Blog post

Titus Brandsma, Dutch Catholic martyr

Exploring the archive of an influential priest and professor

black and white photograph of Titus Brandsma
Archives Portal Europe (opens in new window)

Titus Brandsma was a very important figure in Dutch history: a Carmelite friar, priest, publicist, and professor.

Now, thanks to a grant from Archives Portal Europe and Europeana, items from his family archive are available to view on Europeana as well as having a full archival catalogue available to search on Archives Portal Europe.

The archive contains 2.5 metres of letters and postcards from Brandsma to his family, as well as photos, poetry, publications and other valuable documents. The archive was originally gifted to the Stichting Archief- en Documentatiecentrum voor R.K. Friesland by descendants of Brandsma's sister Gatske de Boer-Brandsma, and grew over time.

Titus Brandsma was born Anno Sjoerd Brandsma in a hamlet called Ugoklooster in the Friesland province of the Netherlands on 23 February 1881. His parents were dairy farmers, and devout, committed Catholics. Most of Brandsma's siblings entered religious orders in their adulthood.

black and white photograph portrait of Titus Brandsma

In 1898, Brandsma entered the Carmelite monastery, taking religious vows a year later along with the religious name Titus, in honour of his father. He was ordained a priest in 1903. He devoted the next decades to studying, writing and teaching.

black and white photograph of two priests

Brandsma was one of the founders of the Catholic University of Nijmegen (now Radboud University). From 1923 until his death, he was the Professor in Philosophy & History of Piety there, as well as being the university's rector in the early 1930s.

As advisor to the Nederlandsche Rooms-Katholieke Journalistenvereeniging (Dutch Roman-Catholic Journalists Association), Brandsma played a role in the modernisation of Catholic newspaper press, and improving the working conditions of Catholic journalists. He also championed Frisian causes, such as the emancipation of Frisian Catholics and conserving Frisian heritage.

Furthermore, he was an important thinker in Carmelite mysticism, and his collection of copies of medieval mystical manuscripts led to the foundation of the Titus Brandsma Institute.

black and white photograph on a postcard showing a religious procession of priests

Through the early 20th century, he travelled widely - both in the Netherlands and abroad - sending letters and postcards to his family, many of which are preserved in the archive. Among other destinations, postcards from Ireland, Italy, Switzerland and the USA feature.

front view of a postcard with landscape image of town of Kinsale
back of a postcard with handwriting
front of postcard with image of skyscrapers
back view of a postcard with handwriting

In 1939, Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands knighted Brandsma in the Orde van de Nederlandse Leeuw (Order of the Dutch Lion) for his altruistic achievements.

Before and during World War II, Brandsma was an influential critic of National Socialism and racism. He resisted the expulsion of Jewish students from Catholic schools. In 1942, the Nazi-regime arrested him for his criticisms and he was transported to the Dachau concentration camp, where he died from a lethal injection following a period of abuse and sickness, on 26 July 1942.

Pope John Paul II beatified Brandsma in 1985, as a martyr of the faith. His feast day is observed within the Carmelite Order on 27 July. In 2005, people living in Nijmegen chose Brandsma as the greatest citizen to have lived in the city.

colour photograph of a sculpture of Titus Brandsma

The archive now made available both on Europeana and Archives Portal Europe shows a unique private side to the public figure Brandsma, and in his letters and postcards, we see a committed family member. This archive - which was previously only visible to researchers visiting the archive in person - can now be explored, studied and enjoyed digitally.

You can also read a full report by Stichting Archief- en Documentatiecentrum voor R.K. Friesland about their digitisation of the Titus Brandsma archive.