The legend of the hailstorm cross in Ekeren

Legend whispers of Ekeren's past, a town north of Antwerp, once ravaged by relentless hailstorms that shattered crops and livelihoods. One particularly devastating storm, a Friday following a Sunday, left a single, chilling anomaly: a large hailstorm remained unmelted, miraculously forming a perfect cross.

Fearful whispers spread, suggesting the fields were cursed. The villagers, desperate for salvation, called upon their priest. He summoned the community with the solemn peal of church bells, and together they knelt in fervent prayer at the site of the hailstorm cross. For hours, their pleas filled the air, and legend claims that from that moment forward, the fierce hailstorms ceased to plague their land, but only under one sacred condition: the villagers must never forget the day the miraculous cross appeared.

In gratitude, a large bluestone cross was erected where the hailstorm cross miraculously melted. This "Hagelkruis," or Hailstorm Cross, became a celebrated landmark. Celebrations supposedly began as early as the second half of the 15th century, attracting pilgrims from far and wide, with historical records even mentioning a man from the distant city of Aalst, over a hundred kilometers away, who was sentenced to a pilgrimage to the famed Hagelkruis in Ekeren.

The Hagelkruis's fame even reached the canvas of renowned artist David Teniers the Younger. His 1646 painting, now displayed in London's National Gallery under the title "A Country Festival near Antwerp," depicts the Hagelkruis festivities in all their vibrant glory. The painting showcases the Hagelkruis prominently on the right, with the bustling city of Antwerp visible in the background.

Though the original cross and the traditional celebrations have faded with time, a new cross was re-established on the same site in 1981 by the Davidsfonds, a local Christian organization. Today, the Hagelkruis stands tall at Groot Hagelkruis, near the Moretus campus Lambertus school in Ekeren, Antwerp, a silent testament to faith, a reminder of a legendary storm, and a symbol of the enduring power of hope.