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Saint Bavo’s Church

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Stadsarchief Rotterdam

Revolution church design

The 1950s was an era of revolution in church design, which had been the domain of traditionalist architects for so long. Notre Dame du Haut in Ronchamp, completed in 1955 to a design by Le Corbusier, was particularly influential. After that, architects had the courage to apply ‘humble’ materials like concrete and steel and modern forms and structures in church designs. Contemporary visual artists also made contributions. Saint Bavo’s Church in Pendrecht illustrates this revolution in church design in Rotterdam.

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Model of the Saint Bavo's Church.

Maasstad, 1958

Nowhere else does an architect enjoy so many opportunities to create new, revolutionary forms as he does in church design. Ample proof of that is evident on one single street: Slinge in Rotterdam-South. A third progressive church building is now nearing completion, while a fourth is already under construction. Saint Bavo’s Catholic Church on the corner of Slinge and Kerkwervesingel in Pendrecht, which will probably open on 26 June, is a wonderful example of modern church architecture.

Het Rotterdamsch Parool, 18 June 1960

Two churches

Two new parishes were established in the new neighbourhoods of Rotterdam-South in 1955, both of which were expected to serve about 5,000 parishioners. Zuidwijk was given the name ‘Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception’. The parish of Pendrecht was named Saint Bavo’s ‘because it was determined that a church existed here in the middle ages, founded by monks from Saint Bavo’s Abbey in Ghent’. Temporary churches were constructed first before the new buildings were completed. Both new churches were designed by the Rotterdam architect Harry Nefkens (1918-2018), who also designed the temporary structures. The first pile was driven on 6 December 1958, and the church was consecrated on Sunday 26 June 1960. The clock was also placed in the tower at same time. Nefkens also designed two Catholic primary schools and two kindergartens beside the church.

Architect Harry Nefkens has designed a church building with a striking form and structure for Saint Bavo’s parish in Pendrecht. The roof of the main volume is suspended from seven concrete trusses, the legs of which stand outside the church along one side, and inside the church on the northern side, separating the nave and a side wing that will house a day chapel, a space for confessionals and a devotion chapel.

De Maasstad, 1957

Bavo plattegrond

Plan of the ground floor

Bavo doorsnede

Layout

The church consists of a big, tall nave with a structure of seven concrete trusses. A lower side volume contains the rectory. Gracing the forecourt is a 32-metre-tall tower, isolated from the church. From the forecourt, visitors reach the main entrance, a volume with glass doors that protrudes from an otherwise brick facade. Through the glass doors, churchgoers enjoy an uninterrupted view of the altar.

Saint Bavo

To the left of the entrance is a mosaic panel by the Rotterdam artist Bob Zijlmans (1918-1992). It depicts Saint Bavo as a well-dressed and armed nobleman with a falcon. In the bottom right is a tree, to which he withdrew as a hermit after his conversion. In the upper left, a church disappears into the waves in reference to the great flood of 1373, which destroyed Bavo’s Church in the village of Pendrecht. Above the entrance is a sculpture by the Limburg artist Piet Schoenmakers (1919-2009).

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Stadsarchief Rotterdam, 1972

Church nave

Dominating the building are seven concrete roof trusses, behind which the front facade is recessed. On the other side, the trusses punch through the interior. A mezzanine along this side creates a balcony for extra seating, while the day church on the ground floor can be partly closed off. A separate entrance in the rear facade provides access to that day church. Also positioned in a separate volume on this side are the confessionals. The six stained-glass windows in the day church are also the work of Bob Zijlmans.

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Floating roof

The roof is suspended from the concrete trusses. A 1-metre-tall strip of fenestration separates the walls from the roof, making the latter appear to float. The ceiling is finished in white spruce timber. The rectilinear nave can accommodate 550 people, with a further 100 in the day church and 100 on the balcony.

Much of the church floor is finished in Alta Quartzite flagstones. The chancel floor consists of Jura marble slabs and Solnhofen Limestone flagstones. The altar takes the form of a sarcophagus and is composed of slabs of green Italian marble on a bluestone pedestal. The sacrament altar and the baptismal font are made of polished Jura marble.

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In Saint Bavo’s Church I introduced stained-glass windows to create a marvellous, constantly changing play of light inside. It contrasts with the sober, functional nave, acting as a filter against the world outside. I also wanted people to experience the structural concept. Hence the seven trusses around the roof, making it appear to float.

Harry Nefkens in: Monumenten van de Wederopbouw, 2013

Bible wall of stained glass

The entire south facade of the nave consists of a wall of stained-glass-in-concrete. The square concrete components are stacked in an interlocking pattern. Although the artwork by Bob Zijlmans has no official name, one can make out all sorts of religious scenes. From left to right: The Last Supper, the Suffering of Christ (the cross surrounded by images of the Mount of Olives, Pilate washing his hands, the scourging, the crown of thorns and nails, the cloak, the dice and the crowing cock) and the Resurrection in the form of a reborn phoenix.

2022 St Bavo Slinge Marlies Lageweg

Marlies Lageweg, Platform Wederopbouw Rotterdam, 2022

Today

Saint Bavo’s Church was selected for preservation as a monument. The diocese later chose to demolish the church in Zuidwijk. The church in Pendrecht has been a state monument since 2019.

Architect
H.N.M. Nefkens
Period
1957-1960
Location
Slinge 775, Rotterdam, Nederland
Subjects
Buildings National Monuments
Neighborhoods
Pendrecht Zuid
Buildings
Churches