The Ename carillon – exterior

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.

Old virtual reconstruction

Old (2000) virtual reconstruction of the west wing of the abbey (image: Visual Dimension)

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.

Excavations 1985

Excavations of the abbey west wing in 1985 (photo: IAP)

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.


The abbey west wing revisited in 2019 (3D model: Cassandre Jean)

Revisited reconstruction of the abbey west wing

Revisited reconstruction of the abbey west wing (image: Visual Dimension)

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.

Richard of Wallingford, clock maker and abbot of St. Albans Abbey around 1330 (British Library, Cotton Nero D. VII, f.20)

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).

Original 17th century one handed clock dial of Oosterwijtwerd (Nl)

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 clock dial of the Bern Zytglogge clock tower (photo: Wikimedia)

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.

The Ename carillon tower dominates the village in every way (image: Visual Dimension)
Time is indicated by a one handed clock dial, with symbols of sun and moon (image: Visual Dimension)
The hand of the Ename clock dial, based upon the Zytglogge example (image: Visual Dimension)

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.

Letters and documents by Pieter Hemony and abbot De Loose (Amsterdam Archive)

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.

The Ename carillon is documented by a unique set of letters between the Pieter Hemony and abbot De Loose, published as a book 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).

The Rules of the Ename abbey by Antoine De Loose (preserved by the Beaucarne House)

Eename 1665 – the bakery

In our reconstruction of the rural village of Ename in 1665, we have introduced a bakery. Although bakeries were common in cities from the late medieval period, they were new in rural villages, as villagers used to make their own bread. So we have chosen for a small bakery, owned by a young couple with two small children. Nevertheless, their bakery is a refurbished small dwelling, in fact way too small for a family of four. For the moment, we don’t have historical proof for the presence of a bakery in the village centre, but it is highly plausible.

The new bakery in Ename in 1665 (image: Visual Dimension bvba)

Intern Fien Smits has designed a virtual baker, based upon the painting of baker Arent Oostwaard by Jan Steen in 1658 (the painting is probably a gift from Jan Steen to his friend and his wife when they married). So he is the perfect model for our young, starting baker.

Baker Arent Oostwaard and his wife in front of their bakery In Leiden (Rijksmuseum)

This painting not only shows the outfit of the baker, but it provides to a certain extent what a bakery offered in the second half of the 17th century. Notice the special bread in the middle of the picture, called duivekater, that was typically made at Easter. Arent’s wife Catherina is holding a muffin, which was used as an eatable plate for the food. At the door, we see pretzels hanging (soft and without the salty seasoning that is typical today). The pretzel was used a lot as bakery emblem.

The bakery was selling bread, muffins and pretzels (image: Visual Dimension bvba)
The Archeon bakery emblem (photo: About Pixels)

Our virtual baker shows us the different steps in making bread, using a set of tools.

Heating the oven (image: Fien Smits for Visual Dimension)
Taking out the ashes into a metal container (image: Fien Smits for Visual Dimension)
Putting in the dough (image: Fien Smits for Visual Dimension)
Taking out the baked bread (image: Fien Smits for Visual Dimension)
Fresh bread ready to sell (image: Fien Smits for Visual Dimension)
Blow the horn: the village needs to know (image: Fien Smits for Visual Dimension)

The baker would blow the horn when the bread was ready, but also in the evening, when the remaining bread could be bought at a much lower price.

In our reconstruction, we have added also objects that refer to the inhabitants of the house. On the dining table, a wooden tankard refers to the baker at work. At the dining table, we have a baby chair. Unlike most houses, beds are on the first floor, as no room is left downstairs. Upstairs, we also find a bassinet and a cot or bakermat that was used to nurse and breastfeed the baby. The Dutch word bakermat (with the meaning of “where it all begins”) comes from bakermand, a nursing basket.

