A Frisian Village at Dusk: Tytsjerk or Thiatzercke

Written by Dyami Millarson

A photo I took on my way to Tytsjerk.

My father and I decided to go for a bicycle ride yesterday evening. I brought along my phone for taking pictures of the whole experience, as I knew there would be interests moments and scenes to capture along the way. It was my express wish to reach the destination of Tytsjerk before returning back home.

After I wrote about the antiquarian in Feanwâlden (see here and here) this year, I found that the the concept of visiting and writing about a specific Shire Frisian village is worth repeating and so I decided to turn it into a series, which will give people an idea about life in Frisia as they will learn linguistic, cultural and folkloric facts.

In my series on Shire Frisian villages, I would like to focus on sharing local knowledge that I acquired through various means such as exploring the place and absorbing all its details, reading old books, talking with people, and so on. I will not write about any villages I have not visited myself, and I will of course always use only photos I took and therefore own myself, because I favour originality and authenticity above all; I only wish to share ideas and experiences that are both original and authentic.

The aims of my series on Shire Frisian villages are to narrate about the history and geography of these places, highlight landmarks, give an impression of the people and tell their stories, analyse the villages through a linguistic and cultural lens, touch on the etymology of the placenames, and last but not least, share my personal photos of the villages as well as share personal experiences I had in these locations.

Let us enter the village of Tytsjerk now!

Often have I visited Tytsjerk since it is lies along a beautiful road from and to Leeuwarden. The area to the East of Leeuwarden, where Tytsjerk happens to be located, has always been one of my favourites areas to walk or ride the bicycle. Tytsjerk is the official Shire Frisian name of the village, and Tietjerk is the Dutch name. It is part of the old municipality of Tytsjerkeradeel.

The 27th volume of Vaderlandsch woordenboek (Dictionary of the Fatherland) written by Jacobus Kok and published in MDCCXCII (1792) says on page 237 that Tytsjerk is a small Frisian village consisting of few houses and is located at a road that runs from Leeuwarden to Groningen.

This is a stall in Tytsjerk. The shape of this stall reminds me of the houses of 土地公 (Ground God) I saw in Hong Kong and Taiwan 5 years ago. It is very typical for villages outside Leeuwarden to have stalls like this. Such a stall was featured as well in my recent Southern Goesharde Frisian article on buying eggs from a local farmer. If you want any of the items, you just put some money in a cashbox. It is a trust-based system because Frisians place high value on conscientiousness since Roman times. I have seen comparable practices in New Zealand and Southern Italy as well, where locals place stalls by the road or in front of their houses to sell local products.

Owing to its location at a road leading to and from Leeuwarden, Tytsjerk has historically been a hub for travellers. Since I have often travelled through Tytsjerk due its location at this road, my experience with Tytsjerk in modern times has been similar to that of travellers in former times; I know it as a stopping place during my cycling journeys or long strolls outside Leeuwarden.

The second volume of Beschryving der Vereenigde Nederlanden (Description of the United Netherlands) written by W. A. Bachiene and published in MDCCLXXV (1775) says on page 1307 that Tytsjerk is a so-called pleisterplaats (resting and stopping place) for post carriages and other carriages travelling between Leeuwarden and Groningen.

Tytsjerk has a history stretching back centuries. Etymologically speaking, the placename is a compound which consists of two elements, and it is therefore to be analysed as Ty-tsjerk. 

Johan Winkler says on pages 17-18 of the 24th volume of the annual magazine Rond den heerd (Around the Hearth) published for the year 1888-1889 that Tytsjerk consists of tsjerke, the Shire Frisian word for church, and Tiete, a Frisian male personal name, and he brings the latter in connection with Thiuda or Thiudo, which produced many Germanic names for both males and females such as Theodoric, Thiudobold, Theodbald, Thiudburg, Thiudhelm, Theodolinda, all of which he considers “worthy and beautiful old names” (original Dutch: volle en schoone oude namen).

In translating Winkler's Dutch text, I chose to interpret "vol" as "volwaardig" = "worthy" since "full name" will not be understood in English in the way Winkler intended it, "worthy name" is closer to Winkler's sense. The fullness/completeness of a name is not a concept English speakers think of, but rather they think of the worthiness/honourableness of a name, and so the latter is the best linguistic/cultural match. Translation between languages/cultures is a puzzle! I did not choose to interpret "vol" as "volmaakt" = "perfect" since it does not make much sense here either and it seems not to hsve been what Winkler intended to say. 
A tiny old farmhouse.

There are many villages in the area of Tytsjerk that have the element -tsjerk in their names. The Dutch version of the names preserves the tj-sound, which is a Middle Shire Frisian stage of the contemporary Shire Frisian tsj-sound. In former times, Tytsjerk was also called Tietzerk in Dutch as noted by W. A. Bachiene, which is very interesting due to the tz, which is to be regarded as the Old Shire Frisian stage of the contemporary Shire Frisian tsj-sound.

Thiatzerckera (analyse it as Thia-tzerckera) is the Old Shire Frisian name of Tytsjerk, which is attested in a charter of the late 14th century. What is a charter? In the Old Frisian context, it may be defined as an official document which grants legal authority, rights or privileges to recipients, which are usually specific cities or municipalities (defined as groups of villages).

Thiatzerckera is actually a genitive form signifying of Tytsjerk, and the nominative form should be *Thiatzercke. So if you were somehow transported back in time and got the opportunity to ask in Old Shire Frisian what the therp (village) was called, the locals would answer you thus: Thiatzercke!

It should be noted that Thiatzerckera is mentioned in the charter in close connection with the genitive form Lyouwerdera, of which the nominative form *Lyouwerd is the Old Shire Frisian equivalent of the Modern Shire Frisian Ljouwert, which is called Leeuwarden in Dutch and which is the old city where I live.



    • You are welcome. There will be a part 2 because I went back to the village this evening to interview a local and take pictures of a few landmarks.


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