Monk Ecgberht of Ripon was the driving force behind the Christianization of the headstrong heathens of Frisia. 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 West Frisia. Their D-Day was around 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. Eventually, it led to the 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 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 written as Rathmelsigi and current Mellifont’s abbey north of Dublin, they were Anglo-Saxons too. Their landfall was during a time when Frisia, under the command of king Aldgisl and king Radbod, still was able to withstand the land-hungry imperialistic Franks from the south.
The spot where the clergymen went ashore, was according to the late eighth-century Vita Willibrordi ‘Life of Willibrord’ of Alcuin, Villa Walcheren in current province Zeeland. Local tradition considered the village of Westkapelle being the place of former Villa Walcheren. Westkapelle is also believed to be the spot where Saint Willibrord smashed an idol and pagan temple to pieces. Locals hit him with a sword, and a dark stain on a stone of the church altar was being considered Willibrord’s blood. Nevertheless, historians locate Villa Walcheren near present Domburg, and would then have been the spot where Willibrord arrived in Frisia (Henderikx 2021).
An important mission area was the wider of pagus ‘district’ Kennemerland of West Frisia. Kennemerland basically is a series of elevated sandy, thus dryer, ridges or geest soils running north-south parallel to the dunes of the North Sea coast. Stretching from the present-day town of Munster to that of Petten. Some have named this region 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. Trivia, pagus Kennemerland is mentioned in medieval, Icelandic verses as Kinnlimasiðe.
Saint Suitbert – Another apostle who traveled together with Willibrord and Adalbert to Frisia, 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 Saxons in among others Westphalia, Germany. He ended his career at a small Island in the River Rhine near the town of Dusseldorf, where he had 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 later. Wooden churches were erected in for example the settlements Heiloo, Noordwijk, Oegstgeest, Petten, Velsen and Voorhout. In addition, chapels were sprinkled around lavishly. Willibrord, as said an Anglo-Saxon missionary, was educated in the Irish tradition. He made the Abbey of Echternach the center of the ecclesiastical province of Frisia. Trajectum or Trecht, modern city of Utrecht, was merely a monastic missionary center within this province. Only with the victory of the Franks over the Frisian king Radbod in the year 695, Willibrord was immediately established by mayor domo Pepin of Herstal at Utrecht (Wood 2021). However, soon the Frisians re-took control of the central river lands, and the Franks had to wait until Radbod’s natural death in 719. Willibrord, by the way, considered Radbod (and the Danes) to be obduratam moribus et idolatriae deditam et nullam melioris vitae spem habentem ‘utterly stubborn in their practices, committed to idiolatry, and having no hope of a better life’ (Hines 2021).
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 Willibrord had founded, therefore, resorted under the Abbey of Echternach, but many others after his death did too. In the eleventh century, no less than twenty-four churches and many more chapels in Frisia west of the (former) River Vlie (therefore West Frisia) belonged to this powerful abbey, and it understandably was very influential in West Frisia. By the way, in Frisia east of the (former) River Vlie, i.e. modern provinces Friesland and Groningen, the abbeys of Fulda and of Werden were more influential.
A final remark about Willibrord. A big statue of him, riding a Friesian horse, with on his unfolded 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. The irony of this statue is, that it was Saint Boniface who had made Utrecht the seat of the bishopric Utrecht after the death of Willibrord. The bishopric Frisia comprised the area what is today roughly the provinces Zeeland, Utrecht, Zuid Holland, Noord Holland, and Friesland. Boniface and Willibrord were contemporaries, ánd bitter rivals. Willibrord was, as said, educated in the Irish tradition. He was therefore primarily a missionary and placed monastic life in front, with the monastery in Echternach being the center. Not dogmatic, and lenient toward existing pagan rituals and practices. Boniface, however, was educated within the tradition of the Anglo-Saxon church, and was more of a church reformer than a missionary. He was dogmatic and had a very linear approach. It led to the so-called ‘Frisian rift’ (Wagenaar 2006). In the year 753, after Willibrord had died in the meantime, Boniface was even killed by the heathen Frisians. Considering all this, people decided in 1947 to erect a statue of Willibrord and place it in Boniface’s seat Utrecht. Poor Boniface. Was it ignorance of history, or was it making a statement after twelve centuries?
