Holy Apartment

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There are plenty of jokes about not being able to go far at all without coming across yet another church in Europe. They’re everywhere! Though I grew up in the Southern part of the US which certainly doesn’t have any shortage, either. Yet sometimes there end up more churches than needed. Demand has dropped. So what do you do with these beautiful buildings? In some cases, you turn them into apartments.

St. Martinus, a former Catholic church, was built in 1901 by architect A. Tepe in the Neo-Gothic style. By the 1970s, it was falling into disrepair and it was around 1988 that it was converted into apartments as they stand now.

One side of the building looks out onto a street, but the other side looks out over the Oudegracht. On that side, there’s still a statue of St. Martinus.
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Sunny Sunday and St. Augustine

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After a frequently grey and misty week, this morning was a real stunner with pure blue skies over Utrecht and nary a cloud to be seen. With the trees slowly turning their summer greens to autumnal reds, oranges, and yellows, taking a walk through the quiet Sunday morning streets was irresistible.
Augustinuskerk
Augustinuskerk
Charlie and I found ourselves at the Oudegracht and decided to head north and admire the classical architectural style of Augustinuskerk (St. Augustine Church) up close. I’ve always loved the soaring Doric columns and triangular pediment that frame the entrance, but as I looked beyond these eye-catching elements, I also noticed a Greek key pattern over the three doorways, as well as some ecclesiastical decorations overhead. The gold colors, even out of the direct rays of the sun still shimmered in the morning light.
Augustinuskerk
Augustinuskerk
However, as it was approaching 11 a.m., I was surprised to see the iron gates and the large green doors closed up tight. Not what you’d expect on a Sunday morning! It turns out the church suffered some interior roof damage, with pieces of the ceiling decorations having fallen. As it stands, there’s still investigation and repairs to be done before it is deemed safe to open to the public once again. Unfortunately, it may not be open before Christmas.
Augustinuskerk

Time Travel: Pieterskerkhof and the Domtoren

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This image (photo via Het Utrechts Archief) of Pieterskerkhof, with the Domtoren in the background, is from 1925. This is a stretch that really hasn’t changed much at all. That’s Pieterskerk (St. Peter’s Church), the brick building on the far left and the only thing that has changed slightly is the entrance, which seems to have grown a story and added a window. (It’s the bit right next to the white/grey building.)

The lamps have changed, there are a lot more bicycles, and a few trees have changed places, but otherwise, it’s instantly recognizable. Trust me, even the buildings in the background are the same.

I used to joke in the US about how certain streets were what I called “church row”, with seemingly a church on every street corner. This takes the cake, though. As I said, that’s a church there on the left and then not much further on, you can see the top of the cathedral and the Domtoren. I’m lousy at distances, but according to Google maps, it’s a walking distance of 230 meters/250 yards. They say it’s a three minute walk, but that seems awfully slow to me. Of course, if you stop to admire the local cats and the beautiful buildings, it will take a lot longer than three minutes.

Always the DomPieterskerkhof is definitely worth a visit if you’re visiting Utrecht or newly arrived. It’s a surprising cul de sac with a fascinating mix of old and new buildings and some great rooftop views. And when the sun filters through the trees, the charm level goes through the roof.
Summer Light

St. Augustine Revisited, Again, Once More

Castillo de San Marcos
You thought I was going to talk about that church again, didn’t you. You’re probably relieved, if not a little confused, to see this photo. What is it? Why, it’s the Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine, Florida! You see, this is where my mind first goes to when I hear the words St. Augustine. Sure, sure, there’s Augustine of Hippo, the theologian who blathered on about original sin, but as a native Floridian, the city in northern Florida is my Augustine of choice.

But that’s all you’re going to get about the city that most Floridians visit on a school field trip when studying Florida history in fourth grade. I actually am going to tell you a tiny bit more about the church here in Utrecht. Psych! How could I resist when I’ve been sitting on these photos for the past month. They were a few of the photos that survived my camera’s memory stick crash.
AugustiniuskerkAs I’ve mentioned, the church is on the Oudegracht, the main canal running through the city. Its location gives it a pretty spectacular appearance, especially when viewed down on the wharves at the canal level. Interestingly, although many churches are built so that the altar area is situated facing east and the entrance is facing west, this church is oriented the opposite way, mainly because it would have been a shame to have the glorious facade on the smaller Rozenstraat behind it.

If you’re interested as to why churches usually have the altar end facing east, there are a few reasons. The main being that the altar faces east toward Jerusalem, but there’s also the symbolism of the sun rising in the east, signifying rebirth. That was one of the reasons for the development of the stained glass apses in Gothic churches. During morning services, the rising sun would illuminate the glorious windows and leave worshippers in awe.
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Augustinuskerk was built in 1839-40 and was the first large Roman Catholic church to be built in Utrecht after the Reformation. The architect for this neo-classical church was Karel George Zocher, whom I know better for his work designing some of the park areas along the eastern edge of the old city center.

The neo-classical style is evident in the large columns across the front of the church, which support the classic Doric entablature. There’s also a fantastic running key pattern that runs across the front entrance.

I’ve not gone inside the church, but my research and some of the interior photos I’ve seen tell me the interior is neo-baroque, with a heavily decorated altar and side chapels. However, it also seems that the church is closed during the winter, so I may have to wait a while to see the interior for myself. But then, I think it’s the exterior that I’m bound to like the most anyway.
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