In the Middle Ages, a market cross symbolised the right of a location or community to hold a yearly trade fair. This right was granted by the king or emperor and was a source of income, as a tax – comparable to our VAT – was imposed on all goods sold. In many cases, this yearly trade fair took place on the day of the patron saint of the community.
In most cases, this yearly market took place on the central market square in towns, or on the commons of villages, which was altered to have easy access for the large number of people attending.
At the market cross, the rules of the trade fair were proclaimed, and the measures of length and weight displayed (as there were local differences).
Today, there are only two market crosses preserved in Flanders, one in Sint-Lievens-Houtem and one in Ename. The Sint-Lievens-Houtem market cross from the 15th century is still linked to the yearly market – attended by about 50 000 people – that has been declared Intangible World Heritage in 2010. From medieval sources we know that this cross had a wooden precursor, probably from 1256 onwards.
Yearly trade fairs in villages were typically linked to abbeys. The Sint-Lievens-Houtem trade fair was organised by the Saint Bavo abbey of Ghent, on Nov 11 and 12, dedicated to Saint Livinus. The sphere below the cross indicates that also the count of Flanders was supporting the market (which means providing physical and juridical protection and probably getting his share of the collected tax).
In Ename, the yearly trade fair at Saint-Laurentius day (August 10) was established around 1000, when the trade settlement was flourishing. The right to hold a yearly market was transferred to the Ename abbey in 1063 when the trade settlement was replaced by the abbey. It was a major source of income for the abbey. When the abbey was abolished in 1795, the trade fair continued, mostly as horse market.
Although the Ename market cross has been mentioned earlier, we only have depictions of it from 1596 onwards. The current cross dates from 1778 (the cross itself could even be from the 19th century). But it is quite sure that a market cross was present in the centre of Ename in the 13th century, and probable already from about 1000 onwards.
For Eham 1291 (the virtual reconstruction of Ename in 1291), we wanted to make a 3D reconstruction of the Ename market cross in that time. As a basis, we use one of the three depictions of a market cross in the Veil Rentier (illustrated around 1290), more precisely the market cross of Bauffe, which was located very close to the abbey of Cambron, today Pairi Daiza.
The road from Bauffe to the abbey is still called the Rue de la Croix and the market cross is depicted along this road on the Ferraris map (around 1775).
As it is clear that the market crosses in the Veil Rentier are made of wood and as there are no wooden market crosses preserved today (even not in museums), we have based the interpretation of the drawing from the Veil Rentier (see above) on the oldest surviving stone market crosses in Belgium, France and the UK.
Analysis shows for example that the flower decoration of such crosses is very typical and always situated at the end of the arms of the cross (there is no perspective yet in the Veil Rentier drawings). We have chosen to partially paint the wood, as suggested by the Veil Rentier drawing (see above).
On one side, the cross carries the image of Saint Saviour, on the other hand the image of Our Lady, which is symbol for the double denomination of the Ename abbey. The steps are made in the local Balegem stone.
In medieval times, the market cross would have been positioned in the middle of the commons (in analogy with other places such as Sint-Lievens-Houtem). Today the Ename market cross is located at one side of the market square, as was already the case in 1661.