Between the flying buttresses of St. John's Cathedral

broken drumstick of the Little Drummer Boy

The Little Drummer with broken drumstick

Gothic churches with flying buttresses

If you've read any of my previous articles on this blog, then you may have seen that in the recent years I made quite some copies of flying buttress figurines for St. Eusebius's Church in Arnhem. Now there are only a few churches in the world that have sculptures on top of their flying buttresses. Actually that wasn't even so originally with St. Eusebius's Church. Firstly, before 1921 this church had no flying buttresses around its choir at all, and secondly, it was only during that restoration that the first flying buttress statues were installed. After World War II eventually 96 flying buttress figurines installed (which we are all copying at the moment).

Gargoyles and ornaments and flying butresses of St. John's Cathedral in Den Bosch

St. John's Cathedral in Den Bosch is richly decorated. The northwest facades were replaced in the 70s and 80s in the somewhat gray German basalt lava. The statues and gargoyles were made of Udelfanger sandstone, and date from the 19th century.

The flying buttresses of St. John's

This was all inspired by the flying buttresses of St. John's Cathedral in 's-Hertogenbosch, where already since the Middle Ages 96 figurines have been sitting on top of the flying buttresses. There is a Wikipedia article devoted to them, where you can find a description of each figurine. The statues of St. John's are 19th-century copies of earlier medieval sculptures. Of these, a few can still be found inside St John's Museum De Bouwloods, next to the Cathedral.

Been working on it for years

the Little Drummer Boy on the flying buttresses of St. John's Cathedral in Den Bosch

This picture shows that the drumstick had already been broken a long time ago. Photo: Tony Zeeuwe

Recently I was asked to fix one of those flying buttress figurines. It was a really simple job, that was done in a few hours, but it was very nice to once again sit on top of the church. My colleagues and I have been working on this Cathedral of 1999 to 2010 carving ornaments, statues, gargoyles, consoles and canopies for the church, and then we have also been involved several times in carving ornaments later on.

A good cooperation

Every year a small part of the church will be restored in the context of Major Maintenance. This year, a Belgian company took on the restoration of the natural stone parts, including the ornaments. That's why I was very surprised when I was asked for this job, but I got to hear that the lines are very short between the contractor and our crew (we work together in the restoration of the Eusebius Church in Arnhem, the Dom Cathedral in Utrecht and the Dom Tower in Utrecht), so these things can be arranged very quickly.

The Little Drummer Boy

In this case it was the Little Drummer Boy's drum stick, which was broken. If I could fix it. Of course. It was Udelfanger sandstone, and as I still had some pieces lying around, no problem. I loaded all the stuff in my van, drove to Den Bosch, and dragged everything up the stairs to about 30 meters up. Luckily I didn't need my compressor after all.

repairing the drumstick of the Little Drummer Boy on the flying buttresses of St. John's Cathedral in Den Bosch

The beginning of the job: an aligned hole through the hand and the old tip of the drumstick. A fitting piece of new sandstone with a hole, in between the old parts. Next is adding the top piece and then shaping the drumstick

Connecting all the parts

Because it is a stone drumstick, it was obviously not too thin. I could drill a long hole through the hand and make a hollow drum stick in two parts. Once the pieces, with a lot of finicky matching, finally fitted on top and in between, I could start making them slimmer and exactly to shape. And to fix them in place, I connected the five parts with a long pin and epoxy adhesive. Add a little bit of mortar and it's done.

Flying buttresses of St. John's Cathedral in Den Bosch

A great view of the flying buttresses on the north side

Carnival, above and below

And only then I had the time to look around me. I had been so engrossed in the work that I had forgotten to take some photos of my work, but now I could clearly see that this was a very good spot. Downstairs, the Carnival was starting up, on Friday, already. But even here on top a party was going on, what a view! All kinds of different flying buttress figurines of high quality.

Jerome Bosch connection

Hieronymus Bosch Fat man on Water BarrelThere are speculations that the flying buttress figurines may have a connection with Jerome Bosch. Hieronymus Bosch, the famous 15th-century painter from Den Bosch, was, just as the architect of St. John's Cathedral, Alaert Duhameel, a member of the Illustrious Brotherhood of Our Blessed Lady. Whether it is true that the themes of the original sculptures indeed were partly raised by Jerome Bosch or that he even made drawings for them, we'll never know. But the atmosphere is remarkably similar. It's nice to muse about it anyway. In any case, it's a special place for Den Bosch. That's why the flying buttresses, in the Bosch-year of 2016 were the centre piece of the well-visited ‘The Wondrous Climb‘ along the sculptures of St. John's Cathedral.


The job was done, I loaded the stuff into my van, consulted a bit with the foreman and drove home. I had only forgotten 1 small detail. Taking a picture of the final result! is the blog of Koen van Velzen, sculptor in stone and bronze. Look up my website as well:

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