Commemorating an epidemic in the Antonius Abtkerk

How will we look back on this COVID-19 epidemic in a few decades? Will it  inspire artists to create works about it?  A wonderful example of such work can be found in The Hague: the memorial mosaic in the Antonius Abtkerk on the Scheveningseweg made by Antoon Molkenboer in the late 1920s.

Cholera epidemic

In 1832 Scheveningen had the dubious honour of being the first place in the Netherlands where someone fell ill with cholera. Another epidemic in The Netherlands broke out in 1848, and reached Scheveningen in 1849, claiming many lives. At the Antonius Abtkerk, the then Pastor Schagt called upon his parishioners to take part in additional prayer services. During the services, he displayed the holy sacrament. The holy sacrament is another name for a consecrated host, or sacramental bread, coming from the words of Jesus: “Take and eat, this is my body.”

Het stralende sacrament - Kelk met hostie
The shining sacrament

After these joint prayers, no more deaths occurred. This inexplicably rapid ending of the epidemic was considered a miraculous faith healing.

The commemorative mosaic in the Antonius Abtkerk

In 1927, the new Antonius Abtkerk on Scheveningseweg was completed. In the choir of the church above the altar there is a beautiful mosaic that commemorates the miraculous faith healing of 1848.

Detail left

It was designed by the artist Antoon Molkenboer. It is more than 200 square meters in size and consists of approximately 2 million pieces of Venetian glass. Parishioners who were descendants of those who had kept the prayer meetings in 1849 posed for the figures. And Molkenboer’s wife and children, also members of the congregation.

Detail rechts
Detail right

The mosaic was assembled in the studio of Mauméjean Frères in Paris, where twelve Italian mosaic workers laboured on the project for six months.

Visit

It is very worthwhile to visit the Antonius Abtkerk and see the mosaic and the rest of this richly-decorated church. This is possible, under normal circumstances, on the first and third Saturday of the month, from 2 pm to 4.30 pm, free admission.

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