St. Martin's Cathedral, Utrecht

For the Roman Catholic cathedral in Utrecht, see St. Catherine's Cathedral, Utrecht.
Utrecht Cathedral from the north, before the collapse of the nave. Etching after Steven van Lamsweerde, 1660
Print of 1697
Hendrick van Vliet, 1674, the year of the storm
Exterior of St. Martin's Cathedral in Utrecht
Altar piece in St. Martin's Cathedral, attacked in Reformation iconoclasm in the 16th century
The church as seen from the tower, in front the temporarily rebuilt section (2004)

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 the country's only pre-Reformation cathedral. It has been a Protestant church since 1580. The building is the one church in the Netherlands that closely resembles the style of classic Gothic architecture 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 building has only one tower, the 112-metre-high (367 ft) Dom Tower, which is the hallmark of the city.

In 1674 the central portion of the cathedral with the nave collapsed in a storm, a tornado ripped through Utrecht causing many to die and split the cathedral in two. It has never been rebuilt, leaving the tower now isolated from the east end.


The first chapel 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 building. This church was destroyed by the Normans in the 9th century during one of their many raids on Utrecht, but was reconstructed by Bishop Balderic in the 10th century. During this period St. Martin's came to be the principal church of Utrecht, see of the bishop. The church had its own small territorial close (known as an "immunity") and was led by a cathedral chapter of canons, who generally belonged to the nobility.

The church was repeatedly destroyed by fires and then rebuilt. A Romanesque style church was built by Bishop Adalbold 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 fire of 1253 which ravaged much of Utrecht, leading Bishop Henry van Vianen to initiate the construction of the current Gothic structure in 1254. The construction of the Gothic cathedral continued 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 cathedral were destroyed.

In 1580 the Utrecht city government devolved the cathedral from the Diocese of Utrecht to local Calvinists. From then on Protestant services were held in the building with one brief exception, in 1672 and 1673, during the Franco-Dutch War, when Catholic masses were again held in the cathedral. A year after the French retreat, the still unfinished and insufficiently supported nave collapsed on 1 August 1674 during a massive storm that caused a tornado. Over the subsequent centuries, much of the enormous building fell into further neglect. The pitiable state of the cathedral 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 remained strong within Utrecht following the Reformation but was legally obliged to worship discreetly in clandestine churches (schuilkerken). One of these churches, St. Gertrude's, later became the principal cathedral of the Old Catholic Church of the Netherlands.

The Catholic Church, during the 1853 reestablishment of the episcopal hierarchy in the Netherlands, designated the former St. Catherine's church of the Carmelites as the cathedral of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese 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 archaeological artifacts 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, a founding document of the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands, 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 cathedral. 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 cathedral. The modest "Emperors' stones" (keizerssteentjes) in the floor of the choir of the cathedral are a reminder of this fact.

The only medieval tomb of importance to remain relatively unscathed in the cathedral is that of 14th century Bishop Guy of Avesnes – the brother of John II, Count of Holland, Hainaut , and Zeeland.

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 16th century Bishop George van Egmond.


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Coordinates: 52°05′27″N 5°07′18″E / 52.09083°N 5.12167°E / 52.09083; 5.12167

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