St. Martin's Cathedral, Utrecht
St. Martin's Cathedral, Utrecht, or Dom Church (Dutch: Domkerk) was the cathedral of the diocese of Utrecht during the Middle Ages. Once the Netherlands’ largest church, dedicated to Saint Martin of Tours, it is one of the country's two pre-Reformation cathedrals, along with the cathedral in Middleburg, Province of Zeeland. It has been a Protestant church since 1580. The building is the one church in the Netherlands that closely resembles the classic Gothic style as developed in France. All other Gothic churches in the Netherlands belong to one of the many regional variants. Unlike most of its French predecessors, the Dom Church has only one tower, the 112 m (368 ft) high Dom Tower, which is the hallmark of the city.
The first chapel dedicated to Saint Martin in Utrecht was founded around 630 by Frankish clergy under the patronage of the Merovingian kings but was destroyed during an attack of the Frisians on Utrecht shortly thereafter. The site of this first chapel within Utrecht is unknown. Saint Willibrord (died 739), the Apostle to the Frisians, established a second chapel devoted to Saint Martin on (or close to) the site of the current Dom. This church was destroyed by the Normans in the 9th century during one of their many raids on Utrecht, but was reconstructed by Bishop Balderik in the 10th century. During this period St. Martin's came to be the principal church (or minster) of Utrecht, see of the bishop. The church had its own small territorial close (known as an "immunity") and was led by a chapter of Canons, who generally belonged to the nobility.
The church was repeatedly destroyed by fires and then rebuilt. A church in Romanesque style was built by Adalbold, Bishop of Utrecht, and consecrated in 1023. It is thought to have been the center of a cross-shaped conglomeration of 5 churches, called a Kerkenkruis, built to commemorate Conrad II. This building, also known as Adalbold's Dom, was partially destroyed in the big fire of 1253 which ravaged much of Utrecht, leading Bishop Hendrik van Vianen to initiate the construction of the current Gothic structure in 1254. The construction of the Gothic Dom was to continue well into the 16th century. The first part to be built was the choir. The Dom Tower was started in 1321 and finished in 1382. After 1515, steadily diminishing financing prevented completion of this building project, of which an almost complete series of building accounts exists. In 1566, the Beeldenstorm or Iconoclast Fury swept across much of the Low Countries, justified by the Calvinist belief that statues in a house of God were idolatrous images which must be destroyed. As a result, many of the ornaments on both the exterior and interior of the Dom were destroyed.
In 1580 the city government of Utrecht handed the Dom over to the Calvinists in the city. From then on Protestant services were held in the Dom with one brief exception during the French invasion of the Netherlands in 1672/1673, when Catholic masses were again held in the old cathedral. A year after the French retreat, in August 1674, the still unfinished and insufficiently supported nave collapsed during a massive storm that resulted in Utrecht in a tornado. Over the subsequent centuries, much of the enormous building fell into further neglect. The pitiable state of the Dom led to some small restoration activities in the nineteenth century, followed by major renovations in the early twentieth century with the aim of returning the Cathedral to its original state. However, the nave was never rebuilt.
The Catholic Church of the Netherlands remained strong within Utrecht following the Reformation but was obliged to worship discretely in hidden chapels (schuilkerken). One of these chapels, St. Gertrude's, later became the principal cathedral of the Old Catholic archbishop of Utrecht.
When in 1853 the Roman Catholic Church re-established its episcopal hierarchy in the Netherlands, the former St. Catherine's church of the Carmelites was turned into the new Catholic cathedral of Utrecht.
The church today
What remains of St. Martin's today are the choir, the transept and the Dom Tower. The central nave of the cathedral which collapsed in the storm of 1674 is now a square with large trees, the Domplein. Stones in various colours indicate in the pavement the original outlines of the church.
In 2004, 750 years after construction began, the collapsed parts were temporarily rebuilt in scaffolding material. The scaffolding has since been taken down.
In 2013 a project has started to expose archaeologic artefacts of the St. Martin cathedral.
A cloister and a chapter house, which is now the main hall of Utrecht University, are also still standing. The Union of Utrecht was signed in the chapter house.
Burials and memorials in the Dom
Utrecht was an important city in the western Holy Roman Empire and had particularly close links to the imperial Salian dynasty. In the early Middle Ages the Holy Roman Emperor was always an honorary Canon of the Dom. The Emperor Conrad II and the Emperor Henry V both died in Utrecht in 1039 and 1125 respectively. Their bowels and hearts were interred in the Dom of Utrecht. The modest "Emperors' stones" (keizerssteentjes) in the floor of the choir of the Dom are a reminder of this fact.
The only medieval tomb of importance to remain relatively unscathed in the Dom is that of Bishop Guy of Avesnes (also known as Gwijde van Henegouwen), the brother of John II, Count of Holland and Hainaut, who was bishop from 1301 until his death in 1317.
There are many other beautifully carved burial slabs and memorials in the cathedral. Of particular note is the monumental cenotaph, which contained the heart of Bishop Joris of Egmond (died 1559).
- P. Borst, etc., Graven en begraven in de Dom van Utrecht, Bunnk 1997.
- R.E. de Bruin, etc., Een paradijs vol weelde, De Geschiedenis van de stad Utrecht, Utrecht 2000.
- A. van Hulzen, Utrecht, De Geschiedenis en de Oude Bouwwerken, Amsterdam 1944.
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