A 17th-century children’s chair (image:Visual Dimension)
Young child in his chair, Thomas Wijck, 1640-1677 (Rijksmuseum)
A cot or “bakermand” used for nursing a baby (image:Visual Dimension)
Nursing a baby in the 17th century, by Magdalena van de Passe, 1617-1634 (Rijksmuseum)

Eename 1665 – the school

From the middle of the 11th century to the end of the 18th century, Ename was ruled by the Benedictine abbey, located between the village centre and the river Scheldt.  So this abbey was organising the life in the village in most of its aspects.  Hence, the Ename abbey buys in 1628 a parcel of land at the central square, to organise a school for the village at the home of the churchwarden.  In other words, this person not only organised the practical aspects of the services at the Saint Laurentius parish church but provided also teaching for the children of the village.  We could identify this school on the detailed map of the village made in 1661 by surveyor Jan Bale.

Location of the school on the 1661 map by Jan Bale (Huis Beaucarne)

From 1628 until today, the location of the school hasn’t changed, although the abbey rule was suspended in 1795 and the school was transferred to the French Republic and in 1830 to the new country Belgium.  In 1984, school activities were suspended and the building is waiting to get a new function.

The Ename school at the beginning of the 20th century (image: Didier Descamps)
The school building today (photo: Daniel Pletinckx)

Historical research shows that nearly all rural schools in the 17th century were situated in an annexe of a house or public building.  This is exactly what we see on the 1661 map above, so we have reconstructed the building as a normal dwelling with a one-room annexe.  Both have an entrance to the street as suggested by the 1661 map.

school outside
The 17th-century school is located on the same spot in the village centre and has its own access (image: Visual Dimension)
the house of the sacristan
The school is an annexe to the house of the churchwarden (image: Visual Dimension)
school inside
The classroom is one single room adjacent to the house (image Visual Dimension)
Mother and two children at the school, by Christina Chalon (Rijksmuseum)
The schoolmaster by Bernardus van Schijndel, 1670 – 1709 (Rijksmuseum)
Teacher and 3 pupils
Teacher and three pupils in a 17th-century school by Adriaen van Ostade, 1671 – 1679 (Rijksmuseum)

In such a school, there was only one common room for boys and girls of all ages.  The teacher was sitting at his desk, helping out the children with their tasks.  Children who were performing or behaving badly were punished by a hit on the flat of the hand with a ferule.

The classroom with the desk and chair of the schoolmaster on the left (image: Visual Dimension)
The Village School by Jan Steen, 1650-1660 (Europeana) showing a satchel in the foreground

The major tool for education from the second half of the 17th century onwards were printed schoolbooks. One of the people who was instrumental in creating schoolbooks was the father of educational sciences: Jan Amos Comenius. His Orbis Sensualium Pictus (The Visible World) was groundbreaking and multilingual. After establishing the educational programmes in several countries, he lived in Amsterdam from 1657 to 1670, when he died there.

A page of the Orbis Sensualium Pictus on clouds
Portrait of Jan Amos Comenius, Jürgen Ovens, 1650 – 1670 (Rijksmuseum)

Eename 1665 – village & inn

The virtual reconstruction of Ename in 1665 is not only visualisation and synthesis of all the research and sources we have about this Flemish village, but it allows also to experience rural Flanders in the 17th century.  The contrast between the houses and material culture of the village and the wealth and opulence of the abbey, that owns and dominates the village, becomes obvious when walking through this virtual world that has been constructed based upon many historical documents such as the writings of abbot de Loose and the detailed map of the village he commissioned to surveyor Jan Bale (of which copies are preserved at House Beaucarne in Ename and the Library of the University of Ghent).

Overview of the village centre
Overview of the Ename village centre in 1665 (image: Visual Dimension)

In this way, we are creating a Time Machine experience that allows us to visit a world that we only know through the many splendid paintings and drawings of the 17th century of for example the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.  This vast collection of 17th-century iconography and objects – called Rijksstudio – is online, provides professional and high-resolution images, can be used without restriction and can be searched in many ways.  The Rijksstudio is our most important source of information on the use and looks of objects, landscape, atmosphere and way of life.  It allows us to create a believable virtual world that represents the 17th century in the very best way we can today.  In other words, this is the closest we can get today to a Time Machine.

The village pond
The village pond next to blacksmith Horie (image: Visual Dimension)
The tree at the pond
The tree at the pond was the meeting point of the village (image: Visual Dimension)

Take for example the above views on the village centre and its pond with a tree, based upon the map of Jan Bale, published in 1661.

