St. Lucia's flood
St. Lucia's flood (Sint-Luciavloed) was a storm tide that affected the Netherlands and Northern Germany on 14 December 1287 (the day after St. Lucia Day), killing approximately 50,000 to 80,000 people in the sixth largest flood in recorded history. Meteorologically this disaster was similar to the North Sea flood of 1953, when an extreme low pressure system coinciding with a high tide caused a huge storm surge. The St. Lucia flood had a major influence on the subsequent history of the Netherlands.
Zuiderzee came into existence
The name Zuiderzee "Southern Sea" (from a Frisian perspective) dates from after this event, as the water had before been a freshwater lake that was only directly connected to the North Sea by the former river Vlie. The St. Lucia's flood removed the last of a series of natural sandy (dunes) and boulder clay barriers after which the new, now salty Zuiderzee came into existence and grew rapidly, this since the peatlands behind the barriers that had disappeared were mostly not protected anymore against erosion from the sea. The coming into existence of the Zuiderzee was the undoing of the powerful medieval trading city of Stavoren at the rightbank of the now disappearing river Vlie and the making of first the IJssel Hanse-cities of Kampen, Zwolle, Deventer, Zutphen and Doesburg and later the anti-Hanseatic city of Amsterdam, that began its rise from nothing to the foremost trading city in the world in the mid 17th century almost immediately after the St. Lucia's flood.
Netherlands (West-Frisia and Frisia proper)
Much land was permanently flooded in what is now the Waddenzee and IJsselmeer. It especially affected the north and northwestern part of the Netherlands, particularly the current provinces of Noord-Holland and Friesland.
The island of Griend in the current Waddenzee was almost completely destroyed, only ten houses being left standing. After the flood Harlingen about fifteen miles southeast of Griend and formerly landlocked came into existence as the new seaport of Friesland. A role it kept for seven centuries.
The only part of the current northwestern Netherlands, apart from the western Dunes area (the old Dutch heartland) and the Frisian Islands that escaped annihilation was West-Friesland, since this area was already protected by a ringdike that mostly held and where not, could be repaired after the floods receded. Shortly after the St. Lucia Day disaster West-Friesland, now separated from Friesland proper by a strait of around 10 miles, was annexed by the county of Holland, bringing to an end a series of wars (the "West-Friese oorlogen") that lasted around 200 years. Shortly after this conquest the now Dutch West-Frisian cities of Hoorn and Enkhuizen began their rise to prominence that reached a pinnacle in the early 17th century.
In Germany (mostly East Frisia)
The Chronicles speak of 50.000 killed and total destruction. Many villages disappeared forever. In the current district of East-Frisia alone thirty villages disappeared in the North Sea. Also a first stage of the Dollart came into existence. Because of the large loss of land and the relative insecurity of living in the now far more unprotected peatlands (remember that natural barriers had been removed by the flood) many survivors gave up their ways of living in the fertile peatlands and moved to the Geest.
Although not known by the name of St. Lucia, the same storm also had devastating effects on the other side of the North Sea in England. It killed hundreds of people in England, e.g. in the village of Hickling, Norfolk, where 180 died and the water rose a foot above the high altar in the Priory Church.
The storm is one of two in 1287 sometimes referred to as a "Great Storm". The other was the South England flood of February 1287. Together with a surge in January 1286, they seem to have prompted the decline of one of England's then leading ports, Dunwich in Suffolk.
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