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Belgian Village Lays Claim To Bell

The “Blairgowrie Advertiser” has received the following letter from Grobbendonk, Belgium, proposing that a church bell, at present in Kettins, should be returned to Grobbendonk where, the writer claims, it was part of the priory there. The letter reads:-

In Grobbendonk, a little village in the province of Antwerp, Belgium used to stand a nold wool-mill. After its destruction about 600 years ago Aert van Crayenhem chose that place to establish a priory (on the 26th of December, 1414) which was consecrated in 1420. The priory “Onze Lieve Vrouw ten Troon” was a centre of cultural life which included, among others, Quinten Matsys, one of the greatest painters of the time.

In 1572 the priory “ten troon” suffered a first partial destruction by the Beggars. From that time on, all kinds of evils harassed the priory until its final pillage and destruction by fire in 1579. In later times the priory has been partially restored, inhabited and destroyed again. Nowadays the remaining buildings and ruins of the priory form a little island surrounded by the headquarters of the British Allied Forces in Grobbendonk.


A few years ago scientific excavations were undertaken which revealed many skeletons (dukes, earls, knights and abbots who had been buried in the chapel) as well as many interesting objects. As a result the restoration of at least one burial-vault has been thought of and is likely to be completed within two or three years. Probably due to the desecration of the graves, nothing of the treasures (golden swords, chalices, garbs etc.) which were undoubtedly buried with theor owners, could be found. Robbery has left nothing.

Now, in 1968 the priory has lost its spiritual function, but to the people of Grobbendonk it still is and always will be a strong link with the glorious, turbulent and pious past of the country.

The foregoing historical survey, from the foundation of the priory “ten troon” in 1414 to the present, has served as a necessary introduction to what we might call the heart of the matter, namely the bell of the priory, which nowadays is to be found in Kettins. In order to prove the origin of the bell, we cite - translated from Dutch- from a book, written by Canon Doctor Floris Prims.

It says: ”The new prior had obviously started the construction of some new buildings at once. The exact date of these works is offered by the bell he had cast in 1519. It had been cast in Malines by master Hans Poppenreider, a cannonfounder from Nurnberg in the service of the Kaiser. The inscription on the bell reads as follows:-


              GAF MI.     ANNO     DOMINI     MCCCCCXIX.

“Was it a present to the ‘Troon’? It is possible.


“This bell is in Scotland. Until 1893 it served in the tower of the Protestant church of Kettins. At the moment it is there, in the cemetery in a little building, constructed for that single purpose. The bills of the church of Kettins make it certain that in 1702 there was certain charges for the bell. But already in 1697 a bell, probably the same one, is mentioned and the book-keeping does not date back any further than to 1682.” (Campinia Sacr 2: “Onze Lieve Vrouw ten Troon te Ouwen-Grobbendonk” by Canon Doctor Floris Prims, Boekhandel Veritas Antwerp, Second edition, 136 pages plus 12 illustrations, p. 84).

Now that we know the bell is in Scotland, it might be interesting to make an enquiry into the possible ways by which it got there. And again we refer to the writings of Canon Doctor Floris Prims, who gives seven possible explanations for the desappearance of the “Troon” bell. It would be too long a story to give them all, so we confine ourselves to a summary of the most probable ways.

1.  The destruction of the 12th of September, 1572, was an action of the Malines Beggars. That time followed the capture of Den Briel by the “sea of water” Beggars. The latter had their headquarters in an English port. Would it be too far to seek to suppose that there were also English or Scottish adventurers among the Beggars, who came to our country that way? And this revolution was not only a political but also a religious affair... And the church-bell was a nice trophy which could be shown as proof of victory of the Protestants over the Catholics. In our view this supposition cannot be very wrong but is very near the rights of it.

2.  The fire of the 30th of January, 1578, could be easily understood as a cause for the disappearance of the bell. This destruction was also due to the Beggars as we do not know of any other explanation (which garrison or so). Neither do we know if there were any English or Scottish Beggars with them.

3.  As to the plunderings of the “Troon”-after the buildings had been abandoned it also remains a possible, although a less acceptable explanation because the robbery had smaller and maybe less military reasons. Moreover it is hard to believe that the friars did not take the bell with them when they moved.


These possibilities being discussed we consider the most probable fact to be the destruction of the 12th of September. Here we find some connection with the fact that the bell is in Scotland at this moment, and because it is most likely that some Scottish or English men were involved in the action.

Considering all these facts (the origin of the bell, the robbery, the actual restorations, the historical value of the bell and its emotional significance to the people of Grobbendonk) we think it reasonable and justified that the V.V.V. Nete en Aa (a Travellers Aid Society which has its registered office in Grobbendonk) should try by all means to bring back the bell to the place where it belongs.

We hope that these attempts do not lead to a controversy between the people of the two villages but, on the contrary, the bell may become a symbol of strong bonds of friendship which unite them. If that can be obtained the bell will once again perform the function it was meant for and which it has performed for such a long time- that of calling the people together.

The letter is signed by:

A. SOMERS,  for V.V.V.  Nete en Aa, Grobbendonk.

The above article appeared in the Blairgowrie Advertiser on Friday, September 27, 1968