Utrecht’s Stormy History

Under the Dom
On 1 August 1674, the nave of the cathedral in Utrecht was destroyed by a tornado. Strong winds whipped through and severely damaged the already weak structure. Much of the damage may have been because the nave was built from weaker materials to save costs, but a substantial tornado did hit the city. Along with the cathedral’s nave, the towers of five churches were damaged or destroyed, and all but two of the windmills along the city walls were destroyed. [BUISMAN, J. (2000): Duizend jaar weer, wind en water in de Lage Landen. Van Wijnen, p.767.]

The nave originally connected the cathedral to the Domtoren (the bell tower). You can see the original layout and what it looks like now in these axonometrics:

The nave was never rebuilt, although there are markers in the ground showing where the columns and outlines of the nave once stood. Instead, the area now serves as the home for the memorial statue that recognizes those who gave their lives during wartime in service to the Netherlands. There is also a large painting giving a sort of tromp l’oeil look into the part of the cathedral still standing.

I suspect it could be argued that the open space left from not rebuilding the nave has ultimately been more useful over the centuries than the nave itself might have been if it had been rebuilt. As it stands now, this space between the cathedral and domtoren is used on a regular basis, probably at least monthly, for one event or another. This past weekend it served as the market place and staging area for fashion shows during the Summer Darkness festival. It has been a staging area for many a Cultural Sunday event, and the site of the DJ op de Dom event in which DJs and VJs and light artists get together to put on one hell of a dance party for around 10,000 people.

Vrede van Utrecht presents DJ op de Dom 2010 // HD1280x720 from Vrede van Utrecht on Vimeo.

Fortunately, the Domtoren remained standing after the storm, and it remains a symbol of the city to this day. The bells chime out hourly and during the summer, weekly carillon concerts are held every Monday evening at 20:00. The concerts are running through August, and if you choose to go, the Pandhof (cloistered garden) area is thought to be one of the best spots to enjoy the performance. There’s usually some sort of refreshment on hand, as well. I’m thinking of going this evening. It seems like a perfect day to take in the performance on such an historic date. Fortunately, we’ve finally got sunshine today, so little chance of any more tornadoes to wreak havoc.

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12 thoughts on “Utrecht’s Stormy History

  1. “Never rebuilt” is not entirely true. There was one temporal ‘reconstruction’.
    In 2004 for the 750 year anniversary of the church they rebuilt the nave in scaffolding! It looked quite spectacular. But it would have been even better had they also ‘wrapped’ the scaffolding in fabric or foil. Since they didn’t, you looked right through it and the effect was less ‘real’ than it could have been.

    • I’ve seen those photos and I’m so envious that I wasn’t here to see it all! I agree, though, it would have been even more striking if they had covered the scaffolding somehow. Perhaps they should have worked with Christo on some draping. :)

      • He might have been good yes! But there was also the ‘problem’ of the trees. They were kind of ‘killing’ the effect as they were in and also coming out of the construction everywhere. It was also in the summer so the trees were in leaves blocking the view even more. You could never really see all of the scaffolding. But it was of course out of the question to get rid of these beautiful trees for a temporal project. ;-)

  2. I remember seeing the scaffolding reconstruction. I thought it was the start of a real construction at the time.

    I’m still just impressed by the fact their was a tornado in Holland.

  3. It must have been some storm! At first I assumed a small part was missing but having had a look on bingmaps I can now see quite a huge chunk is missing! Funnily enough I misread those axo’s. Now I realise they are before and after drawings.

    I now also understand the photo you took above is actually looking towards that bit whcih is replaced with an open area for people to walk through.

    It’s such a beautiful church, and that piece of history just enhances it even more.

    • Yeah, I didn’t do that good a job of explaining some of the photos. I’m so used to it all, but I forgot that others aren’t! Ooops! The first photo is taken at the far western edge of the Domtoren. There’s a “tunnel” that runs underneath it and would have lead to the cathedral’s entrance. The statue in the background stands where the nave would have reached the transept. As you can see in the second axo, the transept and apse (and the cloistered gardens) are the only major parts of the cathedral still standing.

      The interior is fairly simple, in part because it suffered during the Reformation. A lot of the interior sculptures and such were destroyed. I don’t think I ever did do a post on the interior of the cathedral. I’ll have to rectify that.

  4. There is a young adult book called Stad in de storm by Thea Beckman and it takes place in 1672 when Utrecht was occupied by the French. It is told from the POV of a 15 year old boy and this famous storm is in the novel.
    Unfortunately, the book is not translated into English. Apparently this book is considered a Dutch classic and award winner.

    • That book sounds really interesting! Considering my child’s level of Dutch, I’ve got something to work toward! I’ll definitely have to keep an eye out for it.

  5. Very interesting post about the Domtoren and the cathedral. I didn’t know that the nave came down because the building materials were of poor quality – but it must’ve been quite the storm to pull such a structure down.

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