Nov 23, 2015

Pilgrimage (Part Two Of Two): Foswert And Hegebeintum, Netherlands

Wânswert - Blink And You Will Miss It
The second part of this pilgrimage series is about both Foswert and Hegebeintum. Hegebeintum is the highest terp (artificial mound) in the Netherlands. It was once considered a part of Foswert and was a holy site long before Christian times, so it seems fair to write about both places.

Foswert is named after Fosite (Forseti) and lies close by a small village, Wânswert, which is similarly named after the Frisian equivalent of Odin. It was a drizzly, overcast day on September 16, 2015, when I set off for Foswert by bike. My route took me through Wânswert, which apparently was so tiny that it did not even have shops of its own. The town's terp overlooked a pleasant field with a picturesque thatched windmill. There was a church built atop the terp. I walked around outside the iron fence encircling the church's graveyard and took in the views. I did get a very faint sense of power off the place and could imagine, dimly, Weda (Odin) once being hailed up there among the trees.

When I reached the other side of Wânswert, I wasn't sure which direction to strike out in next. A friendly postal worker pointed out the street leading to Foswert. This part of the journey made for nervous riding at first, as there was no separate bike route. Usually, bikes have their own lanes or trails in the Netherlands. I had to share the road with drivers impatient to get to their own destinations. Fortunately, a paved bike path (It Kleaster) later branched off the highway. The rest of the trip to Foswert was more peaceful.

Unlike the holy spring on Ameland, Foswert is not really set apart for visitors. It was once the site of a Benedictine cloister, but that burned down long ago. Only two poles on either side of a roadway leading to private milk farms mark the place now. A small sign describes the history. There were some Friesian horses out in the fields next to the posts, and they paused to stare at me while I took pictures. I did not go very far down the road into what had once been Foswert. A small, nondescript pond with some nice flowers was on the right, and a sparse grove of trees on the left. The road split just behind these, going straight to the milk farms. It was not the sort of place to pause and meditate.

I returned to the entrance. Across from the two Foswert posts, a small, concrete bridge spanned over a canal. Feathery reeds grew next to it. There, I poured Fosite an offering of Kasteel Donker (which is a truly excellent beer, by the way). After that, I cycled up to Ferwert. Ferwert did not turn out to be the most scenic of Frisian towns. It is more geared towards agricultural businesses.

I visited Hegebeintum on September 20, 2015, more by accident than by any exact planning. Following a whim, I'd biked up to the dikes and even stumbled upon places where Ameland was visible from the mainland, such as the Marrum "Dike Temple." I happened to take a return-route that went past Hegebeintum, so I had a chance to stop there. The terp is dominated by what was once a very wealthy church. It is definitely worth paying the extra three euros for an inside tour. They also have a small exhibit of locally discovered artifacts, including ones from Heathen times: rings; four-sided, triangular bone Donarhangers like the one pictured here; and even an axe pendant. I could only wonder if, long ago, one of Fosite's previous devotees had worn the axe.

After ending up at Hegebeintum, I rode by Foswert one last time on the way back. That evening, it was sunny out. The strong Friesian horses still grazed in the field and the sun was shining over the De Traan canal on Foswert's southern side, where a lone yellow lily bloomed. For a moment, the modern world seemed to fade away.

Proud Friesian horses at Foswert
Foswert in the evening sunlight