West-Frisian counts. The four charters are: AD 889 gifts of King Arnulf of Carinthia to Count Gerulf (four years after the death of Godfrid the Sea-King), AD 923 gifts of King Charles the Simple to Count Dirk I, AD 969 gifts of King Lothair of France to Count Dirk II and AD 985 gifts of Holy Roman Emperor Otto III to Count Dirk II. From these charters we know what the size and nature of the territories that were attributed to the West-Frisian Gerulfings by the Frankish kings. Copies of these four charters have been preserved in the Cartularium (cartulary) of Egmond written in the fourteenth century.
The prestige of the abbey was enhanced by the gift of churches. In AD 988 Count Dirk II donated the churches of Noordwijk and of Voorhout to the Abbey of Egmond. In AD 993 count Arnulf donated the church of Vlaardingen to the abbey. With these possessions the abbey was entitled to nominate pastor candidates and to receive a type of tax, the decima regalis, or the tienden 'tenths'. In the course of the eleventh century more churches were donated to the abbey by the Gerulfings. It were the churches of Heiloo, Oegstgeest, Petten, Velsen and Vlaardingen. These were churches founded by Saint Willibrord in the eight century. More about these churches below, because it became quite an issue. In general, all these churches were so-called aisle-less churches, also called a Saalkirche in German or zaalkerk in Dutch, and measured more-or-less nine meters wide by twenty-two meters long. And, size does matter, as we will see further down below this blog post. The churches had no tower attached to it. These towers were placed, if at all, seperately from the church building. Examples of free-standing bell towers are still to be seen in the terp-region of Germany and the Netherlands to this day.
All in all, a clear demonstration of the rising power of the self-confident West-Frisian counts. Counts that started to operate more and more independent from the Frankish kings. It culminated in the battle of Flardiga (the present-day city of Vlaardingen in province Zuid Holland) where the West-Frisian Count Dirk III defeated a Frankish army in AD 1018, although total disorder of the undisciplined and unprepared Frankish army contributed more than a bit to Dirk's victory. This battle, however, traditionally is regarded as the start of an independent West Frisia, later to become county Holland. To further increase their power, the Gerulfings had to limit or break as well the influence of the Abbey of Echternach which owned many of the so-called Willibrord churches and chapels within the territory of West Frisia. These were churches and chapels founded by Saint Willibrord in the late seventh and early eighth centuries. The solution was simple: the counts of West Frisia usurped these churches and chapels.
The Willibrord churches became a real issue in the tenth and eleventh centuries. It illustrated the power struggle going on between the Bishopric of Utrecht, the Abbey of Echternach and the Abbey of Egmond (i.e. the Geruflings). It was the Synod of Mainz in AD 1049 that assigned, with the approval of Holy Roman Emperor Henry the Pious, the churches to the Abbey of Echternach. Afterwards, nothing changed in practice. Things became even more complicated since not only Echternach wanted their churches back, but also the Bishopric of Utrecht claimed the Willibrord churches. In AD 1063 the Synod of Utrecht, when the issue still was not resolved, assigned twelve churches and chapels to the Church of Utrecht and twelve to the Abbey of Echternach. So, fifty-fifty (and now the reader also knows where the Dutch concepts ‘to polder’ and ‘Dutch treat’ originate from). Still, it did not change a thing.
The reason why the Abbey of Echternach and the Bishopric of Utrecht made a claim to these Willibrord churches, had to do with money, as it often does. It were parochial churches and with the commercial peat exploitation and reclamation of land that had started around this time too, population in West Frisia or Holland increased. With that the number of ecclesia media (i.e. smaller churches belonging to the parochial church) and of chapels founded increased. With the increase of ecclesia media and chapels the revenues of the parochial churches increased. To have an idea of the magnitude of the commercial exploitation of these peat areas, also known as the Great Reclamation, read our blog post The United Frisian Emirates and Black Peat.
