Outing to Veurne & Abbey Ten Duinen

by Ginny & Jon Caldwell

We spent a lovely sunny day on Saturday exploring  the charming little Westhoek town of Veurne where André kindly organized much-appreciated Coffee & Croissants at the Hotel Amarylis to revive the weary travellers.  We hope this initiative will become a regular feature!

A walking tour followed, our guides recounting Veurne’s fascinating history – a snapshot of Flanders’ & Belgian history, as we raced through a seesaw of European Occupiers & Governors from Frankish Kings to Burgundian Dukes, Habsburgs & French Revolutionaries, bypassing wars, plagues & economic embargoes. 

There were several British connections.  Like many Flemish towns, Veurne’s wealth was derived from their prestigious Flemish Cloth Weavers who produced high quality tapestries & cloth from English wool.  The English caused economic hardship when they imposed an embargo on Veurne for supporting the French during the 100 years’ war. 

In the 16th century a majority of Veurne & Flanders’ population converted to protestantism, enduring economic hardship during the Religious Wars.  To escape persecution, many fled to England, leading the Good People of Kent to complain bitterly about too many Flemish immigrants!  

Veurne also played a major part during the 1914-18 War when King Albert set up his military headquarters in Veurne’s stadhuis, the rest of Belgium being either a battlefield or under occupation.

After lunch we visited the  ruins of the Cistercian “Abbey in the Dunes” near Koksijde, one of the richest & most influential religious institutions of the 12th century. 

Now, only the ruined foundations remain of this massive  complex of church, abbey, hospice & dormitories, as well as a new museum housing a stunning archaeological collection.  

To our surprise, we learned that the Abbey was not the victim of 16th century iconoclasts or of the French revolution.  Instead, the abbey went into decline following the Black Death (shortage of monks & lay brothers to do the work). Another cause of decline was the religious movement, away from strict contemplative orders like the Cistercians, towards the Franciscan &  Norbertine orders who initiated more direct involvement with local populations, providing schools, missionaries & hospitals. 

With the abbey abandoned, local people gleefully helped themselves, recycling stones & bricks to build their own homes & businesses, including several of Veurne’s houses & ‘gemeente’ buildings!  Finally, nature did the rest, sand dunes burying the ruins – but preserving sculptures & architectural features for 20th & 21st century archaeologists to rescue for posterity. 

Zoe and John Kurtz  wrote:

Thank you so much for organising such a wonderful and interesting day to Veurne and the abbey at Ten Duinen. We thoroughly enjoyed the visits and we had such excellent guides as well. To be met with such excellent coffee/pastries at the Amarylis hotel, after a very unpleasant drive from Brussels (rain; a lot of water on the road plus a hold-up from an accident) was indeed more than welcome, and lunch too, was delicious. We realise that you had a lot of hard work arranging it all and we really appreciated that.

We hope to join the NTAB meeting on September 14th and will keep an eye out for more details.

In the meantime, we hope that you have a very successful trip to Lincolnshire, and a very enjoyable summer.

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