Religion aside, it’s hard to overlook the beauty and architectural prowess of Europe’s historic churches and cathedrals. While some of these buildings have become major tourist attractions or continue to host parishioners, others have fallen into disuse and demand significant fees for upkeep. It’s not uncommon as a result to find churches repurposed as condos, offices, community centers, shops or even pubs. Unfortunately, some of these conversions can be more damaging to the original structure than the lack maintenance might have been.
In Maastricht, a medieval city located in the southern part of the Netherlands, architects Merkx + Girod have managed to find a way to reopen and repurpose one such church as a breathtaking bookstore without damaging or disrupting the building’s historic elements: Meet Selexyz Dominicanen.
A Quick History
In the thirteenth century, a Dominican Order based in the Netherlands constructed a Gothic-style church and monastery in the heart of the ancient city of Maastricht. In 1794, however, the church was heavily damaged during the Napoleonic invasion, and the order was forced to dissolve and leave the city. While many of the city’s churches were converted for military purposes following the invasion, the Dominican church was re-assigned as a parish church until 1805, when it too was relocated.
Since then, and with no congregation, the Dominican church has been used as a warehouse, an archive, and most recently as a parking garage for bicycles.
The Good Book(s)
In 2007, the church underwent a dramatic transformation that saw the under-used space turned into what has since been described as the world’s most beautiful bookstore.
Today, the 750 square meter church contains 1,200 square meters of shopping space thanks to the modern three-story stack that lets shoppers explore thousands of books while getting a close-up look at stunning seventeenth century paintings that adorn the vault ceiling. In addition to the huge collection of Dutch and English language books, the store also features a great cafe in the church ‘apse’ where the alter and choir would otherwise be located. Beyond serving up a solid cappuccino, the cafe is regularly used to host cultural activities like book-signings, lectures, debates, and concerts.
Here are a few more photos of this ‘heavenly’ bookstore:
Photos courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, Hermann Luyken, Bert Kaufmann, and Flickr, adewale_oshineye.