Part 1 of 3. Part 2 is here. Part 3 is here.
Septimo Augusti ingentem Mechlinia cladem ab incenso a fulmine pulvere tormentario accepit. erat in muri ambitu, qui civitatem amplectitur, iuxta portam Neckerspoeliam turris rotunda, veteri more e quadrato albo lapide vivo aedificata, dicta Santporta, quod arenosam sonat portam. altissimo eius fundamento opus concameratum erat superinstructum. in huius fundo ad septingenta dolia pulvere tormentario plena in belli usum custodiebantur. turris vero aliquot locis vetustate rimas agebat. conquesta fuerat hac de re ad magistratum non semel vetula paupercula, in ea gratis habitans. cumque pomeridiano tempore tonitrua ac fulgura excitari vehementia consideraret, formidine correpta, circa vesperam cum rebus pretiosioribus alio divertit. nocte hora undecima redeunt tonitrua, fulmina, ac fulgura, intrantiaque per rimas, pulverem incendunt. turris ingentis altitudinis e fundamentis in altum integra sublata, antequam vis pulveris, quae eam elevarat, evanesceret, in aëre disrumpitur, quadratique ingentes lapides, per universam disiecti urbem, evertunt in proximo ultra ducentas civium domos, ac totidem in amplissimo suburbio aedes, quarum latices vivique lapides non minus detrimenti, quam turris, intulere. vitreae fere omnes Mechliniae fenestrae lapidum, tegularum, laticumque volatu, atque immenso disrumpentis turris fragore sunt confractae: fenestrae ligneae, ianuae, atque ostia, seris pessulisque dissilientibus, ubique patuere, omnibus non parum admirantibus subitae cladis causam. homines utriusque sexus variae aetatis ultra quingentos oppressi, vulnerati ad bis mille. nulla enim universa in civitate fuit domus, quae non cladem, damnum, aut utrumque pertulerit. variis locis utriusque sexus homines e lectis surgentes, capitaque fenestris, ut tumultus causam discerent, exserentes, ea transvolantium lapidum violentia perdidere. multis locis vir uxorem, illa maritum, aut parvos liberos iuxta se exstinctos luxere.
(Pontus Heuterus, Res Austriacae 12.8)
On the 7th of August the city of Mechelen suffered a major catastrophe due to gun powder being ignited by lightning. In the town wall surrounding the city, next to the Nekkerspoel gate, there was a round tower, built in the old fashion from rough, white, square-cut stone blocks, called Zandpoort (Sand Gate). Built on its very deep foundation there was a vaulted construction, at the bottom of which some 700 barrels full of gun powder were stored, ready for use in war. Because of its age, the tower had begun to show cracks in a number of places. A poor old woman who lived there for free had complained about this several times to the magistrate. She had noticed in the afternoon that thunder and lightning became increasingly violent, and, seized with fear, in the evening she picked up her precious belongings and went elsewhere. At night, around eleven, the thunderbolts and lightning flashes returned, and, entering through the cracks, they lit the powder on fire. High as it was, the tower was lifted whole from its foundations and hurled into the air, before the force of the gun powder, which had elevated it, faded. It exploded in mid-air, and the big square stones, cast about across the entire city, destroyed more than 200 civilian houses in the vicinity, and as many houses again in the wide suburb, their bricks and rough stones inflicting no less harm than the tower itself. Nearly all glass windows in Mechelen were broken by the flying stones, roof-tiles and bricks, and by the enormous crash of the bursting tower. Bars and bolts were flung open, and wooden windows, gates and doors everywhere stood ajar. Everyone was filled with wonder at the cause of the sudden calamity. More than 500 people of both sexes and all ages were crushed, some 2000 were injured. For there was no house in the entire city that didn’t suffer disaster or damage, or both. Here and there men or women got out of bed and, in order to learn the cause of the commotion, stuck their head out of the windows – only to lose it because of the violence of stones sweeping past. In many places a husband lamented his wife, a wife her husband, or the little children found dead beside them. (tr. David Bauwens)
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