Loosduinen Abbey is pretty unknown even in the area, but once upon a time, it was a place where a legend was born. It involved Margaret of Holland, Countess of Henneberg. She was the daughter of Floris IV of Holland and Matilda of Brabant.
Not much is known of her youth, but she married Count Herman I of Henneberg-Coburg in 1249. They lived in Coburg. They had three children, but their only son died young. Their surviving daughters received the unusual names Jutta and Poppo. In 1276 Margaret was at Loosduinen was fell ill. She was able to dictate a few letters and her will before dying on 26 March. She was buried in the abbey, with her first son and her mother. Only a marker for her mother’s grave survives, but all the graves have been cleared and filled with cement during renovations (such a shame!).
After Margaret died a legend formed around her death. Her widower noted that her death was rather unusual, but does not go into specifics. Soon stories formed that she had died giving birth to 365 children, who had all died and were buried with her in the abbey. They were described as being small and crab-like. The legend also goes that Margaret had insulted a mother of twins, by insinuating that the children must be from different fathers. As punishment, the woman cursed her with ‘having as many children as there are days in the year’. By the 16th century, the legend had made its way around Europe.
The site and the supposed saved vessels or baptismal fonts became a pilgrimage destination for childless women who hoped for fertility. The actual vessels were lost during the war in 1572 but they were replaced a few years later to uphold the legend.
Many have tried to explain the legend with medical theories (like ejected cysts) or by claiming the new year began in two days time (since the new year began on 25 March in Margaret’s time) so Margaret would only have given birth to two children. Either way, it’s quite an unbelievable legend and probably completely made up. Though the people in the Church were quite helpful there was limited signage and information about the legend and Matilda’s marker is almost completely blocked off so I would never have known it was there. Kudos to the staff though who took me on an impromptu tour of the church and even showed me how they mechanically lowered the chandeliers to clean them. How cool is that?
Loosduinen Abbey is open to the public in the summer months on Sunday and it’s free of charge. They always end the day with an organ concert. They also still hold church services every week.