Monday, October 5, 2009

Dominican Church Converted to New Bookstore - Maastricht, Netherlands

Cathedral-fatigue. Many visitors to Western Europe know the feeling all too well. The Duomo in Florence, Notre Dame de Paris, the Kölner Dom, St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome – the list goes on and on and is itself impressive, even if not exhaustive. Luckily for the afflicted, a refreshing surprise awaits those who head to lovely Maastricht. Selexyz Dominicanen stands tall in the center of the city. A 13th century gothic church, it offers its visitors a breathtaking high ceiling, a majestic nave, grand ornamentation, and an opportunity to worship: not at the great altar of God, but at the many altars of literature. Recently rated the world’s “fairest bookshop” by the UK’s highly-regarded Guardian newspaper, the Dominicanen has quickly become one of Maastricht’s tourist attractions. “After the Guardian article, this place has been a madhouse,” remarks William Remmers, General Department Head of the store. Remmers recently met with a certain Crossroads reporter to answer a few questions about the church, the bookstore, and their shared history. We sat in what was once the sanctuary of the church, and where now buzzes a Coffeelovers café. “You have to mention Coffeelovers,” he insists. “They are a small Maastricht-based coffee store that sells pretty much the best coffee in the world.” The bookstore fits almost snugly between Maastricht’s two dominant squares, the Markt and the Vrijthof. The renovation project was led by Selexyz, a large Dutch bookstore chain, in collaboration with the city council of Maastricht. Selexyz Dominicanen opened, to some medieval fanfare in November 2006. It was a joint development project with the adjacent and also recently-renovated Entre Deux shopping center. “Entre Deux,” which means between two in French, represents the site’s location between the two squares. The Dominican friars began building their church in 1267, and it was consecrated in 1294. It endured through Maastricht’s often turbulent religious history for exactly five centuries until, in 1794, post-revolutionary French forces annexed the city and expelled the Dominicans. The French used the church for religious purposes for a little over a decade and then converted it to a warehouse. “[The French] cavalry used it for their horses. Since then, it hasn’t really been used as a church,” notes Remmers. “It’s been multiple things: bicycle storage; a place to take exams for classes; there have been boxing matches here; reptile and amphibian shows; Christmas markets; it was even used as a second-hand book salespoint. It hasn’t been a church for over 200 years.”

Church Converted to New Bookstore - Maastricht, Netherlands
Architect: Merkx & Girod

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