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. FYI, the photo I posted for my last Wordless Wednesday was taken almost directly underneath this spot, down on the wharf level.
Each year, on 11 November, the feast day of St. Martin (Sint Maarten) of Tours is celebrated. Primarily a Catholic celebration, it originated in France and then spread through parts of Europe. In some places, it is marked as the beginning of harvest and is sometimes celebrated with a large feast. In many other countries, including the Netherlands, it is marked mainly by children going through neighborhoods, carrying lanterns, singing songs about the saint, and often going door-to-door in the hopes of receiving candy.
Interest in the festivities and the saint varies from place to place, but it’s fairly prominent here in Utrecht, since St. Martin is the patron saint of the city. There has been a church dedicated to St. Martin in the Domplein, in one form or another, since the missionary Willibrord built a church dedicated to the saint in 700 AD. The story of the saint sharing his coat with a beggar is also the inspiration for Utrecht’s coat of arms.
There are a variety of St. Martin festivities, particularly for children, here in Utrecht, including a lamp-lit parade. The large St. Martin in my pictures actually lights up at night and is part of the parade. Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos, but you can see a nice one here.
If you’d like to learn a bit more about who St. Martin was, there’s a concise (English) biography found here as well as additional links and information (in Dutch)
The other week, as part of the national Museum Weekend, we finally went to visit the Museum Catharijneconvent. From the museum’s website: “Originally built in the 16th century as a monastery for members of the Order of the Knights of St. John, it was named after Saint Catherine of Alexandria. The monastery’s infirmary eventually became Utrecht’s first teaching hospital while the Catharijneconvent was subsequently used for a wide variety of purposes.” It wasn’t until 1979 that it eventually became a museum, officially opened by Queen Juliana. The museum contains historical and art-historical exhibits, with pieces ranging from reliquaries to clothing to works of art dating from the medieval period to contemporary art. In fact, some of the contemporary pieces were quite impressive on their own.
I didn’t take photos inside, so all I’ve got are photos of the various parts of the interior of the convent grounds, which are quite beautiful and interesting on their own. If you enjoy religious art and can read Dutch, the actual museum is worth a visit. The information that goes with each piece is only in Dutch, so keep that in mind. If you’re interested from an art-historical perspective, rather than a purely religious perspective, it may seem to lack detail and information on the artistic aspect of the pieces. The information given tends to be specifically about the religious story/history being depicted. It’s still interesting and worth a visit, but if nothing else, I recommend a visit just to look around the central quad to admire the buildings, garden, and the general layout. All of that is open for view and doesn’t require a ticket. They also have an indoor/outdoor café, which might be a nice place to stop on a lovely spring/summer day.
In the meantime, here are somemany of the photos I took of the grounds. They maintain the older structures beautifully, but I like the way they add in some of the necessary modern additions, including the glass walkway. It serves a purpose, while not completely blocking the view of the old buildings.
For better or for worse, a lot of people think of prostitution and drugs when they think of the Netherlands. Or they think about the more positive fact that the Netherlands was the first country to recognize gay marriage. What they probably don’t think about is a Dutch Bible Belt, yet it does exist. In a nation so liberal in so many ways, there are still (very small) pockets of religious enthusiasts, to put a polite spin on it.
A few weeks ago, before the World Cup final — which took place on a Sunday — some of the more fanatical religious leaders called for their flocks to avoid this “sinful” match, because they objected to television being watched on Sundays. The ire was raised when three cafés dared to show the match in the village of Urk, one of the notches in the Dutch Bible Belt. The horror! One wonders how much hypocrisy was being practiced that day in the privacy of the homes of some of the faithful. On the other hand, those who didn’t watch at least avoided the pain of the outcome of the match.
The Christian Right are also in the government, making up various political parties, including the CU (Christenunie). The Christian-controlled lower house of the Dutch government seems to have pushed through an interesting bit of legislation recently. They’ve decided to grant immediate asylum to any Iranian Muslim refugee … who converts to Christianity. It’s only for those who convert to Christianity, though. Any other religion — or those who declare themselves atheist — are out of luck and will have to go through the normal channels to try to obtain asylum. Ironically, it’s thought that those who convert to Christianity will face a much more dangerous situation if they were to go back to Iran. I’m not sure why other religions (or lack thereof) would be any less risky. I’m also not sure why it’s only Iranian refugees.
I’m an atheist from the Bible Belt in the United States. That’s pretty risky living! Surely, I should qualify for some sort of special asylum. 😉