Maastricht is at the extreme southern end of the Netherlands. We are a one-hour drive from Brussels, one hour from Cologne, and two hours from Amsterdam. The city’s origins go all the way back to the Roman Empire. The name “Maastricht” is derived from the latin “trajectum ad mosam” or “crossing at the Meuse,” which refers to a bridge that the Romans built over the Meuse river in the 1st century AD. The bridge was a valuable economic and military tool, and over time, the city became an important religious and cultural center. Maastricht is one of the oldest settlements in the Netherlands.
After getting settled in to our hotel on the first day, some of us went on a tour of the city. We were led by a charming guide named Marieke, seen here with yours truly. (Her make means “Little Mary.”)
Maastricht’s Catholic roots run deep. Construction on the basilica next to our hotel began around the year 1000. At the beginning of the 13th century, the city was ruled by both a bishop and a prince. This dual authority lead to many disputes between the church and state, both of whom claimed to have temporal authority. The first stop on our tour was an old mill that used to be owned by one of these bishops.
A small rivers that runs through the city turns the wheel. The buildings in the town are built right up against the river.
This is the old fortified entrance to the town. Men protecting the town would use the three small red windows above to fight off invaders trying to break in below.
Here is a portion of the wall, which now only exists in fragments throughout the city.
St. Servatius was the first bishop to bring Catholicism to Maastricht. The basilica pictured here was built in his honor from about the years 500-1500. His tomb is in the crypt below the church. Blessed John Paul II visited the basilica in 1985.
A community of canons (priests who live in community, a bit like monks) used to live at the basilica and do their daily prayers in the main church. As the more and more pilgrims began to come to the basilica, they decided to build another church for their prayers, so as not to be interrupted by the visitors. The canons constructed St. John’s Church right next door.
The red steeple dominates the landscape of central Maastricht. During the Reformation, this church became a Protestant church. Dr. Bruce Morgan quipped that the road that runs between St. John’s and the basilica is called “Purgatory.”
I can’t say that I was surprised to see two McDonald’s restaurants with a few blocks of each other. I believe the “Dominicain” sign refers to a hotel or apartments above. Most of the buildings in the central city have shops on at the street level, and apartments in the upper floors.
The streets were very full when on Sunday afternoon.
The city is very clever with how it reuses old churches, convents and monasteries. This church was built by the Dominicans. Now it’s a trendy bookshop.
City Hall, in one of the main town squares.
The oldest current bridge, over the Meuse River. The first-century bridge built by the Romans fell into the river hundreds of years ago.
There are TONS of bikes, and riders can only park them in designated places.
Chuck, our program’s recruiter, listens to our tour guide. St. Martin’s Church across the river is in the background.
I hope this gives everyone back home a better feel for the city. I apologize to anybody from the Netherlands if I messed up any of the facts about Maastricht…feel free to add corrections in the comments sections.
I promise, we have been in class! Details about the university and our residency to come.