Holidays in Friesland. 6 Medieval Frisian churches. Part 2

THIS IS PART 2 OF 2 ABOUT SIX FRISIAN MEDIEVAL CHURCHES SEEN DURING MY HOLIDAYS. CLICK HERE TO SEE PART 1

Petruskerk (St Peter’s Church), Wanswerd/Wânswert. Late Gothic church on a late Iron Age terp. Most features are probably 16th century, with many additions from the 18th and 19th centuries. However there must have been a much older church as tuff (used until the beginning of the 13th century) was found in the choir under its 19th century outer walls.

During and after the Iconoclasms of the 16th century church buildings were often kept intact, as the protestants also needed a place to worship. Quite a few of these churches in the north were built on so-called “terps”, mounds built against the unpredictable sea. Frisians eked out a living in an environment prone to floods and these terps were already built in times long gone, so to many Frisians they were a common and precious feature in their landscape. They were places of safety and salvation. Churches were built on top of them. Originally they were of course built with clay and wood.

Petruskerk (St Peter’s Church), Wanswerd/Wânswert. West entrance and window.
Petruskerk (St Peter’s Church), Wanswerd/Wânswert. Bell tower from the west. By the time we were there a peregrine falcon was hibernating in the spire. There was a birdwatcher granting us a look through his telescope at the bird which was watching us anxiously and surveying the flat wintery Frisian landscape. At the moment this picture was taken the falcon was flying around, probably looking for some fat pigeons.
Petruskerk (St Peter’s Church), Wanswerd/Wânswert. The nave from the south. The different building and masonry can clearly be seen, especially the difference between the 19th century and earlier masonry.
Petruskerk (St Peter’s Church), Wanswerd/Wânswert. The nave from the north with, again, a mixture of different styles.
Petruskerk (St Peter’s Church), Wanswerd/Wânswert. We were given access to the church spontaneously by the hospitable sexton, who saw us walking around the building. This is the interior to the west, with the organ, built in 1877.
Petruskerk (St Peter’s Church), Wanswerd/Wânswert. The interior to the east.
Petruskerk (St Peter’s Church), Wanswerd/Wânswert. Tombstone in the church.
Petruskerk (St Peter’s Church), Wanswerd/Wânswert. Tombstone in the church.

But the local monks fostered new technologies for agriculture and for building. Around the year 1000 and afterwards many stone churches were built, like in the rest of western Europe. The international style then was the Romanesque with its sturdy, robust walls and small round-arched windows. There were of course no rocks in Friesland to hew stones from, and the technique of making bricks was lost centuries ago, so building stones had to be shipped from as far afield as the Eifel in Germany. The oldest churches still have masonry with these stones. Good examples amongst the six churches we visited are the ones in Genum/Ginnum and especially the very old one in Hogebeintum/Hegebeintum.