Ename village centre
The Ename village centre as depicted by surveyor Jan Bale in 1661 (preserved in Huis Beaucarne)

The map shows the parcels, the houses and the pond but does not contain any information on the look and feel of this village centre, the houses, the vegetation, the enclosures of the parcels, the tree with a bench where a shepherd could rest or where the daily gossip is passed on.  This is where the images from the Rijksmuseum come in, showing daily life in rural villages in Flanders and the Netherlands.

Village center with solitary tree and pond
Flemish village centre with solitary tree and pond around 1560 (Rijksmuseum)
Village centre (Rijksmuseum)
A village centre around 1650 by Wenceslaus Hollar, after Jan Brueghel (Rijksmuseum)
Flemish village centre (Rijksmuseum)
A Flemish village centre in the 17th century with pond by Pieter van der Borcht (Rijksmuseum)
Village centre (Rijksmuseum)
A Flemish village square in the 17th century by Pieter van der Borcht (Rijksmuseum)

When making virtual reconstructions that have the ambition to provide a TimeMachine experience, we need to be able to capture the material culture of that period and be aware that only a fraction of that material culture is preserved today in museums.  When visiting, for example, the local Swan Inn, we want to have a good part of the objects around that are typical for a rural inn (probably even a brothel) of that time.  The Rijksstudio provides us with many views on social life and on the objects and their use.  For example, backgammon was a popular game, played with passion, holding the attention of the onlookers.

The Swan Inn
The Swan Inn had a pergola (image: Visual Dimension)
Playing backgammon
Playing backgammon at the Swan Inn (image: Visual Dimension)

Not only does the Rijksstudio provides a high-resolution image of a backgammon playboard, but the image can also be used as a texture for the 3D object.  Other images show the setting and the other objects around.

Backgammon playboard (Rijksmuseum)
Backgammon playboard (Rijksmuseum)
An Inn with Backgammon Players
An Inn with Backgammon Players (1669) by Egbert van Heemskerck (Rijksmuseum)
Two kinds of games
Two kinds of games by Jan Havicksz. Steen, 1660 – 1679 (Rijksmuseum)

Everybody was going to the pub.  Everybody was drinking beer, men, women and children, enjoying the presence of the local community and playing drinking games by circulating the pass glass of the pub.  These pass glasses and drinking games are well documented by paintings and drawings in the online Rijksstudio archive and are even performed today.

pancake and beer
Enjoy some pancakes and let the pass glass go around at the Swan Inn (image: Visual Dimension)
Interior of a pub
Interior of a pub, Justus van den Nijpoort, 1635 – 1692 (Rijksmuseum)
Interior of a Peasant Hut
Interior of a Peasant Hut, Benjamin Gerritsz Cuyp, 1630 – 1652 (Rijksmuseum)
Still life with pass glass
Still life with pass glass, Jan Jansz. van de Velde, 1647 (Rijksmuseum)
17th-century pass glass
17th-century pass glass (Rijksmuseum)

The wine was served in a pewter pitcher, the typical square wine bottles were cooled by water from the well.  This pitcher can be seen in many paintings by Jan Steen, one of the most prominent Dutch painters of the 17th century, hence it is called the “Jan Steen pitcher”.  The glasses next to the pitcher are on display in the local Ename museum.

Serving cool wine
Serving cool wine (image: Visual Dimension)
Detail from The Merry Family by Jan Steen
Detail from The Merry Family by Jan Havicksz. Steen, 1668 (Rijksmuseum)
Detail from The Drunken Couple by Jan Steen
Detail from The Drunken Couple by Jan Havicksz. Steen, 1655 – 1665 (Rijksmuseum)
Peasant wedding by Jan Steen
Detail from The Peasant Wedding by Jan Havicksz. Steen, 1672 (Rijksmuseum)

One of the nice historical features of that period, that is fully documented by the paintings and drawings of the Rijksmuseum, is the presence of starling pots.  Ceramic pots, suited as starling nests, were hanging around the windows, to take the young starlings as delicacies (prepared as soup or pastries).

Starling pots
Starling pots hanging around the upper windows (image: Visual Dimension)
Detail of Boerenkermis
Detail of Boerenkermis by Jan van de Velde (II), 1617 (Rijksmuseum)

In the next post, we will visit the brewery, the bakery and the school.

