I slept for about 12 hours last night. Over (very belated) breakfast with my hosts, we had this conversation:
Host C: How about we go to Aachen tomorrow, it’s a bit late in the day now…
Host A: Mkay.
Host C: We could go to Thorn instead today!
Host A: *odd look* You’re very set on Thorn, aren’t you?
Host C: Well, it looks pretty, and your mother told me something about, about protecting noble ladies, it sounds interesting.
“Something about protecting noble ladies” turns out to be the Abbey of Thorn – a late 10th century establishment, of which little to none of the original buildings survive. It was established first as a Benedictine by Hereswind, and her husband, Bishop Ansfried of Utrecht. Later on, in the 12th century, it seems to have become – and I’m hazy on this, I’m going from Wikipedia and the signage at Thorn as translated by my non-medievalist hosts, one of whom lacks the technical terminology in English and one of whom lacks it in Dutch – a… convent of sorts for noblewomen rather than a strict Benedictine foundation? Very exclusive and very wealthy, at any rate. They were a sovereign entity and the smallest state in the Holy Roman Empire, and the abbess had a seat in the Reichstag.
Also, in the Gothic crypt of the Abbey church, there’s a forearm of St Benedict of Nursia.
I’m not sure how to process the fact that I could trot off to some place because my friend thought it sounded interesting, and just happen upon the forearm of St Benedict.
After we’d finished in Thorn host A thought that Maaseeik sounded like fun. Maaseik, he says in the car on the way over there, has the oldest codex in the lowlands. The Codex Eyckensis just happens to be in Insular style (although continental production, and some of the decorations were distinctly Not Insular At All). I was rather pleased to have figured that out to my satisfaction by examining the digital display of the scripts and the decoration, before I found an information board about the ‘handscriften’ and made Host A. translate it for me.
I also just happened to see the oldest extant Anglo-Saxon textiles, also in Maaseik. And the oldest privately owned apothecary in Belgium, which was being refurbished and therefore not actually very interesting.
And a baptismal font, made by Bishop Wilibrord on the site of a former Woden Pit.
Tomorrow, adventures in Aachen! Host A. is already making “if we have time…” noises so who knows what else we might just happen across.
EUROPE: IT’S VERY SURREAL. YOU KEEP FALLING OVER HISTORY EVERYWHERE.