September 9, 2022 | Review Scherpenheuvel Symposium

  Professor Anke Naujokat holding a Lecture at Scherpenheuvel © Anina Janich  

Interdisciplinary Symposium in Scherpenheuvel
A review by Christian Klosterkötter

Several discoveries and new findings of German and Belgian researchers on the pilgrimage ensemble in Scherpenheuvel inspired the presentation and discussion of the newly gained knowledge in the context of an international symposium.

The event entitled "New Research Approaches to the Pilgrimage Ensemble of Scherpenheuvel – Methods and Results" was organized on September 2, 2022 by the Chair of Architectural History of RWTH Aachen University in cooperation with the Parochie van Onze-Lieve-Vrouw van Scherpenheuvel. In an interdisciplinary synopsis, it gathered lectures from the perspectives of art history, architectural history, building research, restoration, archaeology and restoration planning/site management. It was hosted at the Pilgrimage Center, located near the church. The symposium was also streamed live via videocast.

After a welcome by Pastor Luc Van Hilst, Bonn-based art historian Janne Lenhart was the first speaker to begin with her presentation on "Visual strategies and coding of space in order to mark denominational identities." She focused on the reinterpretation of religious and political motifs during confessionalization in the context of the pilgrimage site.
The second conference contribution presented the DFG-funded research project "Kirche und Stadt im Siebenck" of the Chair of Architectural History at RWTH Aachen University. Anke Naujokat first gave an introductory presentation of the questions of the interdisciplinary project, which takes a look at the pilgrimage ensemble across its various scale levels. Sara Dolls then summarized the status of the first extensive building documentation of the ensemble, which was created within the framework of the project. Finally, Anke Naujokat presented recent observations and theses on the genesis of the pilgrimage site in several structural and programmatic phases.

Afterwards, the Belgian building historian Joris Snaet and the art historian Valerie Herremans from the Antwerp office steenmeijer architecten presented findings from their intensive study of previously unknown written sources from the 19th century. A special focus was on the corridor to the east of the central building, which had remained disregarded for a long time, and the adjoining monastery complex, which has only been preserved in ruins.

The following contribution by the Leuven archaeologist Johan Claeys also focused on the monastery ruins. In summary, he explained the approach and the results of an archaeological excavation campaign carried out in 2020, which was aimed at exploring the foundation walls of the no longer preserved building complex.

At the beginning of the second block of events, Anke Naujokat and the Hamburg art historian Barbara Uppenkamp presented newly acquired knowledge about the iconographic program of the domed church. The paper reconstructed the original arrangement of the two pictorial programs inside the church and showed how the unusual heptagonal space was used to relate pictorial works and the miraculous icon, as well as to establish a direction of movement that led pilgrims along a star-shaped path to the miraculous icon.

This was followed by a report by the restorers Ann Verdonck and Marjolein Deceuninck of the Ghent office FENIKX bvba. Based on several investigations within the entire building complex, they provided versatile insights into the building materials as well as the numerous historic color schemes of the church interior.

After the extensive look into the history of the pilgrimage church, the symposium was rounded off with two presentations aimed at its future. Two employees of steenmeijer architecten, led by Stefanie Reyskens, first presented the complex task of preserving and securing the building ensemble. In the concluding contribution, Pastor Luc Van Hilst affirmed the responsibility and the efforts of the parish to continue to carefully preserve the place of pilgrimage, which has been vibrant for over 400 years, as such in the future.



Date and Venue

Friday, September 2, 2022, De Pelgrim, Scherpenheuvel


Univ.-Prof. Dr.-Ing. Anke Naujokat
Sara Dolls M.A.