What about Willibrord’s help Adalbert we mentioned before? If the reader had the impression Adalbert merely acted in the margins of this history, au contraire. Assistant Adalbert became a hermit. Maybe this was one of the targets of his job assignment. Maybe it was his in-breast. No, in fact, it all fitted within the Irish tradition of which he was an apprentice, the tradition of the peregrinatio dei ‘wander for God’. Exile and voluntary suffering, in combination with preaching the gospel in foreign lands. At least the peregrinatio-part must appeal to solo thru-hikers. In the Vita Sancti Adalberti ‘the life of Saint Adalbert’ we can read that what Adalbert advised others in words, he himself performed in deeds first. According to Adalbert, it would be harmful if his words would not be put in practice by himself. Hermit Adalbert retreated somewhere in the area between Swithardeshaga, around the present-day town of Lisse, and Fortrapa, the present-day hamlet Vatrop at Wieringen.
Besides spiritual well-being, Adalbert also took care of worldly matters. When pirates were arriving, he made sure the coast in front of the settlement of Egmond was like a fog. According to sagas, that is. Incidentally, pirates belong to this coast since the Late Antiquity already, read our post It all began with piracy for more on this topic.
Around 740 Adalbert died, and he was buried at the settlement of Hecmunda (i.e. Egmond). Soon, the site where Adalbert was buried started to attract pilgrims. This after miracles started to occur. Always a potential lucrative phenomenon, and thus a wooden church was built over his grave. From the rule peregrinatio dei Adalbert followed after his death the monastic rules of stabilitas loci ‘steadfastness on site’ and of claustrum ‘seclusion’ after all. Not only the few converted Frisians worshiped here. Interestingly, heathen Frisians made offerings at this site as well. This, however, did not prevent the also heathen Vikings from sacking the church several times around 800. Apparently, the church had hoarded some wealth with all these pilgrims to be of interest to these greedy sea bandits. And the Vikings were living so closely to Frisia they almost could smell the gold and silver. Thanks to a certain priest named Amalath, and he must have been a phlegmatic personality considering the pagan offerings which took place at his church, the church was rebuilt. When he was rebuilding the church, it turned out that one of the beams was too short. But, no despair. After a long prayer, the beam was long enough the next morning. All this according to the Vita Sancti Adalberti.
Peregrinatio dei became fashionable under Irish monks around the year 700. Adalbert was only one of many, and region Kennemerland only one of the areas whereto these monks traveled. In the Liber de mensura orbis terrae of 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 and remote lands as hermits. Hence, Irish monks were the real explorers of the North Atlantic, before the Vikings, and especially their modern descendants, claimed this title. They had settled at Faroe, Iceland, Orkney and Shetland before the arrival of the Norseman. The Vikings, when they arrived at these remote lands, called them papar ‘fathers’.
The Voyage of Saint Brendan
We have to mention the Irish monk Saint Brendan of Clonfert and the Navigatio Sancti Brendani Abbatis ‘Voyage of Saint Brendan’ too. This famous voyage took place in the first half of the sixth century. Saint Brendan, who at first was given the name Mobhi (or should we write it as Moby?) in the southwest of Ireland, is one of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland. He traveled 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.
Moby Dick could also be named after another Irish apostle, Mobhí Clárainech. Just like Moby Dick, this Mobhí was deformed too.
