St. Nicolaas Cemetery

Tombstones – St. Nicolaas Roman Catholic Cemetery, Lierderholthuis, the Netherlands
medium: digital photo

This photo essay reveals a documentary portrait of St. Nicolaas Roman Catholic Cemetery.

St. Nicolaas Cemetery is located in the rural village of Lierderholthuis, in the province of Overijssel, situated in the eastern Netherlands. This photo essay reveals an aspect of research I conducted on rural villages in the European Union for the European Culture Commission. St. Nicolaas Cemetery is uniquely defined by 18 anonymously positioned tombstones, which together form the oldest historic reference points to the village of Lierderholthuis. Instigated by my interest in exploring the role of ritual celebrations in rural villages, the images address the cemetery as a site of testimony, storytelling, beliefs, and local history. The tombstones stand in 6 rows, stretching 3 across, isolated by a large earthen rectangular space. Ornate and Celtic in appearance, the tombstones share little resemblance to traditional Dutch tombstone designs. The text on the tombstones reveals the names and societal rank of the deceased- undoubtedly Lierderholthuis’ first elite. Research into the names inscribed on the tombstones revealed a direct lineage to families who continue to reside in the area. The oddity of these tombstones reflects their obvious dislocation, as they were moved from a former location to the present space, defined by the earthen rectangle.  Although the provenance of the tombstones has been speculated by numerous sources, the most plausible theory suggests that they were originally positioned adjacent to Lierderholthuis’ first church- which was subsequently dismantled at some point in time during the nineteenth century. It is believed that the tombstones were relocated to St. Nicolaas around 1863.

The relationship between ritual as a metaphor and a platform for visual arts production and inquiry was integral to my creative process. Throughout my documentation of the tombstones, questions pertaining to collective identity, individual spirituality, and the role of storytelling, in the post-modern world, arose- questions which would inevitably form the foundations for the production of my documentary art film 18. The questions included: When one considers constructs of identities, is it possible to dispel or conceptualize a world which has not been characterized by radical global change? How are rituals and mythologies relevant to our identities in the post-modern era? In regards to cyclicality, are rituals a process with both continuity and construction, where historical and philosophical dimensions are central to both the practice and understanding of culture? How does the cycle of ritual contribute to individual culture inheritance? When rituals are performed and repeated, does the act of ritual become a standardized event that reflects a community’s attitude towards its own past, present and future? How does the articulation and acceptance of ritual bridge the gap between diverse individual perspective and constructs of a mutual social reality? How do publicly celebrated rituals project and affirm the self-image of the community in question?