For a long time, people in the Netherlands were buried in and around the churches. This also applies to the Grote Kerk in Dordrecht. When at the end of the 13th a new harbour was dug on the south side, the cemetery around the Grote Kerk was reduced in size. At the beginning of the 18th century, the cemetery was decommissioned.
Already in the 14th century there were people buried in the church building. The burial rights could be purchased for a certain period of time. After that time, the next of kin could dispose of the grave for the same period against a fee. If the next of kin were to default, the grave within the church would expire and could be resold.
As a consequence, the pavement floor in the church is covered by a large number of gravestones. Some graves were covered with a copper plate at the time. The copper plates were mostly melted down in wartime.
The only preserved copper plate is located in the high choir.
The tombstones have a name, sometimes a biography, sometimes a private label or guild sign.
The ideology of the French Revolution of 1789 expanded beyond France. Revolutionary French armies, supplemented by patriots, invaded the Netherlands.
After the victory of the French, the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands was renamed into the Batavian Republic. Their motto was:
Freedom, Equality and Fraternity. Dislike of the Oranges, the aristocracy was expressed in the decree that coats of arms and family coats of arms should be removed. Equality, not distinction, had to prevail.
The Church masters of the Grote Kerk complied with this ordinance at the beginning of June 1795. They inform the grave owners and a 4 month notice to remove the gravestones with family coats of arms on them and to replace them with smooth gravestones or to cut down the existing coats of arms. Owners were also given time to remove signs of mourning with family coats of arms.
The progress of the requested work was closely followed by the Patriots. In case of default, owners were approached again.
Ban on burials in the church
As of 1829, burials in the church was forbidden. Only a few families have fulfilled the obligations to pay for the grave. Most graves, nowadays, are owned by the church.
The last burial in the Grote Kerk took place on 27 June 1829. Johanna Lugten was buried in a grave in the north aisle (grave F82).
The city’s public cemetery (now the Essenhof) was officially inaugurated on 1 July 1829.
Monuments in the Church
A number of memorials have been placed in the church. This includes a memorial for the Dordrecht painter Johannes Christiaan Schotel. He was best known for his maritime subjects. The memorial was donated by admirers. Four years after his death, the memorial was placed in the Grote Kerk.
There is also a memorial for Pompejus de Roovere, Lord of Hardinxveld. This monument is placed against the west wall of the southern aisle of the church. De Roovere, died in 1638 and is buried in the family grave in the Grote Kerk. The epitaph was initially placed in the church of Hardinxveld. In the first half of the 20th century this was transferred to the Grote Kerk.
During the last major restoration, all gravestones were lifted. Many were found to be loose. Many cellar walls turned out to be in poor condition. The walls were repaired and provided with concrete beams to prevent the cellars from collapsing.