Along the Frisia Coast Trail, on the Wadden Sea island of Terschelling, stands an old lighthouse named after Saint Brendan, namely the Brandaris. The lighthouse was originally built in 1323, but after it was destroyed during a storm, rebuilt in 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, the Early Middle Ages was a period of strong dune formation inland. There is 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 a ship the church of Egmond. When he learned that 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 already. Of course, it was all the work of Saint Adalbert who probably did not 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 IJ, which initially was connected to the North Sea. The fact Egmond was still connected to sea in the ninth century, explains too why Godfrid the Sea-King supposedly built his stronghold here too (see further below).
Sorry we brought up the Vikings, as the web and charity-shops are flooded with articles and books about these sea bandits. However, they do form an essential part of the history of the Abbey of Egmond and the rise of Holland. Viking-rule in West Frisia started in the year 841 when the aforementioned warlord Rorik of Dorestad became a vassal of king Lothair I of Francia, and the prefecture West Frisia was given in fief to him. West Frisia then encompassed the area west of the (former) River Vlie, stretching from the River Meuse in the south all the way north to the island Texel. But also much of the central river lands of the Netherlands, including the River Stichtse Vecht area. Of course, the jewel of the Rhine, emporium Dorestat, present-day town of Wijk bij Duurstede, then the biggest trading town of northwestern Europe, belonged to Rorik’s jurisdiction as well. Read our post Batwing Doors of Northwest Europe to find more information about Dorestat. All these territories together almost coincided with today’s combined provinces Noord Holland and Zuid Holland and part of Utrecht. 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 and the coast of Flanders, also belonged to Frisia, but were since 837 de facto being ruled by different Danish warlords with their power base at the Walcheren Island. Read more about this history in our 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 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 West Frisia until ca. 880, the year around which Rorik must have died.
There is 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 of 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 storylines together in time without the help of a DeLorean time machine. Or, maybe mathematician Hinke Osinga can help out here, to create less chaos.
The Runx well was located next to a mound called Kruisberg ‘cross mountain’. During the High Middle Ages this mound 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 located. After a merchant, who was saved at sea by worshiping this Virgin Mary statue, had built the Chapel of Our Lady for Distress on top of the Kruisberg, things went crazy. Calling Virgin Mary for help when at sea, is logical. She is the patron of sailors and fishermen. It became and stayed a very popular place of pilgrimage, even after the chapel had been destroyed in 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 1769. Again, it did not help. Pilgrimage continued. It was, mind you, the Catholic church that finally played down the pilgrimage in the beginning of the nineteenth century. But a century later, this same church renovated the place again. In 1930 they built a brand new Chapel of Our Lady for Distress, placed a statue of Saint Willibrord on the site, and, in the footsteps of the Danish warlord Rorik, they restored the well again. It is a popular place of pilgrimage to this very day. And a place we very much recommend to visit when you hike the Frisia Coast Trail.
After the death of feared Rorik, in 882 another Viking warlord entered the stage. It was Godfrid the Sea-King, also named Godfrid duke of Frisia. He received West Frisia in fief from king Charles the Fat. Godfrid built his stronghold near Egmond. Also the castle at the town of Uitgeest is mentioned in the mid-twelfth century as a possible citadel of Godfrid. It was the death of Godfrid the Sea-King a few years later already, that opened the door for the Frisian noblemen to step in. This was the start of the rise of the 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 the year 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 the place called 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 it or not, certain wine-producing areas near among others the town of Koblenz. Maybe for his wine cellar, but historians suggest it was merely meant to provoke the king. After both had conveyed the call for more alcohol, a second meeting was set up at Herispich. This time between Godfrid and 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.
By the way, the year 885 was also the year that a war band of Dani et Frisones ‘Danes and Frisians’ raided the island of Sheppy in England. Read our post Foreign Fighters Returning from Viking War Bands. So, Frisians operating on both sides.
