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Heidense Heiligdommen – Judith Schuyf (2019)

In 1995 Schuyf published the little book Heidens Nederland (‘heathen Netherlands’) with as subtitle Zichtbare overblijfselen van een niet-christelijk verleden (‘Visible remains of a non-christian past’). I do not remember with certainty how I found that book. Did I hear from it and look it up or did I just run into it? My memory claims option two.

Schuyf writes about a variety of subjects, but history, prehistory and Medieval archeology are what she studied in her days. That she did not loose her interest in this particular subject proved about a decade ago when she was invited to speak for a Dutch heathen group and she accepted. She would return and mentioned that she was working on a reworked version of the book.

The new title is Heidense Heiligdommen (‘Heathen sanctuaries’) and the subtitle Zichtbare sporen van een verloren verleden (‘Visible remains of a lost past’). The new book was made available last May.

As in the first book, there is a long introduction to the subject. What do we know about the prechristian religion of these parts, what happened when Christianity came, what remains do we have? Concerning the latter, Schuyf mostly focusses on scenic remains, but often connected to cultural remains.

In the Netherlands not too much was created in buildings or writings, before the Romans came and around the same time, Christianity started to spread to the region too. Much of what is described are actually things that remained in (early) Christian times. Fertility usuages became processions, a sacred well was dedicated to a saint, thanks for a healing moved inside chapels and churches. Many of these heathen remains were only wiped out during the Reformation.

So here we have a book with places that are (either or not correctly) seen as ancient places of offering, such as well, (artificial) hills, deepenings, etc. Strange Christian habbits are explained in a prechristian context such as scrapings of church-walls to provide powder to heal.

Schuyf mostly tries to asses the validity of the claims to antiquity for which she uses a variety of sources. These include very recent investigations and publications, so the reader will be quite up-to-date with the state of investigations after reading this book.

The book mentions dozens and dozens of places that are worth a visit, but just as in the previous book, the directions are seldom specific enough to just use this book as ‘heathen tourist guide’. There are many (colour) photos that help.

To close off, Schuyf mentions several cases of ‘invented traditions’ showing that just one mention of some author about a supposed history of a place does not automatically mean that this is so. Judging the impressive bibliography the author did her best to prove or debunk claims as best as possible.

The book could have used an index of places and findings and as you can see above, many of the subjects in the book are ‘folk-Christian’ rather than ‘purely heathen’. This is mostly likely is the largest collection of such traces of a lost past and it includes things that I had not yet heard of, so the interested reader can find out that there are many places of interest in the Netherlands too.

2019 Omniboek, isbn 9789401914338 

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