Mechelen - St. Rumbold's Tower

As promised last week this week’s subject will be the impressive and interesting Sint-Romboutstoren (St. Rumbold’s Tower), being part of Mechelen’s cathedral. The official website of the tower:, in Dutch, French, English and German.

The tower stands 97,50 meters (325 feet) tall, and weighs 31.500 tons. The masonry that is. Beams, concrete, wooden floors, the bells and the two carillons included it’s an astonishing 42.000 tons. It’s said that the tower barely has any foundations – less than 3 meters (10 feet) deep, research shows. Due to its enormous weight and the upwards pressure of the groundwater the colossus is firmly anchored to the boggy soil. If one wishes to climb the tower 538 steps separate us from the skywalk on top of the tower. Some opt for returning by base-jumping. We abandoned that idea – so altogether stepped 1.076 times.

On the first floor one reaches the Kraankamer (crane chamber). All goods, weighty bells included, were hoisted to the top of the tower by a jenny (? a sort of vertical tread wheel). Only after 1930 an electric crane came in use. (© Internet.)

A former cannon serves as a counterweight on the same floor. Underneath it is a crate positioned, filled with old roof tiles, to absorb the impact of an unforeseen falling down of the counterweight. The cable never gave way until today. The counterweight makes the, higher situated, chimes play. Every hour the weigh is raised again. (Electrically we suspect.)

We are still on the first, interesting, floor. All material was hoisted up from below through a large opening in the floor. This opening offers a stunning view of the organ’s pipework and the stained-glass windows behind it.

The Smidse (forge) now, on the second (third for the Americans) floor. Repair of the clockwork and the carillon were done here. Apart from some not all that spectacular work-related items, like ropes, pulley-blocks and the likes, here again two smaller counterweights and the ‘safety-crates’ filled with old roof tiles are visible. These two weights keep the timepieces on the 5th floor going.

Third floor, the Klokkenkamer (bell chamber). Six bass bells are to be found here, named Salvator (1498, around 8,8 tons, f sharp), Karel (1524, 6 tons, g sharp), Rumoldus (not later than 1491, 4,235 tons, b flat), St.-Jan-Berchmans (1947, 3 tons, c), Magdalena (recast 1498, 2,145 tons c sharp) and Libertus (1,85 tons, d). In the past the clocks were forced to shift back and forth by foot. The bells with the higher tones hang in the bell cage – one story higher. Sometimes the bells crack and have to be recasted. That happened to all of them – except St.-Jan-Berchmans, by far the youngest.

Next, the Oude Beiaardkamer (old carillon chamber). The upright clock, visible next to the carillon keyboard, was installed in 1861 and is a ‘mother-clockwork’. The mechanism sends a short electric pulse every minute to the large clockwork situated one storey above the present one. The glass beakers at the bottom are the batteries, invented by Georges Leclanché (Parmain, 1836/9 – Paris, 1882). More about him:é. Nowadays the Leclanché-arrangement is a ‘museum-arrangement’. Electricity is now provided by a simple adapter.

Ultra short action/melody

On the fifth (6th) floor the Uurwerkkamer (clock chamber) is to be found. This mechanism is governed by the clock that is situated one storey below, already explained with the last picture. As stated before the system moves on every minute; every other quarter of an hour there’s an ultra-short melody – a moment worth video-taping.

Almost there! On the sixth (7th) floor the Nieuwe Beiaardkamer (new carillon chamber) is situated. The new carillon was made by the Koninklijke Eijsbouts Klokkengieterij en Fabriek van Torenuurwerken, a company based in Asten, The Netherlands. (They casted the new 6 tons clock, named Maria, for the Notre Dame in Paris too, in 2012/3.) It was bitterly cold up there, by the way, as carillons -clocks in general- are obviously situated next to belfry windows.

Second to last now, the Askelder (ash cellar) on the seventh (8th) floor. Strangely enough, the highest floor -apart from the top- is named ‘cellar’. This was supposed to be the workplace for installing a spire, bringing the tower’s height to an astonishing 160 meters (533 feet). The spire was never built, possibly because in what is now the south of The Netherlands some spires had collapsed. Another, more commonplace, reason might be a lack of money. In 1989 the biggest bell of the new carillon was brought into the tower from the top down instead of the other way around. A 120 meters (400 feet) high crane hoisted the bell outside the tower to the top and let it down using the holes that are visible here. There was only 3 cm (1,2 inches) of play between the bell and the edge of the hole. (© Internet.)

An almost sensational solution, offering a free and safe view from the top of the tower, is its Skywalk – installed in 2009. There are the letters ‘W’ and ‘O’ visible. It’s your guess which letters are on the left and right hand side. The guys that did the job certainly did not suffer from fear of heights! The photographer! (© Internet.)

The Grote Markt as seen from the top of the tower. We went up with the two of us – both being male. The two wives, well one of them, had a sauced herring somewhere down there. Note the lightning conductor.

A part of Mechelen’s waterways. In the background it is the canalized tidal river Rupel. The river Dijle, non-tidal but still a river, is visible in the foreground.

We are told that Antwerp is visible in the (north) background. We cannot think of a reason to doubt it…

…nor do we challenge information, informing us that Brussels is visible in the distance on this (south) side of the tower. It was just a bit hazy…

Mechelen’s inhabitants are given a nickname, being ‘Maneblussers’ (moon extinguishers). According to historiographers it happened during the night from 27 to 28 January 1687. That night it was full moon and the clouds were hanging low. A man left a public house, thought that the tower was on fire and immediately raised the alarm. The combination of the low clouds (smoke), the ginger glow of the moon, possibly combined with the consumed spirits by the raiser of the alarm caused the entire town to be in an uproar. It was of course a false alarm, there was no fire. Read more about this funny story on Wikipedia: (not in English, sorry). (© Internet.)

What would be your guess when asked about the name of Mechelen’s town-ale? Maneblusser, self-evidently! Cheers! That was it for this week. (© Internet.)