Academic journal article Mennonite Quarterly Review

Heinrich Johann Freyse's Renovation of the Krefeld Mennonite Church

Academic journal article Mennonite Quarterly Review

Heinrich Johann Freyse's Renovation of the Krefeld Mennonite Church

Article excerpt

Abstract: The renovation history of the Mennonite church building in Krefeld, originally constructed in 1693, provides a useful glimpse into the changing circumstances of the congregation that worshiped there. Local restrictions on Mennonites required that the first building be constructed as a "hidden church," not visible from the main street. In 1843, however, the renowned Krefeld architect Heinrich Johann Freyse oversaw a major renovation of the building which brought the church into greater conformity with the styles of contemporary Catholic and Reformed churches in the area. The inclusion of a semi-circular apse--clearly separated from the nave--and marbleized columns marked a clear shift away from an earlier emphasis on simplicity and egalitarianism. In the architecture of this church, one can read the story of Mennonite acculturation into the mainstream of Krefeld society.

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Much has been written about the history of the Krefeld Mennonite congregation. The most comprehensive work on the topic is a collection of essays titled They Came as Strangers: The Mennonites in Krefeld from Their Beginnings to the Present which recently appeared on the occasion of the congregation's tri-cenntenary anniversary. (1) However, none of the publications on the history of the Mennonites in Krefeld includes a detailed history of the church building itself. This omission is somewhat understandable since the facts of its building history appeared to be simple and straightforward: the construction of the first church in 1693, an expansion in 1843, and the destruction of the church in 1943 because of World War II followed by a period of reconstruction until 1950. Only Klaus Eichenberg's monograph about Krefeld's city architect, Heinrich Johann Freyse, deals briefly with the remodeling of the church in the 1840s, but he overlooks critical questions. (2)

The first four sections of this article will introduce the various episodes of the building history of the Krefeld Mennonite Church as well as the architect Heinrich Freyse, who oversaw its remodeling in 1843. The main section will discuss the issues and questions in connection with the remodeling of the church, and the final section will offer a summary.

BUILDING THE FIRST MENNONITE CHURCH

During the seventeenth century the organizational structures and sociopolitical contours of the Krefeld Mennonite congregation became firm and, toward the end of the century, found their expression in the built form of their small church. The Mennonite presence in Krefeld had led to numerous conflicts with the recently-established Reformed congregation, which perceived the Mennonites as strong competitors for their own influence in the city.

After Krefeld had come under the sovereignty of the House of Orange early in the seventeenth century, the first Mennonites from Kempen and Alderkerk began to settle permanently in the city. At that time they met for their worship services more or less secretly, in several private homes. In 1633 at the Synod of Moerse a Reformed pastor complained that the Krefeld Mennonites practiced their religion freely and that they invited preachers from elsewhere. (3) Following a major wave of immigration of 1654 when the number of Krefeld Mennonites grew by at least the 200 banished from Gladbach in the Catholic Duchy of Julich, the Mennonite Wilhelm Selbach's home (located on today's Mennonitenstrasse) was rebuilt in 1666 "for the needs of the congregation." (4) In his brief 1939 history of the Krefeld Mennonite Church building, Walther Risler sees in this renovation the direct predecessor of today's church. (5) On the occasion of the Synod of Moerse in the fall of 1670 the Reformed lodged a complaint against the Mennonites stating that they had already planned to build a school (Lehrhaus) "without knowledge of the officials." (6) Because of this complaint the Mennonites were "prevented, this time yet.... from building a church. …

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