Leiden, Netherlands


The late-Gothic Pieterskerk is the last of a long line of churches on this site in central Leiden. In the early 12th century, a Romanesque chapel for the Counts of Holland was built at the location. As Leiden grew in prominence, perched at the confluence of the Oude Rijn and the Nieuwe Rijn Rivers, Pieterskerk expanded accordingly and was converted into a parish church in 1268. Only 30 years later, the chapel was replaced by a much larger structure topped by a 110-meter-high bell tower called the “King of the Sea.” The construction of the current Pieterskerk began in 1390 and was not completed for 180 years. The current church, was designed by Rutger van Keulen, and is laid out in a Latin cross plan. It is perhaps most famous now for its association with the Pilgrim Fathers, who lived in Leiden before departing for the New World. Preacher John Robinson (1575-1625) is buried in the church. In 1807, a ship filled with gunpowder exploded on the water nearby, shattering the windows of the church, which were subsequently reconstructed. The church was deconsecrated in 1971, and since 1975 has been used as an events venue, though it is also open to the public. Though Pieterskerk is one of Leiden’s most treasured monuments, it proved difficult to conserve because of its multiple phases of construction and was in much need of work at the end of the 20th century.

How We Helped

In 1990, the architectural firm Veldman and Rietbroek began to advocate for the complete restoration of Pieterskerk, which was deteriorating at a rapid pace. Wooden sections of the church were infested and were being damaged severely by the death watch beetle. The stone too was in poor condition, plagued by the high salt content in the seaside air. The Leiden City Council ordered Veldman and Rietbroek to draw up a comprehensive plan for the repair, conservation, and management of the site. In 2001, the Ministry of Culture of the Netherlands granted Pieterskerk a prestigious subsidy called the Kanjerregeling to support the restoration. The project involved intensive work in all areas of the church. World Monuments Fund secured a grant that was used to replace the enormous south window and treat its stained glass. The Pieterskerk Foundation and Building Committee, The Netherlands Department of Conservation, and the Netherlands Institute for Cultural Heritage also contributed to this extensive and successful project.

Why It Matters

The Pieterskirk’s many stages of development are a testament to the rising importance of the Leiden through the later Middle Ages and beyond. The Pilgrims lived in Leiden for 11 years before traveling across the Atlantic to the New World; John Robinson (1575-1625), the pastor who organized the Mayflower voyage, lies buried in Pieterskerk. The church’s current form is the product of many phases, additions, and changes that document the evolution of religion and architecture in the city.

Last updated: February 2019.

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