Gennep – a safe haven for all
Gennep – a safe haven for all
The city of Gennep lies in the Dutch province of Limburg to the south of Nijmegen, where the River Niers flows into the Maas. Over the course of its almost 700-year history, Gennep-on-Maas has belonged to changing rulers and nations. Until 1815, Gennep was part of the Duchy of Cleves, which welcomed the Reformation in the 16th century and supported its citizens’ religious freedom. The city played a special role in the course of the Dutch Reformation.
In 1530, Protestant religious fugitives starting fleeing there from the Netherlands, Belgium and northern France and were taken in by the mainly Catholic locals. Not only were these Protestants permitted to worship their faith in the city’s Saint Martin Church, but Catholic priests and Reformed preachers even conducted joint services together. The Catholics listened to the Protestants’ psalms and the Reformed congregation marvelled at the Catholic priest’s celebration of the Eucharist. New-borns were baptised by either the Catholic priest or the Reformed preacher, depending who was currently on call. Even Duke William the Rich of Cleves (1516-1592) had his first daughter baptised Catholic and the second Protestant.
Whilst the Reformation prompted persecution, violence and war in many parts of Europe, Gennep demonstrated a very different approach. Respect and tolerance gave no foothold to iconoclasm, persecution or religious war and instead secured peace and prosperity.
However, when Fernando Álvarez de Toledo y Pimentel, the Duke of Alba (1507-1582), was appointed Governor of the Netherlands in 1567, he unleashed a rule of terror that afflicted the Protestants above all. The Duke of Alba had already vanquished the Protestants as a commander in the Smalkaldic War. Now thousands of religious fugitives from the Netherlands fled to the Duchy of Cleves along with others from France and England. Thus Gennep, Goch and Cleves became a central haven for refugees. The asylum-seekers from the Netherlands, who became known as the “Dutch refugee community”, joined forces with the local Protestants to establish the Reformed Church in Gennep and Goch, which was officially recognised by the Emden Synod in 1571.
After many years of Reformed worship in the Catholic Saint Martin Church, the new City Hall and the Catholic Saint Antonius Chapel, the presbytery decided to build its own church. A plot was acquired opposite the City Hall in the heart of Gennep and the construction work (1660-1663) was financed from the prolific fund-raising travels of preacher Johannes Engelen around Germany and the Netherlands.
To this day, the Saint Martin Tower, the market square with the historic City Hall and the Reformed Church remain the key features of the historic heart of Gennep. When the city joined the Netherlands in 1815, its Reformed Church became the oldest Protestant-built church in the kingdom. The citizens of Gennep are as proud of this fact as they are of the virtues of tolerance and respect that the city is known for. There is plenty of cross-border contact with the town of Goch and its Protestant congregation. Life in Gennep continues to strongly reflect its ecumenical spirit and welcoming attitude towards alternative schools of thought.