A coat of arms: lion fighting against the sea.

A coat of arms: lion fighting against the sea.

On 1 October, 1134, in the quiet around midnight, there was an immense seaquake which caused a tidal wave to sweep over the whole coastal area. When night fell, the sea became so rough that it even surged way beyond its normal limits. It destroyed villages, strongholds and churches so completely that the three districts of Walcheren, Waas and Beveland with all their people and cattle were completely submerged.

This is what Anselm of Gembloux (near Namur) wrote. But the floods he described were child’s play compared to the natural disaster which followed a generation later. A monk from Egmond Abbey noted:

On the feast of the holy apostle, St Thomas, in 1163, the sea and the rivers surged over the countryside. It was so bad that there was not a house in the villages along the seaboard of Holland that could offer protection. Complete dwellings and barns disappeared in the violence of the waves. Furthermore, drift-ice churned everything up. At the same time, the northern part of Friesland experienced terrible floods which spared neither house nor church. The waves swept away everything before them and only a few lucky people were able to escape by boat.

And worse was to come. Seven years later the sea penetrated the hinterland so deeply that the survivors were catching sea fish around the walls of Utrecht. In fewer than forty years the population had to deal with three catastrophic storm floods. That was too often for it to be a coincidence – which it was not. These disasters were caused by human activity.

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