Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Part Two - The Setting: Rolduc

So where did all this good worship and everything else take place? The ICUU Symposium met in the Rolduc Conference Center in Kerkrade, Netherlands.

Kerkrade is a small town in the southeast corner of the country. The town’s eastern limit is the German border town of Herzograth, and it’s only about 20 km north of Belgium. There was a strong debate among participants about whether the best ice cream was found on the German or Dutch side. (I liked the Dutch strawberry gelato!) The region, including bits of all three countries is Limburg, a hilly region a bit different from Netherlands’ usually flat geography.

The Rolduc site itself began life as a monastery in 1104. The abbey church, which dominates the site, was completed in the 1260’s and renovated (beautifully) in the 19th century. Built at the end of the Romanesque period it is surprisingly bright and airy with a second transept and an extra set of rose windows at the entrance crossing away from the altar.

For 700 years the monastery flourished until being closed after Napoleon’s invasion in the 1790’s. It would return to Catholic care some years later and become a small seminary and a prestigious boy’s school. Although a small seminary remains, the sprawling Rolduc site is primarily a conference center these days.

Our rooms are grouped around a delightful enclosed quadrangle that holds a terrace cafe. The south side of the square is dominated by the church and its cloisters and we often heard the organist practicing for one of the many weddings and concerts that are now the main activities.

The dining room is the old monk’s refectory (modernized, of course) but complete with the niche where a designated brother read Scripture during silent mealtimes. The food today is a great deal than that which the monks’ suffered!

Our meeting space and worship hall were across a cobbled yard from the church’s small external entrance. The monks, of course, would have remained within the walls and entered through another door. The room is bright and airy with tall round arched windows. We were told it was a former theatre and assembly hall for the boy’s school.

A long tree-lined road separates Rolduc from Kerkrade, and farms and forest surrounding the site. A wonderful variety of birds provided the score for the symposium. A deer park and forested set of ponds provided gentle walks and jogging trails.

Though some might think it odd that Unitarians and UUs were meeting at a Catholic site, as a ‘New Worlder’ I thoroughly enjoyed the mix of history and spirituality, nature and human enterprise. I have always found that any religious site has a certain something about it that sparks human imagination. It was an altogether lovely setting.

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