The Grote Kerk is built as a Roman Catholic church. After the reformation, the church passed into protestant hands. Until today, the church is in the hands of the protestants, namely the Netherlands Reformed Church. This Protestant congregation is part of the Protestant Church in the Netherlands.
In the city accounts of the City of Dordrecht it is mentioned that in the spring of 1285, Antony Bek, who was just dedicated to bishop of Durham, dedicated ‘die grote kerke’.
In 1367, Duke Albrecht of Bavaria founded a collegiate clergy and the parish church was elevated to a collegiate church. The bishop of Utrecht approved the elevation.
A collegiate church was a church governed by a Christian executive council. This council, called college, consisted of clergy and was led by a provost or dean. Up until the French era, colleges were often powerful institutions with possessions in the far-surrounding area. Besides their spiritual duties, they provided education at the collegiate school.
More information on the collegiate church
The clergymen attached to the college had separate seats in the sanctuary of the church, the choir stalls. Here the clergy came together eight times a day to pray the tides.
After the church was elevated to a collegiate church, a new church had to be built. When the reconstruction was almost complete, a fire destroyed large parts of the city. This fire also heavily hit the church under construction. After this, the church was rebuilt under the leadership of the Flemish architect Evert Spoorwater.
Symbolism in church architecture
A medieval church is also a stronghold of symbolism. This also applies to the Grote Kerk of Dordrecht.
More information on the symbolism in church architecture
Here are a few examples of the mentioned symbolism.
- The original main entrance of the church, the place where the tower is located, is located in the West and the sanctuary is directed to the east (the place of light).
- The plan of the church has a cross form, the image of the crucifixion of Christ.
- The church has 33 columns, the age of Christ when he was crucified.
Function during the Middle Ages
The Grote Kerk was intensively used during the Middle Ages. In the sanctuary, the tides were prayed eight times a day by the clergy. For the parishioners, several masses were celebrated.
More information on the function of the church during the Middle Ages
In the Middle Ages, scenes from the Bible were visualized. An opening in the vault was located in front of the sanctuary. This opening was used as a symbolic heaven gate. On Ascension Day an image of the risen Christ was hoisted up and disappeared through the opening. During Pentecost, a statue of a dove was dropped from this heavenly gate, symbol of the descent of the Holy Spirit.
Miracle of the Holy Wood
Dordrecht became a pilgrimage site after the destroying city fire.
A young man born in Dordrecht, Claes Scoutet, got a piece of wood from the cross of Christ during one of his trips to the Middle East, around 1400. Later, he donated this later to the Grote Kerk, provided that the college would pray forever for him and his family.
More information on the Miracle of the Holy Wood
The bishop of Utrecht, Zweder van Culemborg, conducted a testing in the first half of the 15th</ sup> century.
He laid the wood in the fire for a long time. The wood did not burn, this miracle spread quickly.
In the great city fire of 1457, the church burned to the utmost extent. The altar, where the wood was kept, was heavily battered but the Wood also withstood this.
This was seen as proof that the wood was really part of the holy cross. Therefore, Dordrecht became a large and important pilgrimage place, where thousands of people visited the procession annually on the first Sunday of July.
During the Reformation, the altar of the Holy Wood was destroyed, but the Holy Wood was taken away by a clergyman.
In 1952 the Wood was found in a monastery archive in the Flemish Hekelgem.
The Wood was returned to the Roman Catholic community in Dordrecht. At this moment, it is kept in the Antonius church.
The iconoclasm, an orgy of violence in 1566 against various objects and symbols, is generally seen as the beginning of the 80-year war, largely passed Dordrecht.
More information on the reformation
In 1572 Dordrecht sided with the cities that swore allegiance to Prince William of Orange. The followers of the prince made a strong case for a form of Calvinism characterized by an alternative church organization and a different organization of the regions.
They formed a new Dutch state, which from 1588 became the Republic of the United Provinces. Within this new state Roman Catholicism was officially forbidden and the Reformed (Calvinistically inspired) church enjoyed the exclusive right. This Calvinist church was allowed to use existing church buildings, such as the Grote Kerk. The Catholic symbols, such as altars and statues, disappeared from the church. The formerly Catholic population gradually moved to the new church. Around 1650, about 80% of the citizens of Dordrecht had been Reformed.