Myra Prinsen - 2009-02-23
Two of Maastricht's unoccupied churches have been wonderfully transformed into a Design hotel and a bookshop. The same rule applies for both buildings: visitors are welcome.
The Crutched Friars Hotel
On arrival the visitors are dumbstruck with surprise, open-mouthed, with gazes fixed upwards: such is the habitual reaction of people entering the old cloister of the Crutched friars (Kruisherenklooster.)
Entry to the building is via a copper tunnel conceived by Ingo Maurer, the German designer and lighting specialist. This artist has also created remarkable hanging lights which illuminate the mezzanine level, and a work called 'Delirium Aqua' situated in the inner courtyard.
Every aspect included in this hotel is a designer creation. Besides Ingo Maurer, the internationally renowned Dutch designers such as Marcel Wanders and Pier Hein Eek designed the building's layout and Henk Vos was the interior designer.
In the hallway a comfortably arranged corner area faces the entrance. For manager Martijn Aarts it is a strategic point for observing his guests reactions: “everyday they remind me just how special this place is.” For visitors it is an ideal spot to calmly admire the church accompanied by background music from Buddha-bar.
Works of Art and Centuries-old Artefacts
The interior spaces are adorned with works of art and centuries-old artefacts which belonged to the convent. Tombstones stand lining the walls. Martijn Aarts explains “There were lots of tombstones set in the floor. But not everyone likes walking on them. In certain cultures it's something that just isn't done. That is why we keep them this way.” Further along there is a suspended stoup and a keystone encloses the area.
In the atrium a huge display case houses works of modern art which are for sale. Works of art are also on display in the cloister's old corridors leading to the hotel rooms. In the calm of a recess stands an impressive prie-dieu with its view over the inner courtyard; ideal for a moment of silence and reflection, or for contemplating the dizzying movements of the “Delirium Aqua” water swirl.
A place of honour has been given to the statue of “the little crutched friar.” The crutched friars were driven out of the cloister in 1797 after which the building was used by the French as a munitions depot. Over the past century it has been used as a centre for agricultural science. When the employees moved to Wageningen, the statue was taken with them, yet was officially returned after the hotel's opening. “The little crutched friar” now contemplates the wine bar from his niche lined with red cloth.
The mezzanine level restaurant, situated above the wine bar, is sunlit by the restored, high stain-glassed windows of the choir. It is run by the recently appointed head chef - Erik Arts. The manager, Martijn Aarts, expects great things from him: “He's a culinary genius. With him we hope to pick up a Michelin Bib Gourmand rating. The restaurant should be more lively. I want to hear the noise of the service, the cutlery; the hubbub of people chatting and having a good time.”
Every corner of this building has something special to admire. This is true right down to the gents toilets where the urinals are illuminated by lights that make holographic flies. Even the toilets themselves have glass partitions, yet for reasons of privacy the other side of the glass is tinted.
Whilst visitors are welcome in the church, the cloister is only accessible for the hotel guests, so they can relish its serenity. However you can visit the garden and inner courtyard accompanied by a member of staff.
A stable, a boxing ring, a bookshop: the many lives of a church
The Dominican church situated barely 500m down the road, was the Netherlands very first Gothic church; its construction began in 1266 and it was inaugurated in 1294. Its arches rise up 23 metres high. The fresco on the lateral nave is dated 1337 and is believed to be the earliest mural in the world depicting St Thomas Aquinas.
The building kept its religious function until 1804. From then on its uses have been a lot less catholic. In the 19th century it was used as a stable for the cavalry. The town's guillotine was also housed there. Later on it hosted boxing matches or exhibitions of gleaming American cars. Whole generations of Maastricht's people enthusiastically recall the children's carnival which was held there every year.
The church was henceforth managed by Ton Harmes, who is just as welcoming and enthusiastic as the manager of the Crutched Friars church. Given the building's history the local inhabitants were not shocked to hear that the Selexyz book chainstore had designs on opening a branch at this location. But for Ton Harmes, the place is above all a church, and should therefore be treated with respect. So just as with the Crutched Friars Hotel, the layout has been designed to be independent of the building itself leaving the church untouched should it reclaim its role.
A large two storey bookshop made of black steel occupies the centre of the nave. Customers can choose from the 25,000 titles that it stocks. If they need time, they are welcome to browse through them in the choir, now set up as a café lit by a large, modern chandelier.
Where the high altar formerly stood there is now a six metre long table in the form of a cross. Against the walls are groups of wooden seats which are reminiscent of the old canonical benches. The café is run by the Coffee Lovers company. The church has art exhibitions and organises all kinds of cultural activities. The bookshop is also open on Sundays.
Eating at De Bissjop
Looking for a place to eat after visiting the churches? De Bissjop (The Bishop) is a must. Firstly because of its name - the owner of this old café had Bishop as a surname. But above all because of its excellent value for money: it is one of the Michelin guide's Bib Gourmand restaurants.
Everyday De Bissjop has a different, yet unique menu on offer. So guests get a pot luck dinner. When making a reservation they can however indicate anything they do not like and their preferences are taken into consideration. The ambiance is quite chic, but convivial. The restaurant only seats 25 people in order to maintain an intimate atmosphere.
6211 NW Maastricht
Tel. +31 (0)43 329 20 20
6211 CZ Maastricht
Tel. +31 (0)43-3210825
Eetkamer De Bissjop
6212 ET Maastricht
Tel. +31 (0)43-4599202