The Simplicity of the Geertekerk

Last week I met up with a friend in order to take a few photos outside the Geertekerk. That post is still to come, but for now, I’ll share a few — ok, a lot — of photos I took of the church itself. As I’ve mentioned before, for the next few months, the Kerken Kijken event makes it easy to go inside many of the churches throughout the city. They may not all look that impressive outside, but there’s often an inherent and calm beauty inside, even in the simplest of churches.

The Geertekerk looks a bit like a fortress from the outside, to the point that both of us were joking that the small slit windows were surely for the archers to send out flaming arrows down onto the invaders. In reality, I believe the slit windows are to help light the way up the bell tower. Speaking of which, here’s the beginning of the steps that you have to climb to get up the tower. I thought our top-floor “stairs” were bad!
More Stairs of Death

(It was raining that afternoon, so apologies for the water spots on some of these photos.)

The church was originally built around 1255 and was one of four medieval parish churches. It started off as a typical Romanesque hall, with more of a square floor plan. However, work was done to upgrade and expand the church early on, first with the tower, and then in the 14th and 15th centuries, it was expanded into the more common cross floor plan that we typically see nowadays. This was achieved through the addition of aisles on the side, as well as a transept, choir, and chapels. The aisles are currently curtained off, at least the day we were there, perhaps to make it a bit more cosy for the group that was meeting that afternoon.

Geertekerk Interior

Geertekerk Interior

As you can see, it also has a flat, tray-like ceiling that almost gives the building a Scandinavian feel. It actually made me think of a ship’s hull turned upside down. The church began to fall into disrepair by the 19th century, and by 1930, it was no longer in use. In 1954, it was purchased by the Remonstrant Church Council, who is ultimately responsible for the roof, since the original roof was gone by then. Much of the church had sustained various degrees of damage from the elements, so a great deal of work was put into it to restore it. There are a series of photos and prints hanging in one section of the church that show how it looked in the past, as well as some of the restoration work that was done.

When you walk into the main body of the church, there’s a surprisingly large organ overhead, which includes a disc with some of the church’s history explained. The organ itself dates to 1803.

In the transept, there are three stained-glass windows that were made by Johan Dijkstra – of Groningen Artist Circle ‘De Ploeg’ – between 1957 and 1964.
Contemporary Stained Glass

There are regular plain glass lancet windows around the apse, which, when paired with the plain white walls, gives the area a serene and soft glow.
Geertekerk Apse

The church is located in a lovely part of town, with one of the old city ring canals almost right outside the entrance. There’s another church just down the street, as well as the Zeven Steegjes, which I’ve mentioned before. Even if you don’t go inside the church, take a walk past the front door, where you’ll see a stone mosaic of a fish. I suspect that’s one of the recent additions, despite the somewhat medieval appearance, but it’s still a nice decorative touch.

St. Willibrord’s Bell

This was not the blog post I had in mind for today, but the item I was looking for was nowhere to be found, so it will have to wait. Instead, I’ll mention an ongoing event taking place from now through 8 September. It’s the annual Kerken Kijken Utrecht, which has special events and tours of 12 of the city’s most important and interesting historical churches. I may be an atheist, but I have a great fondness for ecclesiastical architecture. In fact, the last time my parents and I were together in Britain, I was the one dragging them to churches, so I could admire the architecture. The running joke was that it was my parents who were making the typical child complaint of “Oh, not another church!”

In looking through some of the information on the website (it’s in Dutch and English), I was truly impressed by the interiors and long history of some of the churches that I’ve seen from the outside, but never viewed the inside. Prepare yourselves. I think I’ll be visiting a lot of churches in the coming months.

One that I have seen inside and out is Sint Willibrordkerk, pictured above. It’s a much more recent church, built between 1875 and 1877, and designed by architect Alfred Tepe (who makes me think of Vlad Tepes, but I’ll spare you the Dracula tangent). It’s crammed in among various shops and former furniture factories, if I remember correctly, and really doesn’t look like much from street level. Of course, there are the spires, as you can see, which rise up and do a decent job of competing with the Domtoren when seen from a certain angle.

St. Willibrord's

The relatively mild-mannered exterior gives way to a riot of colour when you step inside. The building is an amazing example of the Utrecht School of gothic revival, and fortunately, a restoration was carried out recently to help preserve the amazing paintwork that seems to cover almost every inch of the interior. The richness of the colour truly is breathtaking. I didn’t have my camera with me the one time I went inside, but I do hope to go back and try to get some photos. Fortunately, you can get some idea of what it’s like from the link I included above.

Interestingly, although Willibrord has his own church now — and it was one of the first Catholic churches in the city to be built in almost 300 years since the Reformation — he was the one who founded two churches in 695 AD. Those two churches were St. Maarten and St. Salvatore, both of which stood in the Domplein. St. Salvatore is no more, but St. Maarten church became what is the foundation for the cathedral that stands there now.

Ring the Bells

We were over by Sint Willibrordkerk the other week and got to enjoy the sounds of the bells of St. Willibrord ringing out in competition with the Domtoren. If you look closely in this photo, you can actually see the bell in mid-swing (in the lighter-coloured spire).

You can see and hear for yourself in this short video I filmed standing behind the Stadhuis.

If you’re thinking about visiting Utrecht, or are already here, and have an interest in architecture and history, I highly recommend taking advantage of the Kerken Kijken Utrecht openings and tours. Even some of the simpler designs can be incredibly beautiful and awe inspiring.

I ♥ Utrecht