Overview of this page
25 May & 8 June 2020
Why would one like to have a church?! Why would Rens Swart like to own the Cornelius church? And what is he going to do in the Saint Cornelius Basilica, as he prefers to call it?
I have split my story into two: on this page I will describe what I am going to do in the Cornelius basilica, but I have devoted a separate page to how my lifelong fascination for churches and the need for a warehouse culminated in the buy of the Cornelius church.
The story of my lifelong fascination for churches, dreaming of living in one, and how the need for a warehouse led to the acquisition of the Cornelius church
On this page, I will describe what I plan to do in the church. I will describe it as a sort of user requirements and I will conclude what these will look like in the Saint-Cornelius Basilica. I will start with requirements on cars, as they are the most prominent destination for my current warehouse and I was looking for a replacement space. Then I will discuss organs and organ building, as they were added later. And finally I will discuss why a monumental church for me is the perfect and straightforward solution to my space requirements: because religious nineteenth-century architecture is in fact is my oldest fascination and I have worked hard for years to study and conserve that architecture. I will combine my use of the building for just working on organs and cars with caring for this beautiful example of 1920s religious brick architecture.
(I love telling detailed stories. For a summary, see the section on the welcome page)
When I considered acquiring the church, I sought for extensive consultation with the Diocese and the Municipality. You cannot use a building for another destination than is regulated in the officially established and published planning or destination documents. It comes as no surprise that the church had the destination 'societal use', which includes religious use. The previous buying candidate managed to extend the destination to residential, so that you can use the church as your house. Both Municipality and Diocese have a say in what can be done in this church. The Municipality because of the Zoning or Destination Plan, the Diocese because there is a clause in the buying and owner contract which lists quite a lot of activities that are forbidden and contains several other severe limitations and even heavy fines for violations. Both the Municipality and the Diocese appreciated my cooperative attitude and openness apparently very much.
Cars: English 'youngtimers'
When I was young, we travelled only by bicycle and train. It was just a cost-effective way and it sufficed for the travels primarily my father had to make as a daily commuter. Only when I was in my twenties and my parents about sixty, we all got a driver's license. A couple of years later I bought as my first car a Rover 3500 Vanden Plas (the whole story can be found elsewhere on this site! sorry, Dutch). When my wife and me had added another 240,000 km to the clock, I bought a Daimler Double Six. And after a couple of years another Rover SD1 and then after an accident a second Daimler. I started to work on my cars and bought others, because they were nice or cheap or they could serve as a cheap parts supplier.
How I got to like some cars: the Rover 3500 Vanden Plas (SD1) (Dutch)
The Jaguar XJ40 and my search for a Daimler Double Six
My cars are not always the best and they are not all in driving condition, but I enjoy owning them. As always, I have more plans in my head and listed in my digital memory than I can possibly make come true in my life. I am aware of it and I am not getting nervous of it, well, most of the time.
However, I have always considered that it will be most effective if my cars serve both my daily transport requirements and my enthusiasm. My cars have always been also my daily company cars. This sometimes gets me a little nervous, because I need one for my daily transport while at the same time it might be in need of (serious) work – or does not drive at all. Moreover, my cars have always served as a kind of a business card to illustrate the broad skills of their owner.
After some years of working on cars on the street near my house, I started looking for a shed or a shelter of a hangar or something to work on them, to keep them dry, to prevent them from collecting more rust than they already have, and to be able to leave them unfixed overnight. Gradually, I hired a place in a potatoe shed, bought a one-car-sized garage, moved and in the end I bought (with a business partner) a very nice, spacious warehouse. It accomodates for my about ten cars and parts, although the worst cars have to live outside, behind the building.
So the first requirements of my new space will be:
- a dry shelter for about ten young classical cars, some being only rusty parts providers;
- a dry place to work on cars conveniently, with an even floor, spacious enough to crawl under the cars from all sides (I do not dare to ask for a hydraulic hoist now) and with good lighting;
- sufficient room to store and use tools;
- room for collected car parts, some in boxes or on shelves, but also for spare doors and similar bulky stuff I stumbled across and decided to be handy on the long term …
- if there is opportunity to present (some of) my cars neatly, that would be nice.
