Johannes de Deo Main building

The Johannes de Deo building, the HKU Utrechts Conservatorium main building, has a lovely chapel and a remarkable organ. Recently a time capsule was found in the wall of the building, containing a letter about the building’s origins.

The Chapel

The chapel was built in 1894 as a part of the Johannes de Deo building, which at the time was a hospital run by a Catholic order of nurses.
 
Although no longer in use for services, the chapel has kept its religious character, for example in the stained-glass windows by Heinrich Geuer showing scenes from Johannes de Deo’s life. Flanking the organ are two windows with pictures of St. Cecilia, the patron saint of music. The window behind the organ shows Pope Gregory the Great, from whom Gregorian chant gets its name.

Van Vulpen organ

In 1898 a small Maarschalkerweerd organ was built for the hospital’s chapel. In 1971 the conservatory took over the hospital building, and the organ was sold to the Sint Antonius Abtkerk in Loo.
A new Van Vulpen organ was built for the chapel with the help of advisors Nico van den Hooven, Kees van Houten, Theo Teunissen and Jan Welmers, who were the conservatory’s organ instructors. The new instrument was first played on 12 January 1974. Today the organ is used as a practice instrument and for student concerts.

A remarkable time capsule in the wall

During recent renovation work on HKU Utrechts Conservatorium, contractors were breaking up and replacing the building’s walls. On 18 July 2019 they made a remarkable discovery in the wall between the entrance and what was then the reception desk – a small leaden chest, hidden in the Belgian bluestone. The contractors carefully cut open the sealed chest, and found something unique: rolled up in an envelope was a two-page letter, written on 18 July 1895, 124 years to the date before the it was rediscovered. This unusual little box also held three amulets from the same period.

A letter about the origins of the building

The workmen had found a time capsule. The letter served as a reminder about the construction of the building. The conservatory was originally built as a hospital, by a Catholic order, the Brothers of Mercy of St. Joannes de Deo.

Hospitals on Mariaplaats
The Catholic order the Brothers of Mercy of St. Johannes de Deo had the ‘institution’ built at the end of the 19th century. This German order, which HKU was largely unfamiliar with, had taken up residence on Lange Nieuwstraat in Utrecht in 1889, offering to help care for the sick. However, the available space was too small to allow patients to be admitted. The desire quickly grew for a larger building, so that a real hospital could be founded. Starting in 1891, the brothers bought up a number of buildings on Mariaplaats for this very purpose.

Financial support for the hospital
The brotherhood’s members were of great help in caring for patients during an outbreak of cholera. Starting in 1892, their fame grew quickly in Utrecht and the surrounding region. However, being busier and having more patients to care for did not automatically mean there was more money to invest in more extensive help. Funds were actually very tight for the brothers. They were completely dependent on voluntary contributions. Ultimately they were given permission by the archbishop to actively raise funds among the people of Utrecht.

A very special gift
For some time, the brothers had been planning to demolish the old Mariaplaats buildings and build a new hospital on the same spot. On 7 August 1894 their dream came true, as a total surprise. On that day the brotherhood received a message from a notary that a certain Jonkheer Frederik Karel Bosch (son of the member of the Upper House of Parliament Jan Willem Hendrik Bosch and Elizabeth Cornelia Petronella Bosch van Drakestein) died at the age of 52, and turned out to have left 150,000 guilders to the order. This made them the nobleman’s main beneficiaries. This was surprising because he had never had contact with the brothers, and so no one had known that he cared about their work.

Constructing the Conservatory building
This generous gift made the long-held dream come true in the same year. The old buildings on Mariaplaats were demolished, and construction of the institution began on 24 June 1895 (the birthday of St. John the Baptist). The building was designed by the Utrecht architect J. van Kesteren. Because the construction costs were much higher than expected, only the section to the left of the main entrance was completed, and the right wing was not built until 1928. The ‘St. Joan de Deo’ hospital continued to operate until 1971, when it moved to the brand-new hospital in the city’s Overvecht district. In the same year the building was taken over by what is now called HKU Utrechts Conservatorium.

A beautiful historic building

This remarkable letter has given us a unique glimpse into the history of the building. Thanks to one exceptional gift, our school is now in a beautiful building, with a rich and fascinating history. Want to see the building with your own eyes? Just let us know by sending an email to servicebalie.mariaplaats@hku.nl.