WT 2020/21 | The Tower of the Pilgrimage Church in ScherpenheuvelCopyright: © AGes
The Tower of the Pilgrimage Church in Scherpenheuvel. Building Research and Architectural-Historical Classification
Bachelor's Thesis by Christian Klosterkötter
Scherpenheuvel ("pointed hill") in the Belgian region of Flemish Brabant, located about fifty kilometers northeast of Brussels, is one of the most visited Marian pilgrimage sites in Belgium. Its religious significance lies in an image of the Virgin Mary, at which miracles are said to have occurred repeatedly since the 16th century. The site, which is highly interesting in terms of art and architectural history, is characterized by its expansion into a monumental ensemble of buildings, which took place in the 17th century. This ensemble consists of the heptagonal domed church Onze-Lieve-Vrouw as well as an ideal city complex concentrically surrounding the church. At the same time, the Roman-like church is one of the earliest examples of Counter-Reformation architecture north of the Alps.
The unique, geometrically coordinated interplay of fortified city, garden complex and central building, which has been preserved to this day, is disturbed by a tower attached to the east of the church. With a height of 37 meters and its massive appearance, it is a landmark visible from afar and a dominant component of the building group in the center of the city. Despite its unexplained construction history, its strange structure and its partly unclear function, it has only partially been the subject of scientific research so far.
The framework for the bachelor thesis is the DFG-funded research project "Scherpenheuvel. Church and City in a Heptagon" under the direction of Univ.-Prof. Dr.-Ing. Anke Naujokat. The author was able to draw on the current research results as well as on the extensive deformation-based survey prepared by the Chair of Architectural History.
The basis of the bachelor thesis is first of all the detailed observation and description of the object. The starting point of the research is marked by the question: Why was a tower added to the central building, and why should its structure assume such astonishingly massive dimensions? For this purpose, different backgrounds are first illuminated, taking into account the literature. Then, an attempt is made to reconstruct the construction history of the tower and to develop an understanding of its planning in the context of the overall ensemble. Since the written sources provide too little information for this question, the methods of historical building research are applied. A central result of the work is the proof that the tower was added to the central building in a later construction phase. In addition, the thesis that the tower was built on top of an already existing single-story structure is substantiated with the help of reconstructions.
In the final part of the thesis, the progress of the construction of the upper floors of the tower is considered, with a particular focus on the tower's termination. It is examined whether the obviously unfinished tower could have been planned significantly higher.
Further information about the research project Scherpenheuvel. Church and City in a Heptagon can be found here.