Time Travel: St. Augustine’s on the Oudegracht

Zigeunerin, Oudegracht, Utrecht, Sebastiaan Alphonse Van Besten, 1915

Zigeunerin, Oudegracht, Utrecht, Sebastiaan Alphonse Van Besten, 1915, Rijksmuseum

I originally came across this photo on Pinterest and it caught my eye for multiple reasons. Obviously, unlike many of the old photos I usually use for these Then and Now posts, this one focuses more on an individual than a building or setting. The woman, a gypsy (zigeunerin), is the main subject of the image taken by Belgian autochromist Sebastiaan Alphonse van Besten. Van Besten was a refugee here in the Netherlands during World War I and took photos in various cities throughout the country, including this fantastic photo here in Utrecht. This particularly image now hangs in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. I look forward to seeing it in person soon.

There are still gypies/travellers/roma, etc. in Utrecht and the Netherlands in general, but not quite so obvious now. However, the setting is barely changed. She stands just to the side of a set of stairs that lead down to the wharves along the Oudegracht and the St. Augustine Church in the background remains seemingly unchanged. Even the handrails of the stairs seem almost the same. Now, though, there are more parking signs and bicycles along the railing. In fact, if it weren’t for the bicycles, I could have stood in almost the exact spot to get my “now” photo.
St. Augustine'sFYI, the photo I posted for my last Wordless Wednesday was taken almost directly underneath this spot, down on the wharf level.

6 thoughts on “Time Travel: St. Augustine’s on the Oudegracht

  1. Thanks Alison for giving me the opportunity to share my grandmothers favourite story! The cross on the top of that dome was forged by my grandmother’s father who was a blacksmith (it may have been a replacement of an original and it may have been replaced since, but that doesn’t matter for this story). Nobody dared to put the cross up there so my great-grandfather climbed up there himself. He placed it and all went well until he had to come down again. He got so afraid that he just froze up there. In the end the fire department had to rescue him with a tall ladder. Male descendants of my great-grandfather still run the same blacksmith’s shop in Utrecht!
    The old colour picture is beautiful too of course, but what a pity it doesn’t show the cross! 😉

    • This is why I love blogging! I get to find out fascinating stories like this that make everything more personal. How great to have that family connection to such a landmark! I have sympathy for your relative. Going up isn’t the hard part; it’s coming back down that terrifies me. 🙂

      I noticed as I was comparing the photos today that the old one did cut off the top of the church (and the cupola and cross) and thought it was a shame. I briefly considered cropping my photo, but couldn’t bring myself to do it. Now I’m extra glad I didn’t. Thanks so much for sharing the story!

      • Yes, it really is great to have such a connection! What I forgot to mention is that years ago the house to the left of the church had a nickname. Again to the left of that house you can just see the building of the cinema. So that house in the middle had the nickname “The house between heaven (church) and hell (cinema)” . Old Utrecht humour! 🙂

        • Ha! I had been looking at that little building, to see if it was still the same, so it’s great to have that little tidbit of trivia to add to my mental files!

  2. Pingback: A Cupola, a Cross, and a Case of Nerves | A Flamingo in Utrecht

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