A striking fact is, that only a year before Godfrid and his army were overpowered, the Frisians fought a battle against the Vikings in East Frisia too, the region called Ostfriesland today. It is the Battle of Norditi, and the Frisians slaughtered a staggering 10,377 Vikings according to the annals. After the battle, the Frisians were given control over the lands by king Arnulf of Carinthia as well (see further below). Was there perhaps a grand masterplan of the Franks in league with the Frisians to get rid off the Danish presence on Frisian soil? Read our post A Theelacht. What a great idea! to read more about this famous battle in Ostfriesland.
Four years after the murder, in 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. The same 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 pagus ‘district’ Nifterlake with the strategically important River Stichtse Vecht. We know this, because later 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 foreign 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 Island in the year 837. During this battle the Franks lost the island. Gerulf the Elder was somehow blamed (too) for the disaster by the Frankish king, and as a punishment his fiefs in Mid Frisia, the area 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 the pagus ‘district’ Westergo which was part of Mid Frisia, and it is assumed by most historians both originated from this heartland region as well.
The next phase in the genesis of the Abbey of Egmond started when in the year 923 king Charles the Simple gives the Adalbert Church at Ekmundam (i.e. Egmond) in allodium to count Dirk I, son of count Gerulf II, including all its possessions in Suithardeshaga (as explained before, near the modern village of Lisse), Fortrapa (at former island Wieringen) and Kinnem (probably at the island of Terschelling). Soon after this gift, count 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 back then, as mentioned earlier. And, somewhat predictable, during the translatio ‘transfer of relics’, 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 this day. Both the relics and the well have the power to cure the possessed, the 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 traveled 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 Dirk I also commissioned the construction of a wooden monastery for nuns in Hallem (Egmond-Binnen) around these years.
Investiture Controversy – 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. Most proprietary churches were established between the seventh and the eleventh centuries. In the eleventh century, Church and State clashed in Europe, the so-called Investiture Controversy. 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 finally 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 (hence, 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 to drink together the first day, and 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 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 Schepelenberg at Heemskerk, also nearby Hallem, was probably a thing, also called a ting or ding. A place to gather, make new laws and for justice. Read our post The thing is… for more about these ancient assembly places. For long it was still tradition that new counts were honored by his subjects at De Schepelenberg, and this custom possibly originates from the times it was still used as a thing. Trade, also an essential function of a CPC, was possible via the North Sea connected with a branch of the estuary of the River IJ, or perhaps via the modern town of 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 center of a local, political entity since the Early Middle Ages, and 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 post Tolkien pleaded in favor of king Finn.
Hallem and Hallum – Besides Hallem in province Noord Holland, there is another Hallum in the Netherlands, namely in the old pagus ‘district’ Oostergo in 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.
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 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 West 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. Dirk II gave the nuns, who were headed by abbess Erlinde and who was a daughter of count Dirk, a new house at Suithardesharga, near the present town of Lisse.
“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 most of the West nowadays. Back then, it gave the worldly ruler legitimacy. It was count Dirk II who made of Egmond a prestigious religious center with an abbey destined to be the grand mausoleum of the Gerulfing dynasty. A place 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 960-980, the construction of the stone church and monastery was completed, and with that the realization of the Abbey of Adalbert was accomplished. Actually, 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 in The Hague, the Evangeliarum ‘evangeliary’ of Egmond. This too, documenting the glory and fame of the Gerulfings, was part of the works of the abbey. Around the year 1110, the monks started to write yearbooks, the Annales Egmundenses.
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 traveled to Frisia in the year 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 a person called Nothbodo, a local farmer. Saint 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 placed in the abbey.
