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The Holy Martyrs of Gorkum, Hugo Grotius’ daring escape in a book chest, Gorinchem’s native son Hendrick Hamel who ‘discovered’ Korea: with ten centuries of history, Gorinchem has plenty of tales to tell—all stories worth delving into.
The Holy Martyrs of Gorkum
The Eighty Years’ War (1568–1648) was a turbulent time in the Netherlands. King Philip II of Spain unleashed a reign of terror, and the country was torn apart internally by religious strife. A tragic low point during this period was the murder of 19 Catholic clerics and friars who came to be known as the ‘Martyrs of Gorkum’. In 1572, they were rounded up by Watergeuzen (militant Calvinists), brought to Den Briel (Brielle), tortured, and hung. The Martyrs of Gorkum were beautified in 1675 and canonized by Pope Pius IX in 1867. A national pilgrimage to Brielle is held every year around the anniversary of their death (9 July). They are also honoured worldwide, as far away as Mexico, Chile, Ecuador, Brazil, Guatemala, and the Philippines. A permanent exhibition about the Martyrs can be seen in the Gorcums Museum.
Hugo de Groot portal
Called the ‘Wonder of Europe’ by the French king, Hugo de Groot, internationally known by his Latin name Hugo Grotius, was a brilliant jurist who laid the foundations of modern international law and maritime law. Despite his intellectual accomplishments, in the Netherlands he is best known for his daring escape from Loevestein Castle in a book chest. He became embroiled in a political conflict with Prince Maurits and in 1619 was sentenced to life imprisonment in Loevestein Castle (the state prison at the time) for ‘treason’. However, on 22 March 1621, he managed to escape hidden in a book chest, which was brought to the home of the merchant Adriaan Daetselaar on Grote Markt square in Gorinchem. Hugo emerged from the house through a low portal dressed as a bricklayer and completed his escape by ferry over the Merwede to Antwerp. The Hugo de Groot portal is still there today, as is the room in Loevestein Castle where he was held prisoner, which you can visit.
Hendrick Hamel was working as a bookkeeper for the Dutch East India Company when he and 35 other men were shipwrecked off the coast of Korea while sailing to Japan aboard the ship De Sperwer. His journal ‘Hamel's Journal and a Description of the Kingdom of Korea, 1653-1666’ gave the western world its first inside view of Korea. Hendrick Hamel is a national hero in Korea thanks to his writings bringing Korea to the attention of the West. In Gorinchem, close to where his house once stood, the Hamelhuis was rebuilt in honour of this explorer. In the museum you can learn all about this 17th century hero of the seas and the age in which he lived.