Oh wait, I forget to mention something important. I forgot that it is not straightforward for you, although it is for me. But it is also important to the authorities!
- Working on cars is not a commercial activity.
- I am not interested in working on other cars than my own.
- I only buy cars, I never sell one! Well, almost never.
- I do not buy or sell cars commercially.
I admit it is not straightforward to fulfill these requirements for rough uncivilised objects like old cars in a church. For me it is clear that it matches. It will be a bit unorganised every now and then, but for me it is straightforward that I treat a church as an honorable monument. Even with old cars in it. I also explained this to the Diocese and the Municipality.
Organs and organ building
Much earlier than being involved with older cars, or cars at all, I became an organ enthusiast. Some friends or people who know me well were actually very amazed that I am interested in cars: it is not associated with my kind of person. Elsewhere on this site I have extensively written how I became fascinated by organ music and became a church organist at the age of fourteen (how dare people say that I am always late?). Because of my curious and technical nature, quickly interest in organ technique and organ building was added. It is actually so dominant that I devoted a separate division of this website to it!
Organs and organ playing
Then around 2009, two new initiatives emerged. Firstly, by working with the old organ builder Romy Casteels from the Belgian firm Jos Stevens (that will celebrate its 200st birthday in 2022!) I saw opportunities for Jos Stevens that Casteels did not utilize. In 2011 I decided that I would try to earn part of my living with organ building (actually not really building, but maintenance and implementing technical solutions) and Rens Swart Orgelbouw was born. It has its own website.
Rens Swart Orgelbouw (company website)
At the same time I came across opportunities for organs that became obsolete because of the closure of churches. I realised that if I would add a little mezzanine floor in the warehouse where my companion and me had our cars and business, I could rebuild such an organ. Not only to play on it, not even primarily, but much more importantly to be busy with organ technique. I have, again, described elsewhere on this website extensively what reasons I have to acquire a pipe organ for my own and to build it in my warehouse.
In the meantime, in early 2018 I acquired all of a sudden three organs that had to be removed from their churches and with help of friends I did that heavy job in a couple of weeks. One of these organs had to be removed in four days from a nineteenfifties church that would be demolished without anybody realising that there was quite a large and good 16' organ in it. The second organ was robbed of half its pipes by metal thieves and the remainder could serve a good basis for a choir organ on a location I was involved with. The third organ was rather badly maintained by a well-known organ builder because one was interested in a tracker action thing from another church and I found the neglected organ very interesting for my own.
My organ parts were stored on pallets and in racks in our warehouse. Because we were building a mezzanine floor to almost double the floor space in our warehouse (we did this ourselves), all organ (and car) parts stayed on their temporal pallets to be moved easily with our fork lift. Therefore I have never started with erecting my own organ. Then in 2018 my companion and me decided to separate because his plans with the warehouse diverted from mine. The search for another warehouse started and all my disassembled organs stayed disassembled.
The requirements for my new space concerning organs and organ building can be listed as follows:
- sufficient space to store organ parts, including large parts like wind chests and organ pipes, often with an unknown time horizon;
- the possibility to create a convenient workshop to professionally work on organs and organ parts;
- space to store organ tools and organ materials;
- space to build a large organ for my own, mainly consisting of parts of dismantled interesting organs;
- this organ will primarily serve as a huge project to develop my organ building skills and it will be fun;
- I hope to practice organ music on this hopefully inspiring instrument;
- the acoustics of the new 'shelter' should preferably be in favour of organ music, i.e., a reverberation time of at least 2.5 seconds and hopefully 4 seconds or more, with an even frequency distribution;
- all organ requirements are for non-public use, but a modest and rare public use cannot be ruled out.
An inspiring shelter: a church?!
I needed to find another shelter for the above stuff. I am happy with what I have now: a good, large, 300 square meter warehouse or industrial hall, but I share it with my companion and his requirements increase, while I prefer to put my money in organs etcetera. To make a long story slightly shorter: I could not find a reasonable warehouse, I love to go off the beaten track and as an enthusiast of religious architecture, it is not difficult to imagine that I came up with the idea to realise all my activities in a … church …
I have described this story on a separate page: how my love for primarily nineteenth-century religious architecture and the need for a warehouse in the end were combined in the buy of the Cornelius church. But how will I realise my requirements in the church?