Four King’s Charters – The library of the Abbey of Egmond (probably) also kept the so-called Four King’s Charters. In these charters, the West-Frisian 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: 889 gifts of king Arnulf of Carinthia to count Gerulf (four years after the death of Godfrid the Sea-King); 923 gifts of king Charles the Simple to count Dirk I; 969 gifts of king Lothair of France to count Dirk II, and; 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 the year 988, count Dirk II donated the churches of Noordwijk and of Voorhout to the Abbey of Egmond. In 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 Saalkirche in German or zaalkerk in Dutch or sealtsjerke in Mid-Frisian. The generic sele derives from the Germanic word saliz meaning ‘single-room-house’ (Deckers 2013). They measured more or less nine meters wide by twenty-two meters long. And, size does matter, as we will see further down below this post. The churches had no tower attached to it. These bell towers were placed, if at all, separately from the church building. Examples of free-standing bell towers are still to be seen in the terp-region of especially region Ostfriesland and province Groningen. By the way, the coastal region of provinces Friesland, Groningen and Ostfriesland, has the highest density of medieval churches in the world.
All in all, a clear demonstration of the rising power of the self-confident West-Frisian counts. Counts who started to operate more and more independently from the Frankish kings. It culminated in the battle of Flardiga, the present-day city of Vlaardingen, in province Zuid Holland. It was this battle, in the year 1018, when the West-Frisian count Dirk III defeated a Frankish army. Although, total disorder of the undisciplined and unprepared Frankish army contributed more than a bit to Dirk’s victory. The battle of Flardiga, however, traditionally is regarded as the start of an independent West Frisia, later to become (County of) Holland.
To increase their power further, the Gerulfings had to limit or break the influence of the Abbey of Echternach as well, 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. A very agile way of working.
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 the year 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 the year 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. “Bite me,” the counts of West Frisia must have thought.
The reason why the Abbey of Echternach and the Bishopric of Utrecht made a claim to these Willibrord churches, also had to do with money, as it often does in life. It were parochial churches. With the commercial peat exploitation and reclamation of land which had started around this time too, population in West Frisia, or later Holland, increased strongly. With that the number of ecclesia media, i.e. smaller churches belonging to the parochial church, and of chapels founded, increased too. And with the increase of ecclesia media and chapels, the revenues of the parochial churches increased significantly. To have an idea of the magnitude of the commercial exploitation of these peat areas, also known as the Great Reclamation, read our post The United Frisian Emirates and Black Peat.
Whatever the formal declarations of synods and seals of emperors, the Gerulfings simply 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 the year 857, first to Saint Odilliënberg in modern province Limburg and later, in 882, to Deventer in modern province Overijssel. Bishop Hunger took with him the archives of Utrecht. Only around 925, Bishop Balderic returns from Deventer to Utrecht. During the stay in Deventer, and especially after returning to Utrecht in 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 the year 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 ‘district’ Nifterlake from Holy Roman Emperor Otto I, possessions of the Frisian count Hatto in 948, when Hatto fell somehow in disgrace with Otto. Pagus Nifterlake has a unique history, and more about it in our post Attingahem Bridge.
Back to the eleventh century, when the core of the Abbey of Egmond had been established with the building of a monastery (for men) 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. 1082-1144). She was a half-sister of Holy Roman Emperor Lothair III, married to count Floris II, also named Floris the Fat. Countess Petronilla was regent of young count Dirk VI after Floris’ father died in the year 1122. She must have been quite a character. A year before her husband deceased in 1021, she commissioned a thorough upgrading and enlargement of the abbey. That was also according to the wishes of the monks who were complaining their aisle-less church was too small and too embarrassing. Only eight by twenty-one meters. “Those are regular measurements of a standard church, not those of an important abbey,” they must have thought and whispered 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 ‘National Museum’. A detailed stone copy of the tympanum can be seen inside the abbey when you stay there as guest of the monks (see note 2 below). In the year 1143 the abbey-improvement was completed, since this 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 declared that the Abbey of Adalbert had received papal privileges, and 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 Frisia, and the abbey had replaced about thirteen wooden churches by expensive imported tuff stone from Germany.
