We find ourselves in a grand avenue with two rows of trees. It is one of the oldest streets in our neighbourhood, dating from 1830. Not surprising, because at that time burials in and around churches were forbidden. Originally, it was just a sandy track. The municipality did not hurry itself in offering the Catholics wading through the mud a proper road to their last resting place because the Municipal Cemetery, at the other end of the track, could be reached quite easily from the Kanaal.
Angels’ wings and hour glasses …
Next time you walk past the Roman Catholic cemetery on Kerkhoflaan, look out for these symbols of mortality decorating the tops of the pillars marking the entrance. And if you take the time to wander into the cemetery itself, you’ll find a variety of quirky tombstones and monuments amid the regimented rows of graves.
They stretch out in neat rows around the central chapel (built in 1838 to accommodate the tombs of the clergy), their arrangement reflecting the class-based society of the 19th century. The most distinguished are to be found in the inner circle surrounding the chapel, where the inmates could hope to head the queue on Judgement Day and hold a first-class ticket to resurrection. Further back are the graves of more ordinary folk. Some are topped by simple grey tombstones, while others display elaborate glass or ceramic ornaments. Many are decked out with lamps, plants and pine branches, proving that their quiet occupants are not forgotten. You can spot some famous names among them: business families like Brenninkmeyer (C&A), Peek and Cloppenburg, Vroom and Dreesman, and Krul (once famous for their cakes and tearooms); politicians (Luns, Cals and Kolfschoten) and celebrated practitioners of the arts: writer Dimitri Frenkel Frank, music impresario Paul Acket, cartoonist Jaap Vegter, painter Jan Toorop, and composer Jurriaan Andriessen.
Then there are four sisters of charity, all buried together under a simple cross, and part of the cemetery is even a Commonwealth War Cemetery holding the graves of three English soldiers who were detained in the Netherlands during the First World War (when the country was neutral) and died in 1918, probably in the Spanish flu epidemic.
A little bit of history
The St. Petrus Banden (St. Peter in Chains) Roman Catholic cemetery was consecrated in 1831. It must have been extremely difficult to reach at that time, when there was no road to it. The Algemene Begraafplaats (on the right at the head of the Bankastraat) could be accessed via the road along the Haringkade canal, but funeral corteges heading for the RC cemetery had to approach from the Scheveningseweg and plough through mud or loose sand to reach their destination. The name of the cemetery refers to the story of St. Peter’s release from prison an angel.
The Neo-Romanesque gallery at the back of the cemetery dates from 1885 and, like the rest of the cemetery, is a listed building. It still shelters family chapels and vaults. But the buildings and monuments are not the only reason to visit this remarkable cemetery. On a sunny day, it is a green and pleasant place to stroll around and admire its collection of rare coniferous and deciduous trees. One regular visitor who comes to tend the grave of his eleven-year-old daughter finds the overhanging branches rather too much of a good thing. But most people will find the cemetery a pleasing and appropriate transition from the urban architecture of the Archipelbuurt to the more natural environment of the Scheveningen woods.
A/W Community Newspaper, February 2005 –
Translated by JT
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