For me, the qualities of the Saint Cornelius church are mainly the expressionist brick architecture, with the technical masterpiece of the beautiful parabolic vaults. Add to that the stained glass and apse paintings and it becomes clear that the interior is inspiring. My goal is to leave the space intact as much as possible, in order to enjoy the religious architecture in addition to working on organs and cars.
Additional uses: office and living
To enjoy the church optimally, I would like to stay there and do my (other) jobs. I would like to realise an office there for my consulting company Swartvast. For that, I do not need much, maybe a good internet connection. Wait, why not invite colleagues to have meetings in my church?! Apart from being inspiring or off the beaten track, it would also emphasize my weird spectrum of hobbies and fascinations.
Living in a church has always attracted me. Imagine a living with a phantastic view on inspiring architecture and a bed under the vaults. I will certainly not build a modern convenient house inside the church, as this will not only take to much money, but primarily distract from experiencing that we live in the church. It must be said that this consideration is easier to realise if you do not share the building with five or thirteen other families.
Furthermore, before a house in the church possibly will be realised, I will stay there from the beginning more than one day per week, to limit travel and to be able to spend as much time as practically viable on the church. So I will at least need a place to eat and sleep.
Use: emphasis on the monument
Now, how do I think to realise all the above requirements and considerations in the 'Cornelius Basilica'? Let's start with the use of the church but combine this with my emphasis on that the church is an inspiring monument.
My goal is to leave the space intact as much as possible, because apart from being a space for working on organs and cars, it is above all an inspiring monument of religious architecture. I plan to do this in the following way.
- I will as much as possible leave the vast space uncontaminated and unblocked. There will be little or no walls, piles, floors etcetera to disturb the view on this great space.
- If I would realise a house in the church, this can in my current view best be realised by building three storeys in the south transept. The house will not stick into the crossing, disturbing the experience of the vast 'central space' (I borrowed that term from Liverpool Anglican Cathedral, now that is huge!) and the view through the nave to the vault paintings in the apse. I would even leave the stained glass window in place, adapt the floor levels to the image, and place a couple of panels of the painted glass in window frames to be able to allow daylight in the appartment if you really want to.
- There will be a very large organ and indeed it will block the view on the west end of the nave, incorporating the original organ of the church, but this is the only way to realise my plans. What I have in mind now is a combination of two organ prospects I have. I will respray the pipes and the prospect will 9.5 meter high and 13 meter wide. I think it will convince (it might even be beautiful and impressive).
- All stained glass windows will be left in place. They add considerably to the darkness of the church, but they are beautiful and important creations of one artist, Piet Clijsen.
- For me, the most fascinating part of the architecture are the stone vaults. In fact, the Oomen brothers did a very good job in designing the parabola vaults, arc supports and the barrel vaults in the aisles, all integrated into one logical well-designed brick structure. The lighting of the church when I bought it was, to be honest, very bad. Primarily because the high-pressure mercury lamps give an awfull blueish green light, which is also not bright enough, but also because the beautiful vaults stay very, very dark and the architecture is impossible to appreciate. I will emphasize the beautiful stone vaults by lighting them from below.
- I will replace the current high-pressure lamps with LED 'highbay' lights, normally used in high industrial halls or warehouses. These LED highbay lighting comes, as a coincidence, with a dimming function. That's nice because it will allow me to use the vault lighting as main lighting and only add direct downlighting as far as necessary. It will also save energy (OK, the added vault lighting will costs additional energy but wie mooi wil zijn moet pijn lijden (Dutch saying: if you want to be a beauty you will need to suffer)). Complication is that I will need to add two wires for each lamp running over the vaults to be able to use the dimming function.
- I will save the oak pews. They are a monumental part of the monumental interior (that was demolished more than I can understand to 'un-church' the building). But I need the space, so I will pack them efficiently in the north transept up to three meters high and get some of them if an activity is organised. I will get rid of the pine pews, as far as the wood-worms left something of them.
