Holy Cross Church by Dominikus Böhm Photo: Hans Jürgen Landes
This month we look at the highly acclaimed church of the Holy Cross in Dülmen, designed by Dominikus Böhm and built between 1936 and 1938. The origin and concept of the church are closely connected with Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich (1774-1824) who entered in 1802 the Augustinian convent of St. Agnes in Dülmen and was buried nearby the proposed site.
The church is located on a street corner and has a large courtyard enclosed by a low stone wall. The design is dominated by simplicity and clarity of architectural form. From the distance, two main sculptural masses are visible: the body of the church in the shape of a long nave with a gabled roof and the rectangular bell tower with a pyramidal top. Behind the nave lies the burial chapel of the blessed and on the south side of the church is a baptistry which had a conical roof destroyed in WWII.
Plan of the Holy Cross Church by Dominikus Böhm
The exterior is kept extremely low key, with the facades covered solely in stone of orange and yellow shades. The only decorative element can be seen on the west facade, a large west rose window with a diameter of eight meters, designed by Böhm himself. A symbol of Our Lady, the window is filled with approximately 1200 multicoloured glass pieces and resembles the window he designed for St. Engelbert. An understated sandstone portal frame marks the main entrance flanked by two smaller gates.
Inside the monumental rectangular hall, the nave and choir are combined into a single semi-dark space. The architect, an enthusiastic proponent of the Liturgical Movement, has achieved here a clean, abstract, almost clinical space, with no ornament, icons or statues, in search for a new ‘eclesiae’ free from ‘distractions’. This unified liturgical space is lit through small rectangular windows cut hight into the plain white walls. The flat steel ceiling made it possible to span the entire space without the use of columns.
Nave and choir, looking towards the altar Photo: Rabanus Flavus
A wide staircase with 14 steps corresponding to the 14 stations of the cross leads to a large, bright platform where a substantial disembodied crucifix is placed. This part of the sanctuary also symbolises the mount of Golgotha and highlights the image of the Church standing at the foot of the cross. The altar was originally located where the cross currently stands, further raised on three steps and holding the tabernacle with a relief of the Last Supper. Being lit by a series of tall windows from the south, it conveyed the message that the whole building represents a journey from darkness to light, from uncertainty to truth and from death to salvation which is attained at the altar. But following recent restorations in 2005, a new altar was brought in the choir space and the old one removed, thus not only blurring this metaphor, but also overthrowing the hierarchical model of the church. The new altar island in made of solid oak and the altar consists of 16 oak pillars (of which only 12 are visible) with a Travertine top.
Behind the high sanctuary is located the burial chapel, a space lowered to the level of the nave and almost square in plan, flooded with light coming through tall, narrow windows. In 1975 the bones of Bl. Anne C. Emmerich were moved from the adjacent cemetery into this chapel which was designed to make reference perhaps to the purity of the mystic’s soul. This intensely lit chapel also acts as a dramatic backdrop for the cross, creating the impression of this space being far away and continuing indefinitely.
The tomb of Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich Photo: Rabanus Flavus
Although a dignified, somewhat solemn space defined by quietude and economy of means, the church of the Holy Cross in Dülmen is a clear representation of Liturgical Movement ideals, with the architect motivated more by personal expression rather than sacred teaching.
Aerial view of the Holy Cross Church by Dominikus Böhm Photo: Dietmar Rabich