On a side note, Hartbert van Bierum originated from an area called Bierumen (Schroor 2015). This is a ribbon of settlements on a former, elevated shoreline in the north of pagus ‘district’ Westergo in current province Friesland. The part ‘bier’ derives from bere meaning house or barn. The area is still known in Mid-Frisian language as Bjirmen and encompasses the villages Oosterbierum, Pietersburen, Sexbierum, and the drowned village Westerbierum. The more interesting is therefore that Bishop Hartbert van Bierum on the occasion of consecration in 1143 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. Check Google Maps where Bjirmen is located. By the way, two centuries earlier, another Frisian from Sexbierum was bishop of Utrecht, namely Frederick of Utrecht. Read our post Island the Walcheren: Once Sodom and Gomorrah of the North Sea for more about bishop Frederick and his tragic fate.
From around 1200, under the leadership of abbots Steppo and Allert, a scriptorium was set up, and the abbey started to produce secular and ecclesiastical 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 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 post Lodging etiquette in Ostfriesland how agreements were made in the oral tradition.
Charters – 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, 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 existed 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 could not inherit like kin did in secular society. Therefore, land property and how the church had acquired 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 the year 1290 king Richard the Lionheart formally ruled, probably in a charter, 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 Floris the Fat (re)naming himself count of Holland instead of count of Frisia in the year 1101. The term Holland or Holdland/Holtland ‘wood land’ appeared halfway the eleventh century, primarily to indicate the wooded area around the mouth of the River Old Rhine. In 1063 the count of Flanders was still known as Robert the Frisian, count of Flanders. And, West Frisia was described during his reign 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.
A few words more on Robert the Frisian, or Roberto comite Frisone ‘Robert count of Frisia’. In Flanders he was named Rodbrecht or Robbrechte de Vriese. The nickname ‘the Frisian’ he got already during his reign. A name he got after he married countess Gertrude, widow of the count of West Frisia, in the year 1063. Another nickname he got, but this time after his death, was Roberto comiti Aquarum ‘Robert the water count’ (Nieuwenhuijsen 2022). Robert himself was count of Flanders and, after his marriage with Gertrude, also regent of West Frisia fr a while.
Then, for almost four centuries, things stayed more or less quiet with regard to the stones and walls of the abbey between 1100 and 1500. But not socially. Outside the hortus conclusus or monastery walls, literally ‘garden walls’, an awful lot was going on. Namely: the Friso-Hollandic Wars from the thirteenth century. A civil war between the so-called Hoeksen and Kabeljauwen ‘the Hook and Cod Wars’ which started soon after count William IV was killed by the Frisian militias at the Battle at Warns in the year 1345. A civil war that lasted until the end of the fifteenth century. The Hook and Cod Wars were followed by the independence wars of the provinces of the Low Countries against Spain, the Eighty Year’s War. These independence wars began in 1568 and coincided with the spread of Calvinism from the second half of the sixteenth century. Vertigo centuries, and that is an understatement. Read a bit more about these independence wars in our post Yet another wayward archipelago.
It was also a time West Frisia definitively changed its identity into Dutch, and the Frisian language (also called Coastal Dutch) disappeared with it nearly completely. Read our 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 the year 1568, as said, the Eighty Year’s War started against the Catholic Spanish king. And, with the Act of Abjuration in 1581, the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands, or simply the Dutch Republic, was born. Region Holland, together with the coastal provinces Zeeland and Friesland, was the driving force of these wars of independence. The small region Holland became even one of the most powerful colonial states in the world.
Let’s 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 the year 1345, in late September. Actually, the battle took place at the Abbey of Saint Odulphus near the town of Staveren. Not only count William IV was killed, but also three of the lords of Montfoort. This was not your regular thing to do during warfare. You would capture counts and lords and ask for a huge ransom after the battle. At least, this ‘uncivilized behavior’ of Frisians left the Rijksmuseum ‘National Museum’ in 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.