- I strive to restore the Lady chapel into its original state. I hope, with help from some Welberg citizens, I can sooner or more likely later convince the bisshop that for several reasons that is best, for cultural, historical and also for religious reasons. I know what I am talking about.
- I do need a strong concrete floor for my cars, organs and a forklift, but I consider saving the original 'well-baked' tiles: they are rather rough, but OK, they are original and it is a monument, isn't it?
- I would like to add solar panels, in particular because I do not want to use natural gas to heat the building. I do not regard solar panels to compromise the looks of the monument and if so, it is worth it.
Actually … the Cornelius Basilica is not registered as a cultural heritage monument, not on the national level (Rijksmonument) and not even on the Municipality level (gemeentelijk monument). I am rather convinced of the quality of the design and the importance for the national heritage, so this amazes me a lot. I know the Municipality of Steenbergen would like to add it to their local monument register, but do not want to take any action that could endanger the staying in existance of this building, that is regarded by the Municipality as very important for Welberg and for Steenbergen as well. As I have always fighted hard for monuments, the status as a registered monument of the Cornelius church would be great. But I do expect the principle (also applicable if you want to understand tax, for example): it will cost the owner effort and restrict his rights at the downside, but he will be encouraged financially at the plus side.
Activities and renting the church
The Cornelius church has always been the central place for worship in Welberg, and now it isn't any more, primarily because less and less inhabitants visit it and contribute to it, it is still a focal point in Welberg. The Leisure for Welberg Association organised a Halloween theatre and a Christmas market in the decommissioned building. How do the organisation of activities fit in my plans for using the church?
As I will have fitted the church for my use, it will be a private space with parts, piles, tools and stuff all over the place. Not very suitable to allow the public to access it. However, I will try to organise it in a way that every now and then I can open the Cornelius Basilica for a public or private activity.
Some considerations on activities can be found on the page dedicated to it, see link below.
If you have any ideas for an activity in the church, a concert, a meeting, if you would like to visit it or want to have an adventurous tour, contact me.
If you would like to rent this inspirational space, want advice about it or have ideas, please contact me as well!
Ideas about public and private use of the Cornelius Basilica. And 'rent-a-church'!
This is what it might look like
With the above in mind – we could easily call it "user requirements", a term well-known from my other work – what would the Cornelius church look like? How will I arrange stuff?
Spatial considerations and boundary conditions
- To be able to place cars and organ and parts in the church, the pews and the wooden decks they stand on will be removed and the rough concrete floor will get levelled-out and made smoother.
- Because the rough concrete floor has to be reinforced and smoothed, I consider removing it and making a new reinforced concrete floor with floor heating. This is a huge job and very expensive, but the most economical way to 'heat' the church.
- The current hot air heating is far too expensive to operate. I consider floor heating, but very limited. The only goal is to get the church to about 10°C to 12°C to get the relative humidity not too high. I have already done a lot of research and considerations. I might share this later.
Cars, parts and workshop
- My about ten cars will be parked in the northern part of the nave (to the left if you enter the church). The 470 cm Rovers just fit between the pillars. There is then still room for the 500 cm Daimlers, to be parked transversely with the nose to the gangway. My heritage made me initially draw the cars squeezed together mirror to mirror, but this basilica provides me with more space than my previous warehouse.
- I warn you: there are also wrecks among the cars. I saved or bought them as parts supplier. No, the Cornelius Basilica will not exactly be an exquisite car museum. Although Jaguars always seem to impress.
- In the southern part of the nave will be some pallet racks. In or adjacent to these racks will be large spare parts, like doors, bonnets and wings.
- In the south transept, under the stained glass window, will be warehouse racks with tools and smaller parts. Also oil, maintenance supplies and a jack will be stored there.
- I will leave my welding, grinding, sawing etcetera equipment also somewhere there.
- In the crossing of the church, I will have a free space to jack up a car and to work on and under it. If there is an activity or I need to tidy up things a bit, I will get things out of the crossing.
