Maastricht has been a ‘tourist’ destination since the Middle Ages, ever since the many pilgrims who came to the city to visit the grave of St Servatius. More than 50 churches, chapels, monasteries and convents take part in the annual religious processions through the city, showing that religion is still a vibrant part of Maastricht’s culture.
Maastricht has many impressive churches well worth a visit, perhaps the best known being the Romanesque St Servatius Basilica (St Servaaskerk) and Basilica of our Lady (Onze Lieve Vrouwe), and 15th-century Protestant St John’s Church (St Janskerk).
However, many monasteries and churches were slated for demolition, for various reasons (such as poor maintenance and exorbitant cost of upkeep, poor attendance). So, in recent years, some private enterprises have re-purposed some of these buildings to save them from destruction.
So, this idea of re-purposing a religious building got us thinking, as obviously there will be pros and cons to doing this.
The two examples that we saw in Maastricht are well done, we thought, for what they have become and we felt it was far better to change the purpose of a grand building rather than tear it down. We’ve seen quite a few old churches, castles and chateaux in France that are now either just ruins, or are due to be torn down as they are dangerously run-down because of lack of funds.
This is the reality, as frequently old castles and churches don’t have the money to keep going. If one allows a structure to fall into complete ruins, or tears a structure down and replaces it with something else, then it will be lost forever, and the memory of that structure will fade over time. Over time, even photos and pictures can disappear and people won’t remember or know what it was, what was there etc. At least with re-purposing, the structure is preserved and people will know that a church, or monastery, or castle used to be here (and is still here, even if it’s functioning as something else). The structure was originally designed with certain beauty and form, and it’s interesting that the form stays the same but the function changes. Those structures are unmistakably churches or abbeys from the outside still, so it’s a way of preserving the past.
In Maastricht, we saw a church-monastery that has become a bookstore, and one that has become a hotel, and actually when you think about it, that’s not entirely inappropriate.
The first is the former 13th century Dominican Church and Monastery. For a while it had been denigrated to a warehouse and a bicycle parking lot. But, it started a new life when it re-opened after extensive restoration as a large and lovely bookshop with a café, called Selexyz Bookstore or Boekhandel Dominicanen. The renovators have managed to preserve the atmosphere of a cathedral both inside and out, and some say it’s a “divine” space full of books. It’s a way of honoring books and the written word, and in fact books and religion are inseparable. All religions have some sort of special books or scrolls, often beautifully decorated. During the Dark Ages, it was the churches and the monks of the churches that kept the written word alive. Think of all those beautiful illuminated manuscripts, and pages of writing painstakingly inked out by hand.
It’s interesting too that in a recent edition of an in-flight magazine there was an article called “My Beautiful Shelf: Book Temples” about amazing bookstores. They list 6 and one is this one in Maastricht. The others are in Buenos Aires, called El Ateneo Grand Splendid (a former theater); Brussels, called Cook & Book (a restaurant/bookstore); Santorini, called Atlantis Books (the bookstore is the owners’ home too); Beijing, called Kid’s republic (a Kids’ bookstore); Venice, called Libreria Acqua Alta (with many kinds of storage units to protect from water).
Find it just beyond the Vrijthof, at Dominikanerkerkstr. 1, open Monday 10-6, Tues-Sat 9-6 but Thursday 9-9, Sunday 12-5.
In part of the old monastery attached to the church is now a lovely café, called Amadeus (www.brasserieamadeus.nl ).
The other re-purposed church-monastery is the 15th century former Kruisherenklooster (Cloister) and Church. Starting in 2000, the entire complex was transformed into a luxury designer hotel called Kruisheren Hotel, with a restaurant and wine bar, while preserving its exterior and its history. In the past, churches and monasteries were always places for pilgrims and religious travelers to stay so it seems this is just a modern version of that. It’s still a place to stay, just in a different interior form. It’s magical feeling when you walk through the ultra-modern copper entranceway into the hotel space, bright with sunlight shining through the tall stained-glass windows.
Find it at Kruisherengang 19, west of Vrijthof up the hill a little.
It seems to me that this re-purposing of lovely old buildings is a fascinating and thought-provoking concept.