A church tour
Cycling along the heritage of Groningen
“ 'While their towers are usually modest in height, they stand head and shoulders above the artificial dwelling hills.' ”
While some may refer to them as beacons of silence, quiet and con-templation, others boast of their solid appearance or consider all churches combined to be one huge museum. Sometimes people refer to France or Tuscany to emphasise the beauty of Groningen churches. This is totally unnecessary, the churches of Gronin-gen are simply special as themselves, with their own particular character.
Groningen churches generally have ancient roots, deriving their special character from the reddish brown Romanesque bricks that were fired using Groningen clay. While their towers are usually modest in height, they stand head and shoulders above the artificial dwelling hills. Their interiors, with old murals and beautiful vaults, are true hidden gems. Welcome to the churches of Groningen.
The Donatuskerk of Leermens has been here since time immemorial, and has also been under construction and renovation since then. The tuff sidewalls delineate the oldest part from 1050. When you enter the transept, you see the tuff is mixed with red Roman bricks. It is evident that in the 13th century these bricks were all the fashion. Inside, the 15th century paintings on the walls and ceilings immediately catch the eye. Look up: can you make out the symbols of the four Evangelists? And how about the Lamb of God in the vault? From the walls, St Donatus, St Sebastian, the Virgin and Child and St Ursula look down benevolently. Look closely to see the virgins hiding under Ursula’s cloak. And who could that crowned figure next to Sebastian be? Maybe it’s Emperor Diocletian. The 17th-century pulpit is the only remaining old piece of furniture; everything else was lost in a fire in 1957.
This charming church is located on the artificial dwelling hill of Krewerd. It is such a beautiful sight that you could almost forget to enter it. And once you do, you will see the second oldest organ in the Netherlands, which is still in operation. Connoisseurs from far and wide come to see it. The church also has medieval paintings on display, such as the brick imitation and the plant motifs on the vaults. Another special item is the coat of arms filled with attributes used by construction workers: a trowel, a carpenter’s square, a hammer and axe. No surprises there for a beautifully built church like this. There is a story to this late-Romanesque hall church about a widow Tiadeke, who had a seriously ill son. She lived in a Groningen estate house near Krewerd and promised to have a church built if her son recovered. After his recovery, Tiadeke failed to keep her promise. When her son died later without leaving any children, she still had the church built out of remorse. The Mariakerk is naturally included in Het Grootse Museum van Nederland: a collection of the most beautiful Dutch churches.
If ever there was a robust church, it’s the Sebastiaanskerk, with its huge buttress to support the tower. This is not the church’s only special feature, by the way. Have you ever heard of a ‘reduced westwork’? It’s actually a church tower built into the church. Although it may seem perfectly normal, it really isn’t, certainly not in these regions. Its exterior looks Romanesque, while the interior with domed vaults and brick imitation is late-Romanesque; in other words, this is a church in a transitional style. The large buttress was added much later. Subsidence must have been a serious consideration to justify this kind of colossus. Inside, be sure to look up at the image of Christ, St Catherine with the wheel, St Sebastian and the Virgin and Child. For years they were covered and invisible under a thick layer of chalk. Afterwards, take a well-deserved break under the apple trees of the De Luingahof tearoom and fruit and vegetable trade. Be sure to get your Fladderak Kouk cake at the Bakkerij Olinga cake champion.
“ 'It is such a beautiful sight that you could almost forget to enter it.' ”