The Lost Cathedral of Cuypers
20 oct 2018 - 21 jul 2019

The Lost Cathedral of Cuypers


The fascinating story of Pierre Cuypers’ St Barbara Cathedral, which in the end was demolished, with photographs, paintings, sculptures, textiles, silver, and personal testimonies.

Cuypers and Breda
Around 1850 there was a strong desire to have a large, impressive cathedral in Breda. The assignment went to the young and ambitious Limburg architect Pierre Cuypers. He has just founded his studio for Christian architecture in Roermond.

Cuypers drafted the design for the building, the interior and the furnishings in his characteristic neo-Gothic style. The sculptures, textiles, silver and other decorations for this cathedral are among his earliest work.

‘Alongside the costly choir mantle (...) and the richly decorated ciborium for consecrated hosts, the precious memories are perhaps the real gems in this exhibition’ - Trouw Newspaper

From house church to cathedral
The Catholics in Breda had lost the Grote Kerk to the Protestants during the Reformation in 1637. Because they were no longer allowed to hold their services in public, they turned to house churches in the old centre of town. After the forming of the Diocese of Breda in 1853, the Catholic community was able to establish itself in the public eye once again. The new cathedral was the crowning achievement of that development.

In 1865 the construction of the church behind the Prinsenkade began, and was completed four years later. The church was consecrated in 1875 and shortly afterwards the Pope designated the St Barbara Church as a Cathedral. Technical shortcomings soon came to light, however, and maintenance costs were increasing over time. After World War II, as the richly decorated interior was falling out of fashion, nothing could stop the demise of the cathedral. In 1968 the cathedral was closed for good and then demolished.

‘The St Barbara Cathedral in Breda has disappeared, but not been forgotten’ - Brabant Cultureel 

Exceptional objects
Many of the objects were saved from destruction by Breda residents and are now part of the collection of the Diocesan Museum Foundation, which is currently managed by Stedelijk Museum Breda. Highlights in the exhibition include Gerard Bartholomeus Brom’s silver-gilt ciborium with a depiction of Jesus and the twelve apostles, and a precious choir mantle of silken golden cloth with golden thread embroidery of the Sisters of the Poor Child Jesus in Simpelveld. The exhibition also provides explanations of the symbolism of the objects, their backgrounds and stories. 

For many, the Cathedral is a font of memories, emotions and stories. Clemens Merkelbach van Enkhuizen, former parishioner and artist, donated a series of paintings, drawings and sketches of the St Barbara Cathedral that he made before and during its demolition. The private scrapbooks of chaplain Pol Dogge, who led the men’s choir from 1959 to 1968, are also on display.

‘Memories of the Breda St Barbara Cathedral’ - Algemeen Dagblad


Open platform
CollectieLab is an open platform for the discovery and development of the Breda Collection. Temporary exhibitions are held with unique objects from the city’s depots. In The Lost Cathedral of Cuypers, these are objects from the St Barbara Cathedral and Atelier Cuypers. In the lab, visitors get a glimpse behind the scenes of the museum. In the studio, restorers can often be seen at work on the restoration of the objects. Research is also conducted into the origin of an object, the maker, previous restoration or the use of materials. A number of new discoveries are presented in The Lost Cathedral of Cuypers. 

 With thanks to Clemens Merkelbach van Enkhuizen, Cuypershuis Roermond, Municipality of Breda, Historical Topographical Atlas, Pol Dogge, Breda City Archives, Diocesan Museum Foundation and the restorers.

Image: detail of a music-making angel, ca. 1883, oil on panel, Atelier PJH Cuypers

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