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.

The Story of a Soldier’s Coat

I love this little corner of the Wittevrouwenkade/straat. During the summer, the lion holding the Utrecht city shield almost disappears from view behind the leaf-filled branches, but during this time of year, he’s visible with just the hint of leaves to come. The diagonals of red and white are the flag/coat of arms of Utrecht the City (the province flag has the same colors but differs in design). Here’s the story behind the colors and design:


According to the legend St. Martin gave the half of his red soldiers coat to an almost naked beggar. The beggar asked for an alms, but Martinus did not have any money and he was not allowed to give his complete coat. That is why he took his sword and cut his coat in two parts. At night he had a special dream. The beggar with the half of his red coat appeared to him and he was told that he had shared his coat with Jesus himself.

The coat of arms and the flag of the city of Utrecht demonstrate the story of the coat’s partition. The red part is the coat, the white part is the undergarment of St. Martin. The official banner in the city hall of Utrecht shows us the red/white division. (Source: stmaartenstadutrecht).

St. Maarten

Oh dear. Today is St. Martin’s Day. It’s times like this that curtains would be useful. Today is the day that kids in some areas go around house to house singing songs and receiving treats. Sort of like Halloween, but not as ghoulish or costume-y. That said, we don’t have any treats to give out.

Fortunately, we didn’t get any visitors last year and I’m hoping this year will be the same. Maybe we should turn the lights out and eat dinner on the sofa. Just in case.