August 25, 2023

Albert Harkema, Kerk en aanpalende bouwsels in waterrijke enscenering / Church and adjoining constructions in watery staging

photo by Hardscarf licensed  under Wikimedia Commons

The village of Den Ham, with about 140 inhabitants (2021) is located about 15 km north-west of the center of the city of Groningen, the Netherlands.

Outside this village, at Meedener-road 5, is the self-built church pictured above. 

The church is located on an isle that also includes a miniature farm. The area around the church is decorated with sculptures found elsewhere, and the isle is surrounded by a self-excavated small lake and some canals bridged by self-built bridges. And there is also a self-built tea room and a parking

The map below gives an impression of the geography of the site.

publication of this map licensed by © OpenStreetMap
the contour with red dot at the bottom left indicates the tea room,
the contour at the top left concerns the farm with stables

Life and works

With the occasional help of friends, the entire complex was created by Albert Harkema (17-2-1934 / 14-3-2011). 

Around 1960, when he was in his mid-20s, Harkema became the owner of a farm located along the Medenerweg 5 in Den Ham, where he settled with his wife Truida Niehof. The couple would get a son and a daughter.

The farm was located on consecrated ground where in 1200 the St Bernardus monastery was established, a location that still radiated a certain consecration in the eyes of the inhabitants of the region.

Harkema became a cattle rancher by profession, but because of his creative mind he also became a self-taught architect and master builder.

in the lake there is a miniature lighthouse
photo by Hardscarf licensed  under Wikimedia Commons

Soon after settling as a farmer, he began to excavate and enlarge the strip of water near the farm. 

It became a project of many years. 

Not only that he -in addition to his daily work as a farmer- had to realize the construction of the lake and the canals, the project also had both functional and decorative aspects, such as the bridges, two miniature towers standing in the water and a a miniature version of a head-and-neck-torso farm, intended as a home for the ducks that populated the lake.

photo by Hardscarf licensed
under Wikimedia Commons
a drawbridge
photo by Hardscarf licensed 
under Wikimedia Commons
 head-and-neck-torso farm

The church on the island

Initially, Harkema only wanted to build a tower on the island, intended for housing pigeons, but eventually it became a complete church building. 

Built between about 1985 and 1998, this singular architecture became the defining element of this art environment. Harkema had the approximately 12,000 bricks needed for the construction come over from Belgium.

The building is 15 meters long, 5.4 meters wide and 7 meters high.

The church has an organ from a village elsewhere in the Netherlands, there is a pulpit and there are chairs with seating for about fifty people.

interior church seen towards the pulpit
photo by Hardscarf licensed  under Wikimedia Commons

When the church was completed, it was time to open it to interested visitors. This turned out to be so successful after some time, that Harkema added a parking space and a tearoom with a terrace (with a view of the church) to the complex.

This tearoom was built in 2000 in the style of the Abbey Church in the neighboring village of Aduard.

Harkema hadn't bothered to apply for a building permit for all structures that had been added to his farm grounds over the years.

Partly because the church had become a major tourist attraction with several tens of thousands of visitors per year, the municipality decided to do this retroactively and also to change the zoning plan for the area in such a way that the area around the farm was assigned a recreational function. 

The access road to the art environment was also widened.

interior church seen towards organ
photo by Hardscarf licensed  under Wikimedia Commons

Further developments of the site

After the church was completed in 1998 and the tearoom some time later, Harkema and his wife were able to focus on the reception of the many visitors and the operation of the tearoom.

However, on July 18, 2009, Harkema's wife died and he himself was around that time admitted to a nursing home, where he died on March 14, 2011.

The farm and all appurtenances were sold to the Elizabeth and Durk Ykema family, who operated the site until 2019, when they put it up for sale.

After a 3-year closure in 2019, new owners arrived in 2022, and the church and tea house will reopen to the public in the course of 2023.

The website of the site is still under (re)construction. The single page, pictured below, welcomes visitors and says one is working hard to get things in order so it can open in 2023.

screenprint of the Harkema Hoeve website (2023)

Other self-built churches and chapels in Europe

Harkema's church has been built in a modest style, that is familiar to the Netherlands. 

The field of art environments in Europe features buildings of a religious nature in various capacities, such as the exuberant basilica of Ger Leegwater in the Netherlands, or the cathedral-like creation of Émile Damidot in France.

Europe also has all kinds of chapels, often smaller in size than the church of Harkema, such as those of Josef Haas and Timofey Prokhorov in Germany, the one of Samúel Jónsson in Iceland or the one of 

The no more extant small churches of Aleksander Kiryanov in Russia were richly decorated inside with his sculptures, just as Frére Deodat's  chapel at Guernsey was decorated inside and outside, and the chapel of Jacques Pascal in France was decorated with sculptures in niches.

* Website of the Harkema Hoeve (in 2023 under reconstruction)
* Article (in Dutch) on Wikipedia
* Article on the website of the Donderberggroep (about follies)
* Article on the website of Visit Groningen

* Video (July 2020, 1'54") on Facebook Watch

Albert Harkema, 
Church and adjoining constructions in watery staging
Meedenerweg 5, 
9842 TB Den Ham, province of Groningen,, Netherlands
visitors welcome
Google Streetview with some photos

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