The Horie brewery provides the beer
The Horie brewery provides the beer of the Swan Inn (image: Visual Dimension)

The Eename 1665 TimeMachine experience is available in the local Ename museum for guided groups and individual visitors since the end of 2019 (we developed an early prototype with natural interaction in 2016).  This interactive application is based upon games technology and has an extensive weather system and a full day/night cycle.

The world of abbot De Loose

One of the periods in the Ename abbey history that we know very well is the time that Antonius De Loose acted as abbot.  He was a genuine manager who left us many documents, that help us today in the virtual reconstruction of this period.  We know the life of Antonius De Loose quite well, from a number of sources, but we only have one image of him.  He became abbot of the Ename abbey in May 1657.

Antonius De Loose

The only known depiction of abbot Antonius De Loose (Jan Bale, 1658)

As an abbot, De Loose left us a manuscript with the rules of the abbey (written in 1667 and published in 1999), his personal diary over the period 1671-179 (published in French by C. van den Haute in 1921) and a number of letters written to Pieter Hemony, who produced the carillon of the abbey (published by the Dutch carillon expert André Lehr in 2004).  He commissioned also other documents, such as maps of the abbey properties, which are today of paramount importance to reconstruct Ename and its evolution since the 10th century.  The creator of these maps was surveyor Jan Bale from Ghent.

Jan Bale in 1658

A self-portrait of Jan Bale in 1658

Jan Bale himself depicted this mapping process in a painting preserved today in the castle of Olsene, Belgium.  The scene shows us abbot De Loose (standing), Jan Bale (seated in the middle) and his team of surveyors. The painting is signed by Jan Bale and dated in 1658. On the table, new maps are being drawn and coloured.  Surveying equipment and documentation are lying on the floor.  Abbot De Loose is supervising the work.

team of Jan Bale

The team of Jan Bale working in the Ename abbey (Jan Bale, 1658, painting currently at the Meheus castle in Olsene, Belgium)

The maps that this team made are preserved today, both as drafts and in a final version, in the Beaucarne House in Ename.  These maps show in detail the abbey properties in the neighbourhood of Ename.  The colours depict the different property rights of the parcels.

draft of Ename map by Jan Bale

Draft of a part of the Ename map by Jan Bale (preserved at the Beaucarne House)

Ename map by Jan Bale

One of the two final maps of the abbey properties around Ename by Jan Bale (1661)

The abbey is depicted twice.  First of all, it is present in the final map (see detail below) showing, for example, the timber harbour and elm driveway at the entrance and the abbey belltower containing a carillon.

detail Ename map

Detail of the Ename map of Jan Bale depicting the abbey in 1660

Detail view on the abbey buildings

Detail view on the abbey buildings on the map of Jan Bale (1661)

The second depiction, drawn on parchment, shows the front side of the abbey and is preserved in the Beaucarne House in Ename.  This highly detailed drawing is very precise (as it fits very well with the excavation results) and of uttermost importance for our virtual reconstructions.

Drawing on parchment of the Ename abbey buildings

Drawing on parchment of the Ename abbey buildings in 1660 by Jan Bale (Beaucarne House)

detail abbey drawing by Jan Bale

Detail of the original drawing of the abbey by Jan Bale (Beaucarne House)

Based on these drawings and the archaeological remains that have been excavated in the period 1982 – 1995, we made a detailed virtual reconstruction of the abbot and guest quarters of the abbey, containing (see image below from left to right) the old gate and prison (with the abbey dovecote on top) , the meeting room (as depicted above), the entrance and staircase hall, the room of the doorkeeper/tailor and the former house of the abbot of which the function around 1660 is unknown (maybe house of the provost).  The upper floor on the left-hand side contains the apartment of the abbot.