Grote kerk (Great Church) or Sint-Maartenkerk (St Martin’s Church), Hallum. Seen from the northwest. 13th century nave with 18th century buttresses, 12th century chapel, tower beginning 19th century.
Grote kerk (Great Church) or Sint-Maartenkerk (St Martin’s Church), Hallum. Northwest view with very clear differences in the masonry of the chapel (12th-13th century), the nave (13th century), buttresses (18th century) and bell tower (19th century).
Grote kerk (Great Church) or Sint-Maartenkerk (St Martin’s Church), Hallum. Nave from the north. On top of the windows you can see probably re-used tuff. The whole façade in fact gives an idea of the long building history of the church.
Grote kerk (Great Church) or Sint-Maartenkerk (St Martin’s Church), Hallum. Façade of the originally 12th century north chapel. However the window is clearly gothic, while the differences in masonry also tell a quite long story.
Grote kerk (Great Church) or Sint-Maartenkerk (St Martin’s Church), Hallum. North chapel seen from the northeast.
Grote kerk (Great Church) or Sint-Maartenkerk (St Martin’s Church), Hallum. The 19th century choir with older traces.
Grote kerk (Great Church) or Sint-Maartenkerk (St Martin’s Church), Hallum. The church from the south. The 15th century south chapel was later re-used as a protestant consistory.
Grote kerk (Great Church) or Sint-Maartenkerk (St Martin’s Church), Hallum. The nave from the south.
Grote kerk (Great Church) or Sint-Maartenkerk (St Martin’s Church), Hallum. Again the local sexton gave us free admission to the church. This is the interior looking west. On the left the 1773 pulpit and on the right the 17th century “herenbanken” (seats for the local gentry).
Grote kerk (Great Church) or Sint-Maartenkerk (St Martin’s Church), Hallum. Interior to the east
Grote kerk (Great Church) or Sint-Maartenkerk (St Martin’s Church), Hallum. Interior to the north with the north chapel.
Grote kerk (Great Church) or Sint-Maartenkerk (St Martin’s Church), Hallum. 19th century organ.
Grote kerk (Great Church) or Sint-Maartenkerk (St Martin’s Church), Hallum. One of the many tombstones in the church.
Grote kerk (Great Church) or Sint-Maartenkerk (St Martin’s Church), Hallum. One of the many tombstones in the church.
Grote kerk (Great Church) or Sint-Maartenkerk (St Martin’s Church), Hallum. One of the many tombstones in the church.
Grote kerk (Great Church) or Sint-Maartenkerk (St Martin’s Church), Hallum. One of the many tombstones in the church. This one with a beautiful 16th century perspective relief.

When brick making was reintroduced in the Low Countries at the beginning of the 13th century, the Gothic style had already replaced the Romanesque in more southern parts of Europe from the middle of the 12th century onwards. The Gothic had bigger, pointed-arched windows and more refined and elegant building techniques and as such it was more able to represent the glory of the creed (and those in power). For that last aspect there was probably not much interest amongst the Frisians in the countryside. The Gothic became only fashionable up north in the 13th century. It was used in a very practical way to allow more daylight in the church, to make some new architectural decorations and to enlarge the existing smallish and dark Romanesque buildings.

Church, Hogebeintum/Hegebeintum. This church sits on the highest terp of Netherlands and Germany. The terp itself was probably built in the Roman Iron Age. It was dug out for its fertile soil, which caused many problems to the church and churchyard. It is now supported by an impressive concrete structure. The church itself is very old indeed, built in the 11th or 12th century.
Church, Hogebeintum/Hegebeintum. Apse. The church was originally Romanesque and built with tuff. However, like in any other old structure, things were changed through the centuries. The apse was raised in the 16th century and the small Romanesque windows were replaced by Gothic pointed arch windows.
Church, Hogebeintum/Hegebeintum. In the north wall of the nave you can still see traces of the smaller Romanesque windows. Around the first quarter of the 13th century the building was extended westwards, as you can see here.
Church, Hogebeintum/Hegebeintum.
Hogebeintum/Hegebeintum. Western part of the southern façade where you can see different styles: Romanesque, Romano-Gothic and Gothic, partly in the western extension of the church.
Church, Hogebeintum/Hegebeintum. Eastern part of the south façade, a tuff wall with Gothic windows.
Church, Hogebeintum/Hegebeintum. Seen from the southeast. The bell tower was renewed in the 18th century with masonry of that era.

Characteristic of the village churches in the two northern provinces throughout the ages are the gable roofs (instead of pointed spires) on the bell towers. It gives them a particularly robust character that didn’t really fit in very well with the Gothic or any other later style. Of the six churches we visited, only one – St Martin’s in Hallum – has a pointed spire, which is an early 19th century replacement of a once gable-roofed bell tower. And there is of course the small church at Janum/Jannum which has no bell tower at all, but a hanging belfry with one bell. It was interesting – just as interesting as any big Gothic cathedral – to see these old structures in their modern day context; sometimes on terps and surrounded by houses and trees they stand out as landmarks in the very flat and agricultural Frisian landscape. Which makes a trip to that part of the province all the more worth it.

Church, Hogebeintum/Hegebeintum. Seen from the northeast.

THIS IS WHERE PART 2 OF 2 ENDS. CLICK HERE TO SEE PART 1

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Contents of all photographs courtesy to my sister and brother in law who kindly sponsored this trip

Bertus Pieters

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