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Oud Kerk (Tower)  /

Tracing the history of the underground invariably leads back to a pre-industrial notion of hell, one where the interior of the earth hid the most horrific, anti-social imaginings. To the pre-historic mind it is easy to see how the concepts of the divine and the profane developed. Above us the sky provided a source of warmth and light, a means of unveiling the hidden corners of a dangerous world and of ensuring a clear and honest perception of space was possible. Beneath us in the caves and caverns darkness pervaded, tricking the senses and hiding the threats of predatory attack. Conceptually this gave the underground a moral character, one that came to represent not only the subterranean spaces of the natural world but also those hidden spaces that emerged as urbanization replaced the rural lifestyle. 

Throughout Limburg the moral authority has long been the Catholic Church, with the power of the institution still visible both in the social codes and habits of the province as well as in the architecture. To an outsider the number of churches in the region is remarkable, each village having at very least one substantial house of worship and even the smallest hamlets proudly boasting numerous chapels for believers to pay their respects.

Considering the number of churches throughout Geleen today its remarkable to think that for centuries the Church of St Marcellinus and Peter was the only parish church in the town. Believed to date back as far as the 9th Century as a religious site, the church takes its name from the martyred priest and exorcist killed at the start of the 4th Century whose remains were liberated from Rome at the command of Einhard, aide to and biographer of Charlemagne.

A building has almost certainly stood on the site since the 13th century, the remains of an aisle-less Zadelkerk being discovered beneath the current structure when central heating works were carried out in 1978. However, it’s a remarkable feat, and testament to the will of Oud-Geleen’s congregation, that the church still exists in its current location. The main body of the current church dates back to 1862, though it was only constructed after a long battle between parishioners and the municipality who wanted to level the aging 16th century church in 1840 and move the parish hub to a new site between the villages of Geleen, Lutterade and Krawinkel – almost as if a premonition of the construction of Geleen Town Hall 70 years later.

The move never took place, however, and the new building was constructed against what is now the oldest monument in the town – the Gelaender Taore – the tower of the previous church built in 1504.  Inside the original oak bell-frame still survives - providing a home to the three bells: Vrede, Michael and Maria which continue to call the faithful to prayer. The numbers of the once influential church community though, as everywhere, are falling  - seeing the two overflow transepts built in the late 1950s today often remaining empty as the demand for the kind of moral guidance provided by the church decreases replaced by a much more individualistic culture and one more guided by the omnipotent eye of the media than that of the divine.

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Oud Kerk (Tower) Secret Cities Sittard Geleen