D49, the Popeless Church, English

D49. Photo by Hans Meijer

In the 16th century this hunebed was used as a pulpit where members of the reformed church, led by hedge-priest Menso Alting, held secret services and denounced the authority of the pope. Hence the unusual name of the Papeloze Kerk or “popeless church”. Now this is the jewel in the crown among all the remaining hunebeds. In 1959 it was almost completely restored by Prof. Van Giffen to its original state, apart from one half of the covering mound. Since then it has been an educational and a tourist attraction.

His inventory in 1918 states that he found it in a “pitiful state”. Of the six lintels only two remained and these had slipped into the chamber below. Two of the twelve uprights were missing, as were the five portal stones and almost all of the ring stones. The reconstruction was only made possible by replacing the missing stones with others brought from elsewhere in Drenthe. In particular the all but ruined hunebed D33 in Exloo was sacrificed to restore D49. Although most right-minded archaeologists would disagree with such an action, Van Giffen allowed himself to be persuaded by the surroundings and the educational value of the site. The openings between the top, side and keystones were filled in with plugstones. The entrance gateway, consisting of four side-stones and one lintel were reconstructed, the floor of the chamber was paved with cobblestones and levelled with granite grit. Finally, half of the hunebed was covered with an earthen mound, comprising sand and turfs. At the foot of the mound the kidney-shaped garland of 28 standing ringstones was restored to its rightful place.

D49. Photo by Davado
Inside D49. Photo by Davado

Route description

The hunebed stands beside the road from Schoonoord to Noord-Sleen. There is a parking area in front of the Rijmaaran Recreation Centre. The hunebed can be reached on foot along a pretty woodland path beside the Rijmaaran Recreation Centre. A bronze portrait built into a large stone honours Van Giffen, often known as the “father” of the hunebeds.

Map of the D49 Popeless Church. By Hans Meijer

Hans Meijer has made a photographic copy of the reconstruction. This shows how a medium-sized hunebed might have looked when completed. The tallest lintels stick out above the covering mound. The entrance was probably closed by a wooden door.

Composite photo of D49 made by Hans Meijer

Visit of Professor Van Giffen in 1918

“The hunebed is in a very sorry state; on closer view the original condition may be recognised” stated Van Giffen in 1918. The hunebed lay in a hollow in the middle of the mound which was itself mostly intact. But even here was visible the desolate expanse of endless heathland in which the hunebed stood. If we consider the number of stones which were here then, compared to the number today, we can see how many stones Van Giffen had to bring in to make the reconstruction possible. Lintels: then 2, now 6. Keystones: complete. Sidestones: then 10, now 12. Portal stones: then 0, now 5. Ringstones: now 28, then (perhaps) 8 . So 31 stones in total: 4 lintels, 2 keystones, 5 portal stones and 20 ringstones. Not to mention a whole pile of plugstones and pebbles, doorsteps and stones for the floor. What a job! But you can see the result! Since 1871 the hunebed has been owned by the Province.
(Source: Atlas of “De Hunebedden in Nederland”, by Dr.A.E.van Giffen, Utrecht 1925-1927 fig. D49)

(Source: Atlas of “De Hunebedden in Nederland”, by Dr.A.E.van Giffen, Utrecht 1925-1927 fig. D49)

The ‘sacrificed’ hunebed D33. The stones from this hunebed were reused in the reconstruction of D49, the Popeless Church.

D33 – Valtherveld. How Van Giffen found this totally destroyed hunebed in 1918. Only nine stones to show how the original structure had looked. 40 years later he used the stones for the reconstruction of the Popeless Church (D49).
Portrait of Van Giffen on a boulder near D49

For more information about this and other hunebeds in Drenthe see www.hunebedden.nl and www.hunebeddeninfo.nl

Text                      Hans Meijer

Translation           Alun Harvey

Photography        Hans Meijer and Davado

D49 on old postcards

D49 on old postcardt
D49 on old postcard
D49 During the reconstruction
D49 on old postcard


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