More than 70 years of history are contained within the walls of the church building to which the newly established congregation of Limburg in the Netherlands recently moved. The church is listed as a historic building, a good reason to tell its story today—on the International Day for Monuments and Sites.
Barbara of Nicomedia was a clever and beautiful young woman, historical tradition says. As the daughter of the pagan merchant Dioscuros, she secretly converted to Christianity and was baptised. Her father was not pleased about this and threatened her. Legend has it that a rock protected her during her escape. However, she was found and executed as a martyr. Since then she has been venerated as the patron a saint of miners in the Roman Catholic Church and in the Orthodox churches.
Church dedicated to miners
What could have been more natural to name the church, which was built in 1952 in a mining settlement, after this patron saint?
Already around 1900, the mining industry in Limburg, in the southernmost province of the Netherlands, flourished and more and more miners moved to the area with their families. Mining companies and housing associations built entire neighbourhoods. Around 1920, the Kakert neighbourhood was created. But it still took about 30 years before the foundation for a church was laid. Until then, Catholic services were celebrated in a makeshift church in a pub with a dance hall.
Barbara of Nicomedia watched over the miners for about a century. With time they became fewer and fewer. In 2019 it was finally clear: the Catholic Church no longer needed the church building for worship. But what would become of the building, which had in the meantime been listed as historic?
Shelter for a new community
At the same time, six New Apostolic congregations in the Netherlands were looking for a new home. The congregations of Brunssum, Heerlen, Kerkrade, Landgraaf, Sittard, and Geleen had also become smaller and smaller over time and were now to be merged to form one large congregation. But for this they would require a larger church building.
The city of Limburg proposed the Sint Barbarakerk to the New Apostolic Church. The venerable building had to be preserved for the city and culture. Carefully, the oak statue of the patron saint was taken from the nave and placed in the entrance hall, where it now has a good view of the mining district.
Big and small changes
There have also been other changes in the former Catholic, now New Apostolic church. The city and the province of Limburg contributed to the reconstruction financially. And the New Apostolic congregations across the Netherlands did without any construction work for two years so that the large project could be realised.
The church, designed by Jan Jozef Fanchamps, needed to be renovated because it had been in disuse for some time, and it was also to be adapted to suit New Apostolic requirements. The original rectangular nave was bisected by a wall between the third and fourth bays to make room for a large reception hall with a kitchen. In addition, a meeting room was built on the second floor above the reception hall and children’s classrooms were built above the former sacristy.
The new congregation gets to enjoy underfloor heating and new plumbing. The nave was painted white and received new windows, but the stained glass window in the chancel was merely restored. Just like the wooden figure of St Barbara, the baptismal font has been preserved, but it is still in its original place in the nave.
Open for all
In a festive divine service on 16 January, District Apostle Rainer Storck dedicated the newly renovated church. As a motto for the new congregation of Limburg, he used 1 Chronicles 28: 20: “And David said to his son Solomon, ‘Be strong and of good courage, and do it’.” In the divine service, the District Apostle addressed the significance of the historic church for its surroundings: “I would like it to be an open church, even for non-members.” And this wish has already been put into practice: the chapel of Mary, which is part of the church complex, is open around the clock for people to come and pray or just to admire it. And the church itself will also be used for meetings of all kinds.
The statue of Barbara of Nicomedia welcomes all visitors with a smile.