St. Servaas basilica tour

When we planned two tours with an archaeologist we could not have foreseen how many wonderful surprises they would offer. Sjoerd Aarts happily made time for us in Centre Céramique – have a look at the pictures from the underground vaults on our FB page – and today he was waiting for us at St. Servaas Basilica, the majestic church on the Vrijthof. He was joined by the parish chaplain Garcia, so we were offered two views of the building and its history; the scientific, dealing with facts and proof, and the religious, concerned with belief and meaning. It made for some fascinating conversations along the way, also because there were people from other religions in our group.

Photo credits: Lucy Willems 

Photo credits: Martijn Weyenberg

Photo credits: Martijn Weyenberg

Together, we explored the small exhibition on Maastricht’s history in one of the cloisters, before entering the imposing church itself. Sjoerd handed around candles and we all descended into the darkness of the crypt – there, we were presented with an outline of the different buildings which have housed the grave of St. Servaas. In the adjoining crypt, where this grave can still be seen, chaplain Garcia told the story of how Christians would come to venerate these places. Up into the light of the great basilica we went and our guides had more stories to tell about the stones, the builders and the pilgrims.

Photo credits: Martijn Weyenberg

Photo credits: Martijn Weyenberg

Up and up we went, along a circular staircase to the Hall of the Emperor – a beautiful Medieval hall, even if no emperor ever watched Mass there. And even higher we could go on this special tour; into the bell tower, on increasingly narrow stairs. We had to wait on the floor below the bells – they would ring soon and up close that is simply too much for human ears. Their ringing was quite impressive, even if these were just the regular bells. St. Servaas also houses ‘Grameer’ (Grandmother), a huge bell with a deep, booming voice, only to be heard a few times a year. It was with some difficulty we left this magical place, but we thanked both our kind guides and stepped out in the late afternoon sunlight.

Photo credits: Lucy Willems

Photo credits: Martijn Weyenberg

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