Meerssen (L): St.
Bartholomeus or H. Sacrament
Although now a parish church, the church
of Meerssen until the French occupation in the late 18th century
belonged to a deanery, inhabited by four monks and a dean, which
itself since the tenth century had belonged to the benedictine
abbey of St. Remi in Reims. In the Carolingian time a a small
chapel had stood here, which was later replaced by a Romanesque
church by monks from Reims. The church is then consecrated to
St. Remigius. In 1222 a miracle occured when during a service
blood flowed from a host. Soon the church attracted pilgrims.
In 1364 new dean Jean de Beaufort arrived in Meerssen and found
a church that had fallen into decay. During his stay in Meerssen
the church was rebuilt in Gothic style. It has been suggested
that he had contacts with the builders of the cathedral in Reims,
but there is no evidence that these were actually involved as
there are hardly any similarities between the two churches. Instead
the church of Meerssen was built in the regional Mosan
Gothic style, which reached its absolute height in this building.
What once had been a transitional style had now matured; instead
of the small windows on the St.
Jan in Maastricht, big ones were made here. The whole church
had reached an impressive height too. The church was divided
in two parts, as usual for collegiate churches, with the choir
being used by the monks and the rest of the church being used
by the parish. A big wall seperated the two parts from eachother.
In 1465 a second miracle happened, when Philip the Good, Duke
of Burgundy, attacked Meerssen and set the church on fire. A
farmer saved the monstrance with the sacrament from the flames
and, when he returned to his field, found it to be completely
ploughed, apparently by angels.
In 1581 was consecrated to St. Bartolomeus. The 16th and 17th
centuries brought more war, and in 1649 a storm destroyed much
of the neglected church. The tower, probably a surviving part
of the Romanesque predecessor of the church, collapsed, taking
with it a part of the nave. A wall closed the remaining part
of the church on the western side since. Under Dutch occupation
the church was used by catholics and protestant alike, the so-called
simultaneum. In this period the deanery only maintained the choir,
and the rest of the church, for which the national government
had been responsible since 1663, fell into decay. Especially
the roof was in a bad state and in 1747 half of it collapsed
when remnants of the tower fell through it. The remaining vaults
were in such a bad state that attending services became dangerous.
In 1749 the government promised to repair the damage, on the
conditions that the remains of the tower were demolished and
that the village itself would pay for a new tower. In 1750 until
1756 the nave and vaults were finally repaired to their old state.
A new tower had been designed but was not built. The village
did not have the needed money, and apparently nobody missed the
old tower anyway.
When the church was returned to the catholics in 1838 the protestant
had been given a new church by the Belgian government. The poor
catholic community was faced with the task of restoring the old
church, which once again needed repairs. In the 1870's plans
for more serious restorations were made. A plan by C. Weber however
was not executed. In 1879 Johannes Kayser, under supervision
of P.J.H. Cuypers, started a first restoration which lasted until
1883. Only part of the plan was executed, since the national
government was unwilling to contribute in the costs.
Kayser had the task of restoring a church that had been deprived
of much of its former Gothic glory. Balustrades, pinacles and
traceries were mostly gone. Most of the windows of the choir
were closed. Kayser repaired these things in neo-Gothic style,
added new roofs to the transepts, side-aisles and northern porch,
as well as a new crossing-tower. In the interior blind traceries
in the transept were replaced by completely new ones. He also
designed a new western tower which however was not built. This
tower shows big similarities with that of the cathedral in Utrecht
and the St. Jan in Maastricht.
From 1895 until 1901 Kayser comtinued his work, this time focussing
on the choir and with governmental subsidies. In 1896 a new sacristy
was built on the south side of the choir. The interior was refurnished in neo-Gothic
style. In 1910-1912 Kayser ultimately restored the north porch,
where he added a balustrade without any evidence that there ever
had been one before.
Another restoration by Jos.
Cuypers and his son Pierre followed in 1936-1938. Cuypers
had made a plan that would have resulted in an enlargement on
the eadtern side; wide side-aisles would have been added to the
choir while the east walls of the transept would partly have
been demolished. This plan was not accepted, and instread three
more traves were added to the west of the church. The former
deanery was demolished, resulting in a freestanding church. Part
of the plan was a tower on the south-western side which was not
built. A new crossing tower however was built, adding a much
needed vertical accent to the lengthened building. In 1938 pope Pius XI granted the church the title of Basilica Minor.