Venlo – Day 7
We started with another delicious Dutch breakfast buffet – several slice-it-yourself breads, croissants, butter and jams, sliced meats and cheeses, boiled and scrambled eggs, hot sausages and bacon. The hotels, even the smallest, had the coffee machines we saw last year in Eastern Europe, which grind the beans and allow you a choice of espresso, latte, cappuccino – and, if you must, Americano, at the press of a button.
We had planned to go back to Sint-Martinuskerk, which was posted as open from 9:30 to noon, walk through some streets where ancestors had lived or had property in the 18th century, and then go off to Moers with maybe a stop in Kaldenkirchen, where a completely different set of ancestors on the Hersman side of the family had lived.
The church was not yet open when we got there, and almost as soon as they unlocked and we went in, we were asked to leave as it wasn’t open until 10:30. We were out from discussing what to do in the meantime when a woman who lived nearby introduced herself, and kindly spent the next hour or so with us, looking for the verger, recruiting someone to answer questions, and admiring the church with us.
The earliest church on the site is thought to have been in the 9th century, although there was a church in Venlo dating to 760. Around 1000 it was replaced by a Romanesque church, and the beginnings of the Gothic building was in the 1420s. It was expanded over the centuries, and the tower was replaced after World War II, when the tower and roof were destroyed by bombing.
The copper baptismal font dates from 1619. The sculpture on top represents a baptism in the river Jordan. On the lower left you can see the levers used to raise the lid so the font can be used.
Hundreds of my ancestors’ families would have gathered around this font over the centuries to welcome each new baby.
In the baptistry side chapel, there is this carving of a pelican mother. In medieval times, the pelican was believed to be a particularly good mother, to the point of providing her blood by wounding her breast when no other food was available. The pelican became a symbol of the passion of Jesus, and we saw it in many churches, but I thought it was particularly apt in this chapel.
The Baroque pulpit dates from 1701, and my various families in Venlo would have looked at it every Sunday.
My ancestors were also buried in the churchyard, and at least one is listed as being buried in the church, but the churchyard is no paved or built over, although a few gravestones have been set into the foundation walls of the church. I was told that no-one was buried in the church except the Bishop of Roermond, Damianus van Hoensbroeck, who died in 1793, and was exhumed and reburied in the church in 2018-19, to make his grave in the floor visible again. There is a documentary teaser here.
It seems likely to me that, like most churches of the time, the rich were buried in the church, the gravestones forming the floor, and they were all removed or covered, as the Bishop’s was, in the 1830s. Arnold Schoncken’s 1735 death record in the church book says he was buried in the “moederkerk”, when most other death records from the church say “kerkhof”, which is churchyard. I lit a candle for them all.
It was time to walk back to the Markt for lunch. We went along the Lomstraat again, and along Peperstraat, and Steenstraat, which leads into the Oude Markt, and where Jan Venhorst and his wife Helena Schoncken owned property.
In 1760, Wolterius De Gruyter and his second wife, Anna Catharina Spee, bought half of a house and yard “op de hoek van de Oude Markt“, a corner of the Old Market Square, and also a share in a saltworks. There is no clue to which corner, and most of what surrounds the old market square is now new, or with new facades. But here is an older building just off the square, on the corner of Heilige Geeststraat (Holy Ghost Street).
His son Martin is listed as a zoutzieder – a saltmaker (also a speldenmaker (pinmaker), kruidenier (grocer), and koopman (merchant). The de Gruijters in Den Bosch had been speldenmakers. Martin was also kerkmeester, what the English call church warden, at Sint-Martinuskerk.
Lunch was at the Hungry Hippo, a Middle Eastern place which was one of the few we found with vegan choices.
We walked back to the Wilhelmina to get the car, and set off east again into Germany for the afternoon, to Moers, where my great-grandfather deGruyter’s family moved in the late 1830s, not long before he was born.