After the battle, the Frisians prayed to Virgin Mary, the Lady of Distress, at the Abbey of Saint Odulphus in Stavoren. Devotion to Mary was widespread among Frisians, especially in district Westergo, and its popularity had its origin in warding off external powers threatening the Frisian Freedom. The collective adoration of Mary, patron and the queen of heaven, appealed to an already emerging collective identity of being Frisian, the concept of tota-Frisia (Mulder-Bakker & Van Beek 2021). Mary was the symbol of the strive for independence. The remains of the killed counts of Holland were kept in the Abbey of Saint Odulphus, and at this abbey the battle against William IV was remembered every year until 1527. That year, Charles V removed the remains of the counts from the abbey to end the yearly commemoration. Only in 1945 the tradition was resumed, now at the cliffs of Warns.
The so-called Friso-Hollandic Wars lasted well into the sixteenth century. In the year 1515 the Abbey of Egmond was affected by these wars, although modestly. A Habsburgian gang of mercenaries called the Zwarte Hoop ‘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 Zwarte Hoop sacked the city of Alkmaar in Holland whilst, in the words of none other than philosopher and humanist Erasmus:
“This gang had been fighting for us against the Frisians only recently!”Erasmus
After Alkmaar was sacked, the Zwarte Hoop turned its sight toward 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 originally 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 destroyed. Not by the enemy, but by none less than William of Orange himself, godfather of the Netherlands. William instructed the Watergeuzen ‘sea beggars’ to destroy the oldest monastery in 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 Evangeliarium were preserved from looting by the Geuzen 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 1596 and 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 not if you are Catholic. Was perhaps the whole so-called threat the Spanish forces would use the abbey as a fortress, merely a pretext of William of Orange to raise money and finance the university? 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 Puppet Masters – William of Orange was assassinated in 1584. And identical to the assassination of Godfrid the Sea-King in 885, the long arm of the Frisian elite was not far away with the presence of the Frisian nobleman Gerulf back 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 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 this Adalbert have been content with the connectedness of his abbey with the worldly, raw military ambitions of the Gerulfings and the central place the abbey had fulfilled within?
In the year 1800 the remaining stones were cleared, and cows started to graze above the graves of the once mighty Gerulfing dynasty.
But 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. This time we know the architect, A. Kropholler (1881-1973). 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:
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!
When continuing north from Egmond-Binnen, you can opt to hike via the village Wimmenum. Here, near the dunes at the crossing of Banweg Rd and Herenweg Rd, used to be a chapel dedicated to the saints and twin-brothers Cosmas and Damian, 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 thirteenth century. Read also our post Terrorist Fighters from the Wadden Sea to learn more about the Frisians participating in the Crusades.
Also, for hikers there is the Monk’s Path (Monnikenpad). It is a circular walk of a bit less than 10 kilometers between the abbey and the well. Try it and feel a phoenix reborn!
And since this area is full of spiritual and sacred grounds, also the diocese of the Chapel of Our Lady (Virgin Mary) for Distress developed a 17 kilometers 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 center of Heiloo). Route descriptions can be purchased at the starting point at the Chapel of Our Lady for Distress annex the Runx well.
Also for hikers, you have a unique opportunity to stay in monasteries and experience monastic life.
With its motto Deo vacare, the Abbey of Adalbert receives guests from two to six nights. You are expected to join the monks during Metten from 06:00 hours till Completen at 20:00 hours, and eat your meals in silence. Costs are at the time of writing 55 euros per night. If you are poor, lower prices can be applicable. Your are allowed twice a year to stay as guest at the abbey. From our own experience, we can recommend it.
Then, close by (1,5 kilometers away from the Abbey), you have another monastery, the Saint Liobak monastery. It is a mixed monastery, both monks and nuns. Again, your are expected to join the monks and nuns in church. Costs are 62,50 euros. Here too, if you are poor, you may pay less.
Lastly, there is the also nearby (2,5 kilometers away from the Abbey) former monastery and church of Our Lady for Distress. No monastic life in this building, but still on an important site of pilgrimage and therefore the atmosphere of contemplation and silence is expected from guests. Costs are 65 euros.
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