Virtual reconstruction Ename abbey

Virtual reconstruction of the guest quarters of the Ename abbey (3D model: Cassandre Jean)

Augmented reality visualisation

Augmented reality visualisation of the virtual guest quarters on top of the archaeological remains (image: Cassandre Jean)

The highly decorated baroque entrance portal gave way to a staircase hall that provided access on the left-hand side to the meeting room (see image above) downstairs, and to the apartment of the abbot upstairs.  On the right-hand side, one goes to the dining room for guests (downstairs) and to the guest rooms upstairs.  Above the entrance door to the staircase hall is a door to the carillon tower.  The excavation results provided us with more information on the structure of the elaborated staircase.

virtual reconstruction of the central staircase hall

A draft virtual reconstruction of the central staircase hall (3D model: Cassandre Jean)

The virtual reconstruction of the carillon tower still needs more work and will hold, from top to bottom, the bells, the keyboard, the clockwork with drum and the weights of the clockwork.  The building of this carillon was one of the major works that abbot De Loose commissioned when being promoted to abbot in spring 1657.  The bells are being cast by Pieter Hemony between September 1658 and 1660 and the carillon is fully operational before August 1665, as mentioned by Pieter Hemony in a letter to abbot De Loose.

open carillon tower

Open 3D model of the carillon tower (3D model: Cassandre Jean) – work in progress

1000 years of history in one view

The archaeological site of Ename tells the story of a thriving medieval trade settlement that is replaced by a Benedictine abbey.  This story has been unravelled by 30 years of excavations and 80 years of historical studies and is shown in the local heritage centre and at the archaeological site in several ways.

Ename Timeline

The Ename Timeline shows the evolution of the site in connection with the excavated objects (photo: Daniel Pletinckx)

One application is called Timeline showing this story in an interactive 4D way (i.e. 3D + time).  We have updated this application by adding the 1015 period (showing the trade settlement that precedes the abbey) but also by adding the current archaeological site through drone imagery.

Timeline - Ename 2017

The updated Timeline application includes a 3D view of the current archaeological site (image: Visual Dimension bvba)

To obtain the appropriate images, a drone flight was planned to visualise the site from the same viewpoints as the virtual reconstructions, so that the virtual and real images fit together seamlessly.


The DJI drone ready to take off (photo: Daniel Pletinckx)

drone flight

The drone taking off for another recording session of the archaeological site (photo: Daniel Pletinckx)

aerial view of the site

High-resolution drone view of the archaeological site (photo: Rpaswork Drone Solutions)

By recording site images that fit with the existing virtual reconstruction images, an interactive visualisation of the site allows the visitors to experience and explore the evolution of the site.  As the abbey has been preceded by an Ottonian trade settlement, we also have added the virtual reconstruction of the site around 1015.

Ename 1015

The Ename trade settlement around 1015 (image: Visual Dimension bvba)

In this way, the Ename Timeline visualises not only 1000 years of evolution of a site but links also all available historical and archaeological information (I-symbol) and the excavated objects (excavation symbol) on display around the application.

Timeline Ename 1015

The Timeline application links the virtual reconstruction of Ename in 1015 to context information and objects on display (image: Visual Dimension bvba)

Reconstructed staff

The story of a Masterpiece – part 4

The ivory crosier of Ename is an outstanding masterpiece of Flemish Romanesque art. It probably carries a complex and rich symbolism which makes it even more special.  Therefore we have made the crosier the main subject of the Eham 1291 educational game and virtual tour.  This game is completely based upon historical facts, but we have taken the freedom to put some causal links between some facts which are not proven by any historical source.

repaired crosier

The repaired crosier is the main subject of the Eham 1291 game (image: © Visual Dimension bvba)

For example, we know that at some point, the Ename crosier had been broken, but continued to be used as it has been meticulously repaired.  We know also that the local lord remained very long in power, not transferring the power to his son.  We link the breaking of the crosier to a quarrel between father and son, although we don’t have any historical proof of that, which is quite normal, even today this kind of information could remain under the radar.


In the game, you need to get the repaired crosier to the abbot (image: © Visual Dimension bvba)

The game is a small quest for the keys of the box, in which the crosier is brought back from the goldsmith who repaired it, and can be played in an hour by a group.  In the game, the symbolism of the crosier is briefly explained.  On the front side, Christ as Saviour (Saint Saviour) symbolises the power of the abbot over his monks.

Saint Saviour

On one side, Christ as Saint Saviour symbolises the power of the abbot over his monks (image: © Visual Dimension bvba)

This symbolism is best represented by the 12th century drawing below, showing the abbot as Christ at the Last Judgement (aka Majestas Domini). The abbot is holding his staff as the symbol of this power to judge and punish monks (the knob is the the symbol for this juridical power) while the staff resembles the stick of a shepherd (that provides guidance and support for the sheep). Note the biting dragons and caged devil!


