Marking the City for Christ: Utrecht’s kerkenkruis
Dr David Winter, Brandon University
Towards the end of the nineteenth century, Dutch historian Samuel Muller used the phrase “kerkenkruis” or “Cross of Churches” to denote the existence of what he and others maintained was a deliberately-planned and symbolic distribution of Romanesque ecclesiastical structures in the core of medieval Utrecht. According to this view, the kerkenkruis was designed and erected largely by Utrecht’s twentieth bishop, Bernulf (r. 1027-1054). Muller argued that Bernulf conceived this architectural programme as a memorial to his patron, the Holy Roman Emperor Conrad II who died at Utrecht in June, 1039. At least two recent critics, Drs. C. Broer and A. Berkum, dispute this notion, claiming that the kerkenkruis tradition began with Muller and other late Victorian scholars, that it is an “invented tradition”.
I believe, however, that Bernulf’s plan, and Muller’s interpretation of it, represent merely phases in a much older and more ingrained tradition, one which extends back to when the region was Christianized by Benedictine emissaries of the Pippinid crown in the eighth century, and perhaps earlier. I will argue that the lower reaches of the Rhine were long considered a liminal zone, one poised between surf and shore, pagan and Christian, Frankish and Frisian, civilization and wilderness. Indeed, this dyadic situation has even been memorialized in the ancient name of the city, “Ultraiectum” or “Trajectum” (i.e., “The Crossing”). Thus, I will contend that the civic cross evolved and was reinvented as social conditions changed and as the psychological and theological mood dictated. Bernulf’s contribution, coinciding as it did with the Gregorian Reformation and the first glimmers of urbanization, represented simply one phase in this development and might be considered an attempt to redeem urban space, to claim it for Christ, and to mark it, quite literally, with the sign of the Cross.