St. Eloyen Gasthuis

Boterstraat 22 - Utrecht - The Netherlands

  Associations of craftsmen and tradesmen, called guilds, were founded as early as in the 11th century in the Netherlands, Northern France and England.
The blacksmith guild of Utrecht included the regular blacksmiths, the gold and silver smiths, the needle makers, the locksmiths, the weapon smiths, etc.

These guilds were formed to provide their members with a decent standard of living by controlling competition, and on the other hand controlling the quality of the products as well. There was a severe training programme and subsequently a controlled carreer programme:
• apprentice
• workman
• master

  In 1165 a canal was digged which connected the city of Utrecht with the river Vecht and so Utrecht became a very important town with a sea harbour (the present Muiden harbour). Imagine, the city of Amsterdam didn’t even exist in those days.
Maybe the most important fact in the guilds history in Utrecht was the so-called battle of the golden spurs in 1302, where the French nobleman and their army were beaten by an army of farmers and tradesmen. After their victory this Belgian army marched through the lowlands to Utrecht.
They forced the bishop to give up all his worldly powers by the so called guild-letter of 1304 and installed a city council consisting of representatives of the guilds.
Click to read the the transcription of the Ghildebrief (1304)
First page of the
Guild letter of Utrecht (May 8th, 1304)
    In those days the city of Utrecht (20.000 inhabitants) was divided into four guild-quarters. The guilds possessed political, juridical and military power. That is why everybody had to participate and all inhabitants were obliged to be a member of one of the 21 guilds.
The administration of the city was thus organised:
Every guild had 2 aldermen. These 42 men nominated 24 persons in the city council.
The council nominated 12 sheriffs for administration of justice. The president of these sheriffs was one of the 2 burgomasters.
The city council itself nominated a second burgomaster. This system lasted till the emperor Charles V took back all power in Utrecht.
In one way the blacksmith’s guild formed an example to the others, especially in the care it lavished upon its members who were old or infirm. A hospital has been established on this very spot in Utrecht in 1440. The blacksmith’s hospital was devoted to their patron Saint Eligius (St. Eloy in dutch).
Detail of a painting of the 19th century
of an unknown painter
Smeetoren (Blacksmith's tower)
with an observatory on top of it
    The very place of this house is also historical. Utrecht, the second oldest town in the Netherlands, was founded in 47 by the Romans, being the most northern fortress of their emperor. This fortress was situated on the spot where we see now the Dom tower and the Dom cathedral. In the neighbourhood, high sands in wet land, were pubs and shops.
In 1798 Napoleon abolished the guilds. The blacksmith's guild however cleverly changed itself into the Blacksmith Trade Organisation (Handelsbedrijg der Smeden) and is in this way the only surviving institution of its kind in the Netherlands.
In 1817 all the guesthouses lost their hospital function, but this house remained and still is a charitable institution which forms an independent existence until today.
The governors of the house, called regenten, adapt to the demands of present times, continue charitable work and take care of funding for maintenance of the building, the art-collection and to be able to complete the archives.
The members, still divided in apprentices, brothers and regents, meet every week on monday to talk, have a drink, play cards and play kolf. In this sense it is a social club.
'May all this serve to the Wellfare and Prosperity of the House of Saint Eligius'