Large finials for the Dom tower of Utrecht

finials for the dom tower of Utrecht

Our first work on the Dom Tower

The restoration of the Dom Tower is in full swing in Utrecht. We cannot escape it either and will provide a whole batch of ornamental work for this. In October we received the first parts: three large finials for the Dom Tower. They will be placed on the balustrade at the top, at approximately 100 meters up. We divided these three finials among Serge, Jelle and myself. Soon we will get 16 large crockets. Jelle and I have been up the tower before to carve a number of trial ornaments, read a short article about this in the annual overview of 2019.

Meticulous copying

finials for the dom tower of Utrecht

First making the large shape on the bottom

The old finials were made from a French limestone, but this type is no longer available because the quarry is closed. These copies were therefore made in English Portland stone. The ornemants are 80 x 80 cm wide and about the same height.

That is a laborious job that takes three weeks of work, and then also the tails have to be made on it, where it used to be just two separate parts. Because these were the first ornaments we'll be making for the tower, the restoration committee wanted to be sure that the old quality was preserved. In particular, some consultation was needed about the type of surface treatment. That is why there has been a viewing twice during which all details were discussed. All parts will be placed together on the tower later on, where they are now made in two separate workshops and by three different sculptors. This consultation is necessary in order to maintain unity.

Why replace them?

finials for the Dom tower of Utrecht

rough-carved finial

The old finials of the Dom Tower actually still look quite good. But a closer look shows that cracks are appearing and the stone is coming to an end. These ornaments have been carved over the years 1903 to 1911 and are therefore over 100 years old. These limestones are known for deteriorating after 100 years in our climate and are at the end of their life cycle. They sit at a great height and if a small piece should fall down, where there are always many people walking around, then it could be deadly. One of the premises for this restoration is that the next major overhaul will be in 50 years and that this restoration therefore should last for 50 years should last. That would be an awful lot to ask from these old finials.

Rigid design

These finials for the Dom Tower were made under a strict regime at the time and are carved almost geometrically. So our task was to imitate this work just as accurately and to allow ourselves little in the way of freedom. I noticed that the whole ornament was still tightly embedded in the original block of stone. The masses were still following the outlines of this block and from a slight angle you can clearly see that all the highest points are in one plane and only the leaf edges are slightly undulating. True gothic crockets are often much looser and make smooth movements that are more difficult to follow, but these neo-gothic ornaments are quite regular and rigid. That also makes it a lot easier to copy: with a plastic template you can copy many of the shapes.


Below is a photo impression of my work on the finials for the Dom Tower.

Links is the blog of Koen van Velzen, sculptor in stone and bronze. Look up my website as well:

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