An abbot depicted as Christ in Majesty (British Library, Arundel Ms. 91, f. 86r)

On the other side, the Bride of Christ carries a lily staff as symbol of virginity, but symbolises also the role of the abbot as caring mother, guiding and protecting his monks. At the same time, she points at the text that probably says “The Bride of Christ, trampling the neck of the dragon”.

Bride of Christ

On the other side, the Bride of Christ symbolises the care of the abbot for his monks (image: © Visual Dimension bvba)

The dragon is the medieval symbol of the evil in man, so it’s very present in many medieval manuscripts.


King David writing, influenced by the spirit of God (dove) and the evil of man (dragon) (British Library, Cotton Ms. Nero C IV, f. 46r, 1150 AD)


This work has been partially funded by the Flemish Ministry of Culture.

Virtual Life in Ename


Eham 1291 has animals, such as sheep and pigs, that are roaming around automatically with AI (image: Visual Dimension bvba)

In the first version of the Ename educational game – called Ename 1290 –  virtual animals where already present everywhere in the game, having some AI (artificial intelligence). One of the major improvements of the Eham 1291 game is the use of virtual humans. Although no dialogue can be started with these characters, they are influenced by the actions and decisions of the player(s) of the game.  We have introduced two kinds of interaction.


When playing the game, you can end up at the pillory (image: Visual Dimension bvba)

The first kind are cutscenes, which in fact are small real-time movies that are played out as a result of an action of the player.  For example, if the player takes a certain object that he should not take away, the player is put at the pillory for theft, resulting in game over. This not only makes the players think about the rules of a medieval world but also shows the strict social control within a medieval village and the medieval juridical system.

medieval court

Medieval open-air court and pillory (image: Visual Dimension bvba)

A guide playing this educational game with a group of children – target group for Eham 1291 are 10-12-year-olds – can expand on such aspects as other elements of justice are also visualised in the game such as the open air court benches (vierschaar).


The Ename timber harbour shows in one scene the work flow from supply of tree trunks to transport of the timber by boat (image: Visual Dimension bvba)

In the game, such elements have been constructed in a very readable way. For example, in the timber harbour, the production of timber is shown from beginning to end, so the guides can explain it in a very visual way.


The carpenter finishes his beam… (image: Visual Dimension bvba)


…but reacts if you interfere with his work (image: Visual Dimension bvba)

The second kind of interactions are changes in the behaviour of NPCs (non-player characters). For example, if you try to take the wooden beam the carpenter is finishing at the timber harbour, he will not only blame you for trying to take away this object, but also will give you extra information that is useful later on in the game.


The ferryman gets you across the river Scheldt (image: Visual Dimension bvba)

You need to pay the ferryman to get over the river, but you also need to get back to the abbey to finish the game… So you need to find a way to get over the river yourself, which turns out not to be easy, so the game not only defies the knowledge and correct judgement of the children but also their ability to perform the physical action of getting over the river…

3D goose

3D digital goose ready for animation (3D model and images: Kvakling @TurboSquid)

Also animals are playing a crucial role in the game. For example, you only get free passage if you can divert the geese that block your way when leaving the abbey farm, without it you cannot finish the game.


The animated geese at the abbey farm (image: Visual Dimension bvba)


This work has been partially funded by the Flemish Ministry of Culture.

abbey gardens

VR tour of the Ename abbey gardens

On the recent Heritage Day in Flanders (Sept 10, 2017), we organised a unique guided tour on the archaeological site of Ename, using a virtual reality visualisation of the abbey gardens in 1663 and 1730.  Such a VR guided tour is one of the possible ways of providing GroupVR (see also our WTCB presentation earlier this year).

abbey Ename 1730

Virtual reconstruction of the Ename abbey gardens in 1730 (image: © Visual Dimension bvba)

This virtual reconstruction of the abbey gardens in 1663 and 1730 uses spherical panoramas in a large number of points, allowing to go from one virtual location to the other and in this way, walking around in the gardens, admiring its (reconstructed) beauty from different points of view.


