As a child, my father (1948) jumped on his bike to make the 20 km ride to Helenaveen. To do what? To see Protestants! Living in the predominantly Roman Catholic south they only knew Protestants from stories and he was curious to see some of these exotic creatures with his own eyes. For me the area of the Peel always fired my imagination, the area seemed to be different with some quite eccentric local personalities like Grard Sientje and Rowwen Heze.
De Peel is a moorland region in the southeast part of the Netherlands. For centuries, peat cutters had been digging for turf for local use, when in the mid 1850’s large areas of the Peel were bought for commercial excavation. The remote area was opened up; a system of canals was created to cover transport and settlements were created to house the workers (coming from other parts of the country). Helenaveen is one of those settlements founded in 1857, named after the wife of the inspector of public works and main investor in the project. Although the dig out of peat continued up till the 1970’s, most inhabitants turned to farming afterwards.
As most parts of the Southern Netherlands the people were predominantly Roman Catholic – so with the foundation of Helenaveen came a Catholic church. But as more workers came from the North in 1868 also a Protestant Church was build. The dead were initially buried in a small central cemetery with a Catholic and Protestant division. In 1889 the municipality granted land for a larger cemetery just outside the village – this piece of land was eventually split in a separate Roman Catholic and Protestant burial site. Today both are situated just outside the village centre at the Aardbeiweg (Strawberry road) and very much stand out in the empty landscape.
There is a (safe ;-)) 100 meter distance between the two cemeteries, and they preserve their own atmosphere in the way the place is set up. The oldest graves at the Catholic cemetery are quite tall, dressed with crosses and crucifixes, where at the Protestant site the headstones are more modest and with Biblical quotes.