Whatever the formal declarations of synods and seals of emperors, the Gerulfings continued to consider the Willibrord churches as their proprietary churches. In a way they had valid arguments for doing so. When the Viking attacks started in the region, bishop Hunger of Utrecht moved his seat in AD 857, first to Saint Odilliënberg in modern province Limburg and later, in AD 882, to Deventer in modern province Overijssel. Bishop Hunger took with him the archives of Utrecht. Only around AD 925, Bishop Balderic returns from Deventer to Utrecht. During the stay in Deventer and especially after returning to Utrecht in AD 925, the cartularium and list of possessions is extended. Also, the bishopric tried to butter up relations with the Holy Roman Emperor. This suggests the bishopric was preparing to reclaim its rights in West Frisia. However, the Gerulfings who had taken care of these churches in the meantime, were not really amused with the renewed interest of these, maybe in their eyes, cowards of Utrecht. Or should we say, gold-diggers? They had forfeited their rights, according to the counts. Eventually, in AD 1156, the Abbey of Echternach renounced its claim of the churches in exchange of land at island Schouwen in current province Zeeland. A century of bickering about the legacy of Saint Willibrord had ended. Nevertheless, the efforts of the bishopric of Utrecht were a bit successful. Bishop Balderic succeeded to receive the old Frisian pagus 'shire' Nifterlake from Holy Roman Emperor Otto I, possessions of Count Hatto, in AD 948 when Count Hatto fell in disgrace with Otto.
Back to the eleventh century, when the core of the Abbey of Egmond had been established with the builing of a monks monastery and church of stone, relics of two saints and the (disputed) gifts of quite some parochial churches.
The next phase in the genesis of the Abbey of Egmond was initiated by the remarkable Countess Petronilla of Lorraine (ca. AD 1082-1144). She was a halfsister of Holy Roman Emperor Lothair III, married to Count Floris II, also named Floris the Fat, and she was regent of young Count Dirk VI after his father Floris died in AD 1122. She must have been quite a character. A year before her husband deceased, in AD 1021, she commissioned a thorough upgrading and enlargement of the abbey. That was also according to the whishes of the monks who were complaining their aisle-less church was too small and too embarrassing. Only eight by twenty-one meters. "That are regular measurements of a standard church, not those of an important abbey," they must have thought and wispered during Lauds, Sext and Vespers. Part of the reconstructions was the sandstone tympanum of Egmond. It is the sole piece of the once impressive abbey left today and the oldest contemporary stone image of a Gerulfing, i.e young Count Dirk VI. It can be admired in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. In AD 1143 the abbey-improvement was completed, since it was the year the altar of the church was consecrated.
The ceremony of consecration has been documented in a charter October that same year. In this charter is codified that the bishop of Utrecht, Hartbert van Bierum (thus a bishop originating from Frisia, current province Groningen) declared that the Abbey of Adalbert had received papal privileges and that he reconfirmed that the abbey had been exempted from paying toll three years earlier. By now the Abbey of Egmond possessed more than twenty churches in West Frisia and the abbey had replaced about thirteen wooden churches by expensive imported tuff stone from Germany.
Interesting too was that Bishop Hartbert van Bierum on this occasion expressed his amazement about the fact that so many relics of saints, apostles, martyrs, virgins etc were being kept at the outer rims [thus unimportant] of the world.
From around 1200 AD, under the leadership of abbots Steppo and Allert, a scriptorium was set up and the abbey started to produce secular and ecclasiastical histories (Burgers, 2008). It is from this time scripture slowly takes shape. Also, the counts of West Frisia/Holland started producing their own charters only from around AD 1200. That is late in comparison to their direct neighbors in Flanders and the Bishopric of Utrecht. The West-Frisians apparently relied longer on the oral tradition with witnesses of flesh and blood than on these novelties of writing and charters of parchment (later complemented with seals) to serve as proof. Read also our blog post Lodging etiquette in Ostfriesland how agreements were made in the oral tradition.
It is from the second half of the thirteenth century, the production of charters exploded in Europe, including West Frisia/Holland, although there a bit later, namely to the end of the century. Also, the language used in charters changed almost instantly from Latin into the lingua franca of the area. Charters gaining more trust as evidence than the oral tradition with witnesses. A practice that had exisited in living memory. England was ahead with the use of charters. Introduction of charters there started already in the late sixth century of which many concerned the church. The logic explanation for the lead by the church is that a monastery or an abbey couldn't inherit like kin did in the secular society. Therefore, land properity and how the church had aquired it (usually it were gifts from kings) had to be explicitly fixed in writing. In the thirteenth century the English took things a step further. In AD 1290 King Richard the Lionheart formally ruled that proof of transactions of goods had to be in writing. In England it meant the definitive transition of the legal system from oral to written. England was the first to do so north of the Alps.
