St Stephen's Church and Church Court (Sint
Stevenskerk & Kerkhof in Dutch) lies in the heart of the oldest part
of the city of Nijmegen, which is in the south-eastern Netherlands
on the River Waal. Nijmegen itself is probably the oldest city in
the Netherlands. It was first recorded as a Roman settlement by the
name of Ulpia Noviomagus Batavorum, and eventually became an important Frankish city,
which is when the church was first built, in the seventh century.
The city was later the capital of the duchy of
Guelders, and has remained part of Gelderland ever since. The
present church was consecrated in 1273 by Albertus Magnus and for a
long time it was the only parish church here. Construction and
rebuilding work continued until the sixteenth century. In 1591
Nijmegen was conquered by troops of the Protestant republic of
the Netherlands, taking it out of the hands of the Spanish
Habsburgs, but it mostly remained a Catholic city.
During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, many
new Catholic churches were built in the city. On 22 February 1944,
Nijmegen was heavily damaged by Allied planes when they bombed
the historic city centre, destroying several churches and severely
damaging St Stephen's. Later that year Nijmegen was the scene of
heavy fighting as the Allies secured the bridges across the Waal.
St Stephen's was restored after the war, but with brick instead of stone.
St Nicholas Chapel (Sint Nikolas Kapel)
overlooks the main crossing over the Waal. The Frankish emperor,
Charlemagne, made sure his empire extended far into what is now the
Netherlands in the late eighth century, and he built a castle on the
hill at the north-eastern corner of the city, but this was later
destroyed by Vikings. Emperor Frederick Barbarossa built a new
castle on the hill in 1155. In its construction, material was used
from what remained of Charlemagne's castle.
The sixteen-sided St Nikolas Kapel was originally
a smaller copy of the chapel of Charlemagne's palace in Aachen, and
its style has greatly influenced Dutch church-building. For a long
time it was thought that it dated to the late eighth century, but it
is now believed to have been built no earlier than the eleventh
century, still making it one of the country's oldest buildings. The
oldest section is at the front, while other sections carry changes
made in Romanesque and Gothic styles.
The Valkhof Castle Chapel was partially
saved from demolition at the last moment, as a reminder, and is
known as the Barbarossa ruin. It consists of the remains of the
Romanesque choir from the castle's twelfth century chapel. In 1796
the Valkhof castle ('Falcon's Court') was sold by the province's
administration to be used as building materials, also raising vital
funds for them, and was demolished by 1798. All that was saved were
the two chapels.