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Buitenveldert cemetery and its Roman Catholic past

In the 17th century, Amsterdam was slowly expanding. Following the reclamation of the Buitenveldert polder in 1634, increasing numbers of well-to-do Amsterdam citizens moved to farmhouses or country estates in this area. In terms of their background, these residents were not totally representative of the city’s inhabitants. A church report of the time talks of a ’relatively close-knit, Catholic population’. In Amstelveenseweg (now right next to the A10 Zuid underpass) in 1672, they began to make use of a Catholic clandestine church, with the city administration probably turning a blind eye. They organised their church services in it for over 150 years, until 1835. The church was then in need of replacement. By that time, the Catholic faith was increasingly accepted and a new building was erected for the parish of Saint Augustine on the same site. A cemetery was added behind it. It was a barren plot of land, with a few thin trees and 14 graves in its first year.

Eduard Cuypers

By 1916, the trees were already much thicker and the number of graves had quadrupled, when a major architect arrived to measure up for a new family grave. Eduard Cuypers was a nephew of Pierre Cuypers, who designed both the Rijksmuseum and Amsterdam Central Station. Born in Roermond, Eduard trained in his uncle’s practice when he was building the Rijksmuseum and soon went on to set up a practice of his own. By the time the family Wiegman-Dobbelmann approached him about a monumental grave, he was already an established and successful architect. He had worked on stations, offices, and banks across the country, along with a whole series of residential properties for prosperous families in Amsterdam.

Eye Catcher

For the grave in the Buitenveldert cemetery, the Catholic architect teamed up with another artist, sculptor Emil van den Bossche. Together, they designed a family grave, erected after the death of Theresia Johanna Theodora Marie Dobbelmann, daughter of a successful soap manufacturer from Nijmegen and the wife of an Amsterdam banker. It became a high-status grave for a high-status family, bursting with Catholic symbolism. It features the pious Theresia, within a halo full of angels’ heads, a funeral procession of children, martyrs, and saints, and lanterns serving as guides to the hereafter. According to Leon Bok, specialist in funeral heritage, this collection of images symbolised the transience of life. The grandly-designed grave, featuring art nouveau elements, was a real eyecatcher, in terms of its format, imagery, and detail and its location. When it was built, the grave extended out from the church in Amstelveenseweg, catching the eye of anyone entering the cemetery.

Carl Romme

In the 19th century, there were quite a few changes on the site. In 1935, the parish of St Augustine moved to a new church 2 km to the south (now Amstelveenseweg 965). The little church next to the cemetery continued to serve as a chapel and hall until 1994, when it was demolished during redevelopment work. The entrance to the site was then moved to Fred. Roeskestraat, leaving the Wiegman-Dobbelmann family grave in a slightly less prominent position. However, in 1980, another noted figure was added: politician Carl Romme, leader of the KVP (Catholic People’s Party) from 1946 to 1961, is buried in the cellar under his in-laws’ monument. Romme was one of the most famous Catholic politicians of the last century. He was anything if not controversial, but no less influential as a result.

National monument status

Romme’s presence slightly enhances the monument’s role as a Catholic highlight in a Protestant city. Although for unsuspecting, secular visitors in the 21st-century it may easily pass unnoticed, it served as the main reason for awarding the grave national monument status in 2005. The noise of the A10 and the surrounding high-rise buildings may attempt to draw you back to the present day, but anyone who takes a moment to observe the many lavish graves and has some understanding of their history will realise that this cemetery is more than just a nice strip of green in an increasingly built-up neighbourhood.

This is the sixth in a series about national and municipal monuments in and around Zuidas. The first was on the subject of the Thomaskerk. The second was about the old courthouse. The third was about the Europahal. The fourth about the Burgerweeshuis. The fifth about the Rietveld Academie.

Text: Jort van Dijk

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