The icing on the cake of the growing confidence of the West-Frisian counts and important for the emergence of Holland was that Floris the Fat (re)named himself from Count of Frisia to Count of Holland in AD 1101. The name Holland or Holdland/Holtland 'wood land' appeared halfway the eleventh century, primarely to indicate the wooded area around the mouth of the river Old Rhine. In AD 1063 the count of Flanders was still known as Robert the Frisian, count of Flanders, and West Frisia was described during his time as Holdlandiae and Fresie. The name Frisia did not die. Like an old soldier it fade away, after having been of service for a very long time.
Then, for almost four centuries, things stay more or less quiet with regard to the stones and walls of the abbey between AD 1100-1500. But not socially. Outside the hortus conclusus or monastery walls (literally 'garden walls') an awful lot was going on: the Friso-Hollandic Wars from the thirteenth century, the civil war of the so-called Hoeksen and the Kabeljauwen 'the Hook and Cod Wars' that started soon after Count William IV was killed by the Frisian militias at the Battle at Warns in AD 1345. A civil war that lasted until the end of the fifteenth century. The Hook and Cod Wars were followed by the Eighty Year's War that started in AD 1568 and coincided with the spread of Calvinism from the second half of the sixteenth century. Vertigo centuries, and that is an understatement.
It was also a time West Frisia definitively changed its identity into Holland and the Frisian language (also called Coastal Dutch) disappeared with it completely. Read our blog post The United Frisian Emirates and Black Peat to understand this heavy social make-over or transformation of West Frisia into Holland. Province Holland eventually became a very powerful economic and political entity in the region. In AD 1568, as said, the Eighty Year's War started against the Catholic Spanish king. And, in AD 1581, with the Act of Abjuration, the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands, or simply the Dutch Republic, was born. Region Holland was the driving force of these wars of independence. The region became even one of the most powerful colonial states in the world.
Lets focus again on the Abbey of Egmond.
From the second half of the thirteenth century, the counts of Holland waged many, costly wars against the Frisians in an attempt to submit the still free peasant-republic of Frisia/ Friesland. The most famous and most disastrous one, was the already mentioned Battle of Warns in AD 1345. Not only Count William IV was killed, but also three of the lords of Montfoort. At least, it left the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam 'narional museum Amsterdam' with one the oldest paintings, if not the oldest, of the Netherlands painted at the end of the fourteenth century, the memorial tablet shown below.
The so-called Friso-Hollandic Wars lasted well into the sixteenth century. In AD 1515 the Abbey of Egmond was affected by these wars, although modestly. A Habsburgian gang of mercenaries called the Black Heap had sacked and ravaged province Friesland for a while as they were paid and instructed to do, but then they bite the hand that had fed them. In this year the Black Heap sacked the city of Alkmaar in Holland whilst, in the words of none other than philosopher ánd Christian ánd humanist Erasmus:
This gang had been fighting for us against the Frisians only recently!
After Alkmaar was sacked the Black Heap turned its sight towards Egmond. They burned down dozens of houses in the village and plundered the abbey after which they continued their way south. From a letter of a monk of Egmond (who orginally came from the monastery of Hemelum in province Friesland) and who had witnessed the whole thing, we know that the abbey was notified in time and was not harmed real bad.
It was during the Eighty Year's War the Abbey of Adalbert was finally destroyed. Not by the enemy but by none less than William of Orange, godfather of the Netherlands, himself. William instructed the Geuzen 'the Brigands' to destroy the monastery in AD 1573 because he was afraid the Spanish would use it as a fortress. Only the ruins of the front of the abbey with the two towers and the tympanum mentioned earlier, remained standing in the fields of Egmond-Binnen. The relics of the saints together with the Egmond Evangeliarium were preserved from looting by the Brigands and kept at houses of private individuals in the city of Haarlem. Not everything was preserved, though. The golden back-strip of the Evangeliarium was lost nevertheless. Ravages of time did the same with the remaining two towers of the abbey. The towers collapsed in respectively AD 1596 and AD 1798.
Incidentally, with the profits of tearing down and looting the old mighty West-Frisian Abbey of Egmond, William of Orange funded the University of Leiden. A forbidden fruit, so do not receive your teachings at this university, especially if you're Catholic. Also, with the introduction of Protestantism in the Low Countries the Catholic believe was oppressed. Performing mass, processions and pilgrimage were banned from the public. The destruction of the chapel Our Lady for Distress and of the Runxputte 'Runx well' all south of the village of Heiloo, as mentioned above, was one of the examples. But on the countryside of region Kennemerland, the Protestants were doing it though and its inhabitants kept loyal to their Catholic faith, even until modern times.
