Who remembers the Jeroenhuis (Jerome House) in the town of Wassenaar? Presently, this building on Kerkstraat (Church Street) is home to the Warenar Theatre. Forty years ago, a special chess game changed hands here. Back then, it was a Roman Catholic building, named after a rather local saint.

In 1980, Mr J.M. Glotzbach visited an exhibition in the Jeroenhuis in Wassenaar. He saw a beautiful chess game here: a Taiwanese set made of teak, with white and dark brown lacquered pieces placed on a magnificently decorated chessboard. He bought the chess game for his collection, which is nowadays exhibited as the J.M. Glotzbach Collection in the Chessmen Museum. We can no longer retrace the steps of Mr Glotzbach on that day: the Jeroenhuis has been converted into a theatre on the inside and can only be recognised on the outside.

Undercover church

The Village Church of Wassenaar, the former Willibrord Church

The structure was built in the early twentieth century under the name Patronaatsgebouw (Patronage Building), on the location of the former Wassenaar Catholic Church on Kerkstraat. At the time, the parish had outgrown itself, and in 1905 a new church in the Neo-Gothic style arose next to the old one: the Willibrorduskerk (Willibrord Church). The old church was no longer of use and was demolished for the construction of the Patronaatsgebouw, which would serve as a home for the rich Catholic club life.

This was not the first transformation of a Catholic church building in Wassenaar. The first church was the Dorpskerk (Village Church) on the town square, dedicated to Saint Willibrord as well. The oldest remains of this church date back to the twelfth century. In the sixteenth century, at the time of the Reformation, the Catholics lost this church to the Protestants. In order to somehow attend mass together, the Catholics secretly started using a farm near the current Willibrorduskerk as a secret church in the mid-seventeenth century. Only in 1724 were Catholics allowed to go to church ‘out in the open’ again, and they built the aforementioned little church. With the growing number of Wassenaar residents and parish members, this church would be expanded a few times until it was replaced by the Patronaatsgebouw in 1905. In the sixties, it was given the name Jeroenhuis.

Saint Jerome

Saint Jerome

The Jeroenhuis owes its name to Saint Jerome. This noble missionary from Scotland travelled to our part of the world in 847. Commissioned by the bishop of Utrecht, he left for Northgo – nowadays Noordwijk – in West Frisia in 851, to show the local heathens the light. His Christianisation campaign did not last very long, though. According to legend, Norsemen hungry for loot invaded the church built by priest Jerome in 856, and beheaded him.

His body, without the head, would not be found until 980, and the Jeroenskerk (Jerome Church) in Noordwijk rose on the site of Jerome´s final resting place. Jerome´s skull eventually surfaced during the construction of a larger church around 1310. It turned out to be in the intended place of the altar. The skull was subsequently believed to miraculously heal people, and the church became an important place of worship for pilgrims. Because of this tale of lost bones, the Catholics would pray to Saint Jerome whenever they lost something. Jerome himself can be recognised in images by his attributes: his sword refers to his beheading and his falcon to his noble origins.

The Jeroenskerk can still be found today at 24 Van Limburg Stirumstraat (Van Limburg Stirum Street) in Noordwijk, although only its tower dates from the time his skull was found. The rest of the church was destroyed by major fires in the fifteenth century. There were no direct ecclesiastical ties between the towns of Wassenaar and Noordwijk, although the neighbouring Katwijk still belonged to the parish of Wassenaar in the eighteenth century. Saint Jerome, however, was popular in several Dutch areas. The altars of the Hooglandse Kerk (Hoogland Church) in Leiden, both the Oude and Nieuwe Kerk (Old and New Church) in Delft, the Laurenskerk (Saint Lawrence Church) in Rotterdam and even the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) in Amsterdam are all dedicated to Jerome. Although pilgrimages were abolished after the Reformation, they made a comeback in the nineteenth century. Noordwijk regained its importance as a destination for pilgrims, and Saint Jerome became popular again. This makes him the right candidate to name a Catholic club house after.

By Marjolein Overmeer