Around 2000, we created a global virtual reconstruction of the west wing of the Ename abbey around 1665 that includes the rooms of the abbot, the guest rooms and the carillon tower.
In the excavations (1982-2004) of the abbey buildings, these guest quarters can be recognised easily as the west part of the abbey complex. In a previous blog post, we looked at the abbot who managed the abbey from 1657 to 1682 and not only commissioned important works at this west wing (such as the carillon tower) but also left a large number of documents that help us in reconstructing this period.
In 2019, we have revisited this west wing with carillon tower, based upon a detailed study of the 1985-1990 excavation photos and the 1661 originals of the map and front view drawing by surveyor Jan Bale. A good part of our work went into the reconstruction of the carillon tower, that was built between 1658 and 1660. The 27 carillon bells were cast in 1660 by Pieter Hemony, who was residing at that moment in the city of Ghent. Twenty years later, while Pieter Hemony was living in Amsterdam, 8 extra bells were cast, which were mounted in the tower in the spring of 1679. So we situate our reconstruction of this enlarged version of the carillon in 1680.
So, why does an abbey need a carillon? Well, some abbeys did have a carillon as it was a prestigious way to indicate time. In Europe, Benedictine abbeys have played a major role in the use and distribution of devices to measure time and to organise the daily work and prayer: water clocks, sundials and mechanical clocks (which were installed in clock towers from the late 13th century onwards).
The division of the day (from sunrise to sunset) into 12 hours comes from the five main Office prayers that were held at regular intervals, hence dividing the day into four main blocks, each block being divided into three hours (Roman system, 12 hours of daylight) or two hours (Irish system, 8 hours of daylight). In the High Middle Ages, the Roman system prevailed over the Irish system, yielding 12 hours instead of 8 hours of daylight. This still can be seen in the design of abbey sundials from the Early Middle Ages. This 3D narrative tells the story in detail.
A clock tower was a key element in regulating life in a medieval abbey or city. By ringing the tower bell, it indicated when city gates and shops were opened or when church services were starting. From around 1330 onwards, tower clocks get a dial to indicate the time visually. The probably first clock dial is attributed to Richard of Wallingford, abbot of the St. Albans Abbey and outstanding clock maker (see image above). More certain is the clock made by De Dondi in Milan in 1336. These clock dials only had one hand, like for example in Oosterwijtwerd (Netherlands).
As the clock dial is in fact mimicking the shadow of a sundial, there is a symbolic link between the form of the hand and the cosmic structure. In the clock dial above, the sun is in the centre, while at that moment, the Catholic Church is still prohibiting the heliocentric view. So the clock dial in our abbey reconstruction is still depicting that sun and moon are revolving around the earth, like in the Bern clock tower.
The Ename tower clearly dominates the village and the message who ruled the village was very clear. Only a few generations before (1582-1615), more than half of the inhabitants of Ename fled to the Netherlands and Germany during the civil war between catholics and protestants (1578-1592), most probably as they were protestant.
At the time when the Ename carillon tower was constructed and its clockwork installed, Christiaan Huyghens invented a much better clock mechanism, based upon a pendulum. Such clocks were introduced in clock towers around 1690, allowing a second hand to indicate the minutes, due to the improved precision.
This reconstruction is based upon some outstanding sources. A very unique one is the set of letters (preserved in the Amsterdam Archive) that is written by Pieter Hemony to abbot De Loose concerning the conception and realisation of the first carillon (with 27 bells, in 1660) and its extension (with another 8 bells in 1679). These letters give us a lot of details on the bells (tonality, weight, …), on the bell tower, the clockwork, etc. and have been translated (from French) and published by André Lehr.
One other outstanding source, written by abbot De Loose, describes the work in the abbey, month by month, and the requirements for all people working in the abbey. As there is no person mentioned to play the carillon, we can assume that one of the monks performed this task, or maybe the church warden of the local parish church (who is also the teacher at the village school).