The Temple at Zaamslag, The Netherlands

The Temple of Zaamslag or Tempelhof was a Commandery of the Knights Templar, located at Zaamslag, a village in the south-west of the Netherlands. It is a very important archaeological site. 

The village of Zaamslag dated from around the year 1000. The centre of the village is at the top of a natural platform, with a church in the middle. Around the year 1200 a colossal cross-shaped church was built, surrounded by peasant houses and sheds.At the same period Kingts Templar settled near the village. They built an enormous preceptory, which lasted until long after their abolishment in 1312.

The Tempelhof emerged around the thirteenth century, but dating of the stones of the walls indicate an origin from the second half of the 12th century. The Commandery must have been quite large, as it turns out from historical sources. Sources suggest a size of about 50.000 m2, or 5 hectares. Usually a Commandery was square to rectangular, surrounded by an earthen shore and a moat. The main building probably had two floors. Like many other Commandries the Temple of Zaamslag also had a chapel.

In 1282 the Templars were endowed with lands by Gerard van Maelstede. In 1288 they got another donation. Close to the Temple stood the Hospital of Zaamslag, which only appears in sources from 1310. Before that the hospital was probably the leper hospital from the commandery, about 100 meters away. This could also explain what is popularly called 'the large and the small Temple'.

When the Temple Order was abolished by Pope Clement V in 1312, the Hospitaller Knights moved into the complex. The 'sisters of Zaamslag', sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis , lived and worked in the hospital from about 1523. Catharina van Hollebeke had the hospital renovated with her own money from 1523 onwards.

After the reclamation of the Zaamslagpolders around 1650, the remains of the Tempelhof were still clearly visible. For example, Van der Baan, a schoolmaster from the nineteenth century, speaks about an elevation in the landscape, foundations and piles on which the bridge had been located. 

Nowadays the site is protected due to its high archaeological value. During work on a ditch in October 2009, some bricks were found that came from the Tempelhof. More extensive archaeological research took place in September 2010 when a thirteenth century brick wall was discovered during the widening of a ditch in the same area. This find could indicate that the temple was much larger than originally thought. The question, however, is whether these two remains belonged to one and the same building or to two different complexes. After all, the Templar Commandery and the Hospital of Zaamslag were close to each other, but were indeed two separate buildings.

A part of the Historical Archaeology Foundation and researchers belongs to the circle around Jan Hosten, VSTH (Association to study of the Knights Templar and Hospitallers).


source text and illustration partly adapted from and

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