- Some cars can drive, most cannot. If necessary I can temporarily move them out of the church over the heavy ramps I have.
- Apart from temporary, no cars will be parked outside the church. They are English, aren't they? English cars are not made to be left outside.
Organs and organ building
- In the first bay of the nave, I will build a very large organ, filling the whole bay. It will consist of two separated divisions on three meter high floors, and will mainly consist of disassembled organ parts. The 13 meter wide organ will have two mirrored prospect parts, with to six meter tall prospect pipes from two organs I disassembled. In the middle will be a smaller part about a meter higher, with possibly an illuminated stained glass window (it's from the Vincentius church in Amsterdam, I have it already twenty years). The original Vermeulen organ of Saint Cornelius will be left in place and incorporated into my instrument. Let's call it the Laurentius organ.
- Parts of organs I have disassembled will be stored in the nave of the church, mostly on pallets. It will look a bit like a mess, but it isn't!
- Some pallets with organ parts will be stored on pallet racks, also in the nave.
- In the south transept will be storage for large wooden panels from dismantled organs. There will also be a double wide and deep pallet rack with parts and woorden pipes, a.o. Subbass pipes.
- In the nave will be pallet racks with larger metal organ pipes upright.
- In the nave will be piles of wooden crates with smaller organ pipes. I guess in total I have 6,000 organ pipes, from very large to very small.
- Both for hoisting parts on the 3 to 4 meter high organ floors and to place pallets with organ and car parts in the pallet racks, I will need a forklift. An electric forklift needs 400 Volt to charge.
- In the south transept, under the stained glass window, will be warehouse racks with tools and smaller organ parts.
- In the crossing will be a workshop for organ building and metal- and woodworking.
- The former baptistery (to the left of the entrance hall) will be used for woodworking that causes dust, as this chapel can be separated from the church.
- The central organ console for my, OK, the 'Laurentius organ' will be in the choir or apse of the church. It is connected to the organ with a thin wire electronically.
- Organ consoles will be in the choir, as they might look nice.
- I will possibly collect other organs, one or two of which will be erected in the choir or apse.
- The large main organ or the smaller organs in the choir will be available for accompanying choirs.
- There might be some time left (really?) to study organ music on one of the organs.
Offices and living
- The church will never be heated to 'room temperature', as costs prohibit that. Doing office work and living will be done in a cosy inspiring corner of the church as long as the season does not ask for heating. It might look a bit like my first experience, when I slept under the painting of Saint-Joseph because I was renovating the 'pastorieke' office to the right of the church.
- Initially, I wanted to convert the sacristy to a small 'house' as my first job after acquiring the church. As there were no public supplies there, this was not viable and I will convert the small office to the right of the church entrance to a place to live and sleep.
- After I did the most important jobs, I will start with converting the sacristy to a house to live. A simple (why not?) kitchen will possibly go in the corridor to the apse, a toilet in the storage room under the stairs and the attic will be converted to a bedroom and office. The liturgical wardrobe space could be converted to a bathroom. The sacristy will be isolated and as I see it now I will remove the current floor to change it for a well isolated floor with floor heating.
- As we do not have plans to sell our stylish house in Dongen, we are not going to live in the Cornelius basilica the next years.
- But if we would, there are two options. Extending the space of the Sacristy by adding a small building adjacent to the sacristy and the corridor to the apse. Or building a complete three-storey house in the southern transept. It will be done with the utility rooms at ground level (without daylight), a living at first level and bedrooms and offices on the top floor. Under the beautiful IJssel brick cross vault. All with a view into the church.
Public and private activities
- The wide crossing (155 m2), choir (60 m2) and the spacious apse (50 m2) will be available for public and private activities.
- The seating capacity is about 200 and can be realised by utilising the original oak pews. They are normally stored in the north transept. (OK, they are 620 cm and 100 kilogram.)
- I will get cars and workshop stuff out of the central space if necessary and save my stuff from unwanted fingers.
- The tower is also available. What about a 'breakfast with a view' near the clocks? Twice an hour the clock makes a bit of a noise, but you can hear it coming and close your ears. And what about a workshop in the 5 x 5 meter space in the body of the tower, with its 5.5 meter high ceiling?
