In the middle ages it was customary to mount the severed heads of thieves, murderers and very naughty people on spikes at the entrances of walled cities as a warning to any out of towners that law breakers will be punished. This was practised throughout Europe from London England on Tower Bridge and on the walls of Bastille in Paris France.
As the masses of the time were very religious and the church had not just influence but power throughout the globe, it was still believed that a body must be complete in order to gain access to heaven once the person has died. Impaling heads ensured that the soles of the bad would be tortured by Lucifer and burn in hell for eternity. A special place in hell in reserved for traitors and mutineers and a lasting example must be made. In London when Guy Fawkes plotted to kill the king and all members of parliament his capture was used to deter any would be future over throwers.
One of the main gates of the west that allowed access into the walled city of Bruges now proudly displays a cast bronze replica of the skull of François van der Straeten. In 1691, under the instruction of King Louis XIV, the French army advanced to Bruges but made it no further than the city wall. Secret meetings led to Francois’ betrayal and a plot formed that would start with opening the gates of Smedenpoort allowing the French to storm and take over the city. Loyal Jacob Wyndekens uncovered the heinous plot and Van der Straeten is tried, found guilty and a month later hanged until dead. It was in the terms of his conviction that his head is to be removed and mounted on the very gate he was due to open and betray the city.
The original skull of Van Der Straeten quickly deteriorates from exposure to the elements and is replaced by a steel replica. The replica goes missing during the revolt of the French a hundred years later and replaced again with a more robust cast. The steel model can be found on display at the Museum of the Société Archéologique de Bruges though bears almost no resemblance to a skull. Smedenpoort itself has been rebuilt over the years and each time the skull was mounted back into what is now the yellow brick fronted fort a constant morbid reminder of the way traitors and are dealt with.