SPOTLIGHT STORIES

Building and Rebuilding the Utrecht Cathedral

Ever since construction began in the fourteenth century, the Dom Tower has been the symbol of Utrecht. Even when it was only halfway finished, visitors came from far and wide to see the tower. The tower was part of an ambitious construction project: a cathedral in French gothic style. The first stone was laid in 1254, but the project had to be suspended several times due to a shortage of funding. In 1517 this happened again, but this time for good.

VIEW OF THE CHOIR AND TOWER, UTRECHT CATHEDRAL, 1826 by Jan Hendrick Verheyen (collection: Centraal Museum, Utrecht)
DOM CHURCH AND TOWER IN UTRECHT, THE NETHERLANDS

Zoom in to take a closer look at the structure of the church from these two architectural models from 1830 and 1838. The nave (the long rectangular part leading away from the tower) remained unfinished. The buttresses, the arches and the vault were still lacking, so that the high but slender building had a weak construction. The tower was originally part of the church, but on 1 August 1674 that changed with a bang, quite literally. A ferocious tornado hit the city that day, carving out a path of destruction. The nave of the church collapsed, and the gaping hole in what remained of the church was bricked up. The maintenance of the remaining church and tower was insufficiently rigorous, and decay set in.

ARCHITECTURAL MODEL OF THE DOM CHURCH AND TOWER IN UTRECHT,1838-40 by L.M. Koentz (collection: Centraal Museum)
ARCHITECTURAL MODEL OF DOM CHURCH, 1830 F.C.E. van Embden (collection: Centraal Museum, Utrecht) 

Around 1825 it was clear that a thorough restoration was required. By then the church and tower had acquired a new owner; like most church towers in the Netherlands, it was now owned by the national government who used it for the new communications system, the telegraph. The church had passed into the hands of the Dutch Reformed church community. It was also the Reformed community that initiated the major restoration works, for which the Belgian architect Tieleman F. Suys was commissioned. For the restoration Suys had the city architect F.C.E. van Emden construct a model. The model is detailed to such an extent that we can even see the pastor in the pulpit.

Suys also designed a new entrance, soon dubbed the ‘puist van Suys’ (‘puist’ = pimple) by the local population. After the Dom Tower was struck by lightning in 1836, the city council proposed a partial demolishment, but Mayor H.M.A.J. van Asch van Wijck pushed for restoration instead. Architect L.M. Koentz constructed a highly detailed model for that purpose, which, as city property, became part of the Centraal Museum’s town history collection, along with the model of the church.

Detail view of ARCHITECTURAL MODEL OF THE DOM CHURCH IN UTRECHT, 1838 - 1840, L.M. Koentz (collection: Centraal Museum, Utrecht)

Architect L.M. Koentz constructed this model for that purpose, which, as city property, became part of the Centraal Museum’s town history collection, along with the model of the church.

Credits: All media
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