Taking a look at Groningen’s “Confession Chair”

Religious Symbols are being displayed in public spaces


 By Masha Tsnompilantze

In the bustling city of Groningen, there’s a quiet street where passers-by see something they don’t see very often in this largely secular country: lots of Christian symbolism, in a restaurant.

The Netherlands is a country where religion is considered a personal matter that should not be propagated in public. Approximately 67.8% of the population in 2015 had no religious affiliation, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) of the Netherlands. That’s why the restaurant De Biechtstoel located on the Damsterdiep street looks odd in this country, where religious symbols are seldom displayed in public places.

The Confession chair, as the word “biechtstoel” is translated, started as a small bistro 14 years ago, when it’s owner Matti Vinkamuller, a collector travelling around the world, decided to enrich the place by statues reflecting angels, holy people and other Christian symbols.

Religious symbols look like a part of a strategic marketing plan to attract people, just like an ordinary product for consumption. Marion, a waitress working there, mentioned that these statues can even be sold. When asked whether this decoration aims to influence public, Marion said: “No, of course not. It’s not about religion. It’s cultural expression”.

People passing by the restaurant were mildly critical of the decorations. A 37 years old teacher living nearby, said: “such sacred beauty does not belong in a place where people do business. Religion is a belief, not a product”.

When asked, if he is losing customers as some people simply don’t agree with the religious belief promoted by his restaurant, Vinkamuller said: “I do believe in freedom of religion, these doors are open for every and each of you willing to try our dishes.” Regarding the presence of religious symbols in a public place itself, he added: “If someone is offended by my collection, there is nothing I can do”.

Either a successful marketing plan or a miracle, this eccentric restaurant was able to survive 15 years, despite the criticism and the non-religious character of Groningen.

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