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Jobs to be done on the church: the Three Big Jobs and the fifty other jobs (Dutch)
The story of my lifelong fascination for churches, dreaming of living in one, and how the need for a warehouse led to the acquisition of the Cornelius church
Our first car, the Rover 3500 Vanden Plas, July 2001 on the Col de l'Iseran. That's 2770 meter, not bad for this old English gentelman (or lady?). I still own it, with 383,000 km on the clock. All photos © Rens Swart, unless stated otherwise
When I found a place in a former potato shed in 2008, I could work on the Rover SD1.
In the warehouse or business unit my companion and me acquired in 2012, there was enough room for the Daimlers (Jaguar XJ40 model) and Rovers (SD1 and 800) I had collected. In the corner some furniture and archives I could store after my parents passed away
After several days of hard work, in the middle of the night I finished the job on the front suspension of my Daimler Double Six. This is what nowadays is called a selfie
A organ I enjoyed playing for more than ten years: the Stevens-organ (1958) in the church of Our Lady of the Snows in Borgerhout (Antwerpen). Photo Johnny Verbeken
At Orgelbouw Jos Stevens in Duffel (Belgium) I am busy with the cleaning and harmonisation of the short resonator reed stop Voix Humaine. A good hearing but above all a good physical insight and a kind of scientific attitude to keep asking what is caused by what make it a lot easier.
We have built a mezzanine floor in the warehouse, almost doubling floor space. Organ parts are stored here on pallets, smaller pipes in crates and larger pipes are upright in pallet racks. It might look a bit like a mess, but it isn't: I know what is where and everything has been placed carefully. Part of this will be used for my own organ to be assembled.
Smaller parts, wood, wooden pipes and consoles are stored in pallet racks. In the Cornelius Basilica they will be placed in the nave and the southern transept.
Now we have the mezzanine floor, the large 16 feet pipes must be stored horizontal. We also see a Daimler and Rover Vitesse before them and warehouse racks with tools and supplies. In one way or another this will be placed in the Cornelius Basilica.
When the Petrus' Banden church in Son had to be closed because it would be demolished, nobody thought about the organ. I had to save as much as possible from this large Vermeulen instrument in only FOUR days. All 1,558 pipes were saved, although about 150 were sold to parishioners individually. About the only parts that we couldn't rescue were the (large and heavy) wind chests, the heart of the organ. The prospect pipes are 16 feet and will be the base for my own 'Laurentius organ' in de Cornelius Basilica
The Cornelius church has a beautiful architecture and apse paintings. The fine brick vaults and arcs are nice and impressive. Here you can clearly see that the interior of the church is dominated by the brick vaults, which rise much higher than the aisles. This, together with the stained glass windows, makes the church very dark. With the current lighting installation, the vaults cannot be appreciated at all.
Most people know that the Cornelius Basilica is rather dark. But have you ever seen the church in the middle of the day with the lights off? You can hardly see anything. In the photo above I tried to catch the real light conditions. Your eyes really have to adapt to the darkness and even then it is very dark.
I am experimenting with LED spots to light the vaults from the side. The layout needs to be designed so that the effect is atmospheric. The vault lighting could even function as main lighting if not much light on the floor is needed.
Although decommissioned, the hot air heating installation is in good condition, but very costly to operate. It needs about 40 cubic meter of natural gas per hour – you can almost see Groningen sink when you heat the church (sorry, not funny). I need to look into other options.
These double baked tiles are part of the monument, but in bad shape. The concrete floor that saw daylight after I removed the wooden deck on which the pews stood, is rather rough, in particular on the edges. I would prefer completely changing it for a new reinforced concrete floor, preferably with floor heating and new tiles for the paths. What less costly options do I have?
The Leisure for Welberg Association organised a Halloween theatre in the decommissioned building, before I owned it. Can I still accomodate activities like that in the church after I filled it with my stuff? Photo from a newspaper
A few days after I became the owner of the Cornelius church, on 8 December 2019 the Christmas market took place, that was already organised by the Leisure for Welberg Association.