When doing virtual restoration on a museum object, we try to understand the object and what happened with it. This third blog post about the Ename crosier, a Flemish Masterpiece on display in the Ename museum in Belgium, tries to reconstruct the chronology of the events that shaped the current museum object.
In the first blog post about this crosier, we showed in 3D how this crosier must have looked like when created around 1175 AD. Although the medieval artist, who cut this ivory masterpiece, has used some tricks to make it more sturdy, it is most probable that the the object gets broken at a certain moment between 1175 and 1390, as proven by art historian Elisabeth den Hartog. As the object is so intricate, simply falling by accident on a hard floor could have been the cause of breaking. Although we have no proof when this happened, we put this event in 1290 in our educational game Ename 1290.
The broken pieces were put together by inserting two bronze bars through the middle of the object. To fit the lower bar, it was required to cut away the upper jaw of the dragon. The lower jaw was most probable still present.
So we think the repaired crosier looked like this. probably the crosier has been used for many more years, until a moment that it was considered too old, too worn out, and out of fashion. This moment lies probably at the end of the 14th century.
At that moment, the monks decided to bury the old staff together with a deceased abbot, most probable Gerard Ghuise who died in 1393. His successor will have received a new staff, as the staff belongs to the abbey, not to the abbot. From 1379 to 1385, the revolt of Ghent raged over Flanders, causing many casualties and severe economic losses. In 1384, the last count of Flanders dies and Philip the Bold, his son-in-law and first Burgundian duke to rule Flanders, ends the revolt, restores order and revives the economy. It is plausible that the Ename abbey could only afford a new staff for its abbot in that more prosperous time, as most of the 14th century was a very difficult period with famine (1315-1322), plagues (1346-1353) and war (1379-1385).
There is however a possible second reason. The Ename abbey was closely linked to the count of Flanders. It is possible that the Ename crosier was donated to the abbey by count Philip of Alsace, when the new abbey buildings were inaugurated around 1175 (see part 1 of this extended blog post). When the Burgundian dynasty takes over in 1384, the Ename abbey has to do great efforts to establish a new relationship with the Burgundian court. Maybe a new staff symbolised the dependency on a new dynasty. Maybe the staff was donated by the Burgundian duke to the new abbot in 1393, as in most cases the abbot was proposed by the count of Flanders, at that moment Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy.
Nearly 200 years later, the country is turmoil. The civil war between protestants and catholics in Flanders (1578-1592) creates extreme poverty and total lack of rule of law. Grave robbers open graves at the abbey site, to find precious metals or objects. They find the ivory crosier, break it and toss it away as ivory cannot be melted or reused. A possible reason for breaking the object is the presence of a golden ring above the knob, as can be seen in the example below and many other crosiers.
When excavating the Saint Salvator church in 1995, archaeologists find the ivory crosier only a few meters away from the grave of abbot Gerard Ghuise. In 1998, the Ename museum opens and the Ename crosier is one of the top pieces on display, supported by the TimeLine application, showing the object in all detail and telling its fascinating story.
This work is partially supported by the Department of Culture of the Flemish government.