The development realised in the centre of Rotterdam after the war evokes few memories of the past. Wherever possible, the names of former streets have been preserved, but the totally new structure of the city means that they scarcely remind us of the earlier situation. In most cases that is not to be regretted — who, for that matter, has any time for nostalgia? — but Rotterdam does feel anguish about the lack of certain landmarks in the cityscape that were so closely woven into the fabric of life that they were of great significance. Among them was the Dominican Church on Steiger, the place of worship for all Catholics in Rotterdam, which was always missing from the post-war heart and was only replaced by a green wooden building near the viaduct that crossed Hoogstraat.
Now the Rotterdam architecture firm of the brothers E.H. and H.M. Kraayvanger has come up with an exceptionally elegant proposal for a new Steiger Church, located behind Hoogstraat on Hang, so not exactly on its earlier site but still on historical soil. The name Steiger Church can in any case remain in use, for right in front of it lies the Steiger Canal.
De Tijd 19-10-1957
Contemplation in the bustling city centre
The Steiger Church was intended as a place of silence and contemplation in the bustling city centre, in particular the separate, independent space of the daily church. This space is positioned perpendicular to the main altar, which faces the 560-seat nave of the main church that is used for Sunday mass. It is accessed through the main entrance on the raised church forecourt. Between the two church spaces is a courtyard with a cloister, which serves as a processional route and promenade for visitors. The courtyard is designed as a stone garden with green flowerbeds and a hexagonal baptistery.
Between the two church spaces is a courtyard with a cloister, which serves as a processional route and promenade for visitors.
Apart from the church spaces, the complex includes a presbytery and parish hall, positioned on opposite sides of the raised forecourt. The spire is free-standing and is largely intended as a point of recognition. Between the spire and the church lies the Chapel of Maria.
Glass in concrete
The building was designed in the functional style typical of the era, using modern materials such as concrete and glass. The big nave in particular is sober, with untreated concrete columns and a stone floor, plastered blockwork and a wooden ceiling. The modern method of construction with concrete columns made it possible to introduce a strip of fenestration beneath the roof, so that it appears to float. The austerity of the structure, spaces and materials is compensated for by the application of art and ornamentation. Decorative brickwork is applied on the rear facade and on the belfry. The most important artwork is the large stained-glass concrete wall on the entrance side by Berend Hendriks. Eight metres wide and six tall, the window was only added four years after the building opened. It depicts the Biblical story of the Exodus. God asks Moses to lead the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. They travel towards the Promised Land, with God leading the way, accompanied by the heavenly colours of blue and red. The creator of this image received a lot of praise:
“He has designed an outstanding colour scheme, with its refined variety in tonalities, yet it does not give the impression that the artist was only out to create pleasing effects. In other words: it is strong without being coarse, refined without being weak. With this window, Rotterdam has certainly acquired an important piece of modern religious art.”
Het Vrije Volk 13-06-1964
The building contains a lot of applied art. The cornice on the front facade and the tip of the spire feature a decorative concrete relief by Pim van Moorsel. A statue of St Paul by Jan Vlasblom stands in front of the south facade. Stone mosaics by Theo Mols adorn the entrance and interior. The Way of the Cross features fifteen stations (the customary fourteen as well as the risen Christ) made up of small copper engravings by Jan Noyons based on drawings by Lambertus Simons.
A designated national monument since 2016, the Steiger Church is still in use today. And not just for religious activities, because various spaces inside the church are available for hire. The church website states the following: Located on the only canal in Rotterdam, between the offices on Blaak and the shops on Hoogstraat, is the Steiger Church. Open to contemplate, to encounter, to light a candle, to celebrate and to enjoy activities: welcome!
Location: Hang 18
National Heritage Site