The Geuzen 'the Brigands/Beggars' was a loose confederacy of militias led by, mostly impoverished, Calvinist nobles who opposed Spanish domination. Their motto was: "Liver Tvrcx dan Pavs" meaning 'Rather Turkish (Muslim) than Papist (Catholic)'. The word 'geuzen' derives from the French word 'gueux' which indicates people of the non-noble, third estate.
William of Orange was assassinated in AD 1584. And identical to the assassination of Godfrid the Sea-King in AD 885, the long arm of the Frisian elite was not far away with the presence of the Frisian nobleman Gerulf then. When William of Orange was murdered he was having lunch with… indeed, the mayor of the city of Leeuwarden Rombout van Uylenborgh. Yet again a Frisian at the scene of the crime. Van Uylenborgh, the (future) father-in-law of the famous Dutch painter Rembrandt van Rijn, by the way. Coincidence you think? Sorry. The long, invisible arm of the Frisians in Dutch politics and government is still present. In 2007 a book titled 'De Friese Maffia. 296 Friese politici in Den Haag' (translated: The Frisian Mafia. 296 Frisian politicians in The Hague) described their influence. Those innocents who say the Frisians of province Friesland are striving for independence, fail to see the Frisians are much more sly and cunning than that and steer the Low Countries with an invisible hand for many centuries already. The real puppet masters.
We can only speculate as to what Saint Adalbert must have thought about the destruction of 'his' abbey. Adalbert, a humble help and assistant of the great Saint Willibrord. A hermit who retreated in the dunes near the sea. A man who stressed the importance of putting in practice the values you say that are important. The forerunner of the modern Mid-Frisian saying sizzen is eat, dwaan is a ting 'to say is something, to do/act is a thing'. Or, practice what you preach. Would Adalbert have been content with the interconnectedness of his abbey with the worldly, raw military ambitions of the Gerulfings and the central place the abbey had fullfilled within?
In AD 1800 the remaining stones were cleared, and cows started to graze above the graves of the once mighty Gerulfings. But the phoenix Adalbert resurrected once again. The final phase, the apotheosis of the genesis of the Abbey of Egmond started in the year 1935 when a priory was built on the spot where the proud abbey once stood. The first new monks settled at Egmond-Binnen after four centuries of absence. In 1950 the priory was enlarged, and in the spirit of the miracle of Easter the Vatican promoted the priory to abbey and named it:
Abbey of Adalbert
- the English monk who travelled to Frisia almost 1,300 years ago -
Note 1: The life of Saint Adalbert, or Vita Sancti Adalberti, is written by the monk Ruopert of Mettlach from Trier in Germany in the tenth century. It is considered as maybe the most important source considering the history of the county West Frisia and later Holland.
Note 2: The Frisia Coast Trail passes the Abbey of Adalbert. For hikers, the abbey offers a great spot to rest and the medicinal well (viz Adelbertusput) is an ideal spot for refilling your water bottles or camelback. Especially, since this holy water cures the cripple. But the monks brew beer too!
Note 3: When continuing north from Egmond-Binnen you can opt to hike via the village Wimmenum. Here, near the dunes, used to be a chapel dedicated to the saints and twinborthers Cosmas and Damian and who can support you when you are suffering from an illness or injury and hiking becomes difficult. Legend has it that the chapel was founded by Count William I after he and a band of Frisians conquered the city of Damiate in Egypt during the Fifth Crusade in the thriteenth century. Read also our blog post Foreign Terrorist Fighters from the Wadden Sea to learn more about the Frisians participating in the Crusades.
Note 4: Also, for hikers there is the Monk’s Path (Monnikenpad). It is a circular walk of a bit less than 10 km between the abbey and the well. Try it and feel a phoenix reborn!
Note 5: And since this area is full of sacral ground, also the diocenes of the chapel of Our Lady (Virgin Mary) for Distress developed a 17 km circular hike which takes you along three holy wells, namely: the Runx well (at the chapel of Our Lady for Distress, south of the town of Heiloo), the Adelbertus well (at the Abbey of Egmond) and the Willibrordus well (at the centre of Heiloo). Route descriptions can be purchased at the starting point at the chapel of Our Lady for Distress annex the Runx well.
Suggestion for accompanying music: Hallelujah of Leonard Cohen, in Frisian language sung by Nynke Laverman
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Not for further reading
Vanbrabant, L., Een nieuwe visie op Noordzeevolkeren en Wikingen uit de Lage Landen (2017)