Virtual reconstruction of the Ename abbey entrance in 1663 (image: © Visual Dimension bvba)

By walking around on the archaeological site in the same way, going from point to point in the physical space (indicated by traffic cones), a guide can explain how the abbey gardens looked like in a certain period, and the members of the guided group can see these virtual features through a cardboard VR viewer (in which they have put their smartphone) or on a tablet.

guided group VR

A guided tour on the archaeological site VR using visualisation of a virtual reconstructions in 1663 and 1730 (photo: Veerle Delange)

Although the cardboard viewer without strap gives the best results, it turned out that tablets are the easiest to use, as they require less configuration.  In any case, all participants to the six guided tours were very confident that they were much better experiencing the site and learning about its history.

Participants VR tour

Participants to the guided tour were using both VR cardboard viewers and tablets (photo: Veerle Delange)

This approach is another way to implement GroupVR and turn 3D and VR into a support for site guides, not a replacement, with the additional benefit of social interaction and better communication between the members of the group.

Ename 1730 fish pond

View on the garden pavilion and the fish pond in the Ename abbey garden in 1730 (image: © Visual Dimension bvba)

Interactive access to digital archives

In the last 5 years, many outstanding medieval manuscripts have been made accessible in a digital way, for example at national libraries such as Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF) or British Library.  Also the Royal Library of Belgium has digitised many outstanding manuscripts that are of paramount importance to our research for 3D virtual reconstructions (as can be seen in this blog).  One exceptional document is the Veil Rentier, a rent book describing the properties of the lord of Oudenaarde and the rent for each parcel or service (such as transport, water- and windmills). The document resides currently in the Royal Library in Brussels.

Veil Rentier

The Veil Rentier d’Audenarde, a 13th century rent book in the Royal Library of Belgium (photo: Businarias)

This medieval document, written in 1275 and updated and illustrated around 1290, is exceptional for two reasons. First of all, it contains a wealth of drawings depicting daily life, specific sites and objects (for example the market cross that we reconstructed and documented in this blog).


Depictions of a windmill (one of the earlierst) and a watermill next to their yearly rental cost (KBR, Ms. 1175, f. 15r)

Secondly, it is a secular document from the 13th century, one of the very few that have been preserved, giving insight in the secular real estate and customs of that time.  For these two reasons, the full document has been translated in Dutch and published in 2011.


The harbour of Oudenaarde, with the list of taxes on transported goods (KBR, Ms. 1175, ff. 11v and 12r)

As the book has been updated and illustrated around 1290, possibly in the Ename abbey, we have added the book to the Eham 1291 game, putting it on one of the desks of the scriptorium.

Veil Rentier updating

The Veil Rentier rent book in the scriptorium for updating (image: © Visual Dimension bvba)

With gestures only, a museum visitor can take the book, open it, browse through it (from folio 5 to 15) and read specific parts of the text (one hears that part of the text in modern Dutch), using the available translation by Businarias.

Veil Rentier reading

Reading about the taxes in the harbour of Oudenaarde in the Veil Rentier (image: © Visual Dimension bvba)

In this way, we not only allow the general public to look at this outstanding manuscript and enjoy its unique illustrations, but also understand and appreciate the text, that provides an unprecendented window onto the daily live in Ename and its surroundings in 1290.  This new TimeGate application helps the museum not only to provide a better context for the museum objects and the archaeological site, but also to provide interactive and intellectual access to manuscripts in digital libraries, which are considered to appeal to experts only.


Properties at Ogy (including a watermill) in the Veil Rentier; with text corrections (KBR, Ms. 1175, f. 98v)

As the museum visitor using this Eham 1291 application can also visit virtually a reconstructed windmill and watermill, these constructions depicted in the Veil Rentier get again an appealing and rich context.


The reconstructed 13th century watermill, based upon French INRAP data (image: © Visual Dimension bvba)

Again, these virtual reconstructions allow to bring both archaeological results and images from digital libraries to the wider public, such as the splendid depictions below of a medieval watermill in manuscript from 13th and 14th century.

medieval watermill

Depiction of the interior of a medieval watermill around 1225-1250 (Ms. 764, f. 44r, Bodleian Libraries, Oxford)


Interior of a watermill around 1310-1320 (British Library, Royal Ms. 2 B VII, f. 046r)


This work has been partially funded by the Flemish Ministry of Culture.