Grote Kerk


The historical Grote Kerk or Saint Nicholas church of Monnickendam has numerous highlights. Here is a summary of the most interesting ones.


On the left hand side near the eastern entrance to the church is a beautifully designed timeline placing the building of the church in context by showing international events throughout the years.



The three aisles of the Grote Kerk each have an oak barrel vaulted ceiling. There are a total of 38 rosettes. 33 of them have a flower pattern, three the St Andrew's cross, one depicts the apostle Andrew and one depicts Saint Nicholas. It was as late as 1639 before these 'papist' decorations were painted over to remove them from the view of the Protestant churchgoers. During the major restoration, the rosettes fortunately returned to view. In early days the vaults were painted white. 

There are 12 single and double brass chandeliers in the church. The first date back to as early as 1612, when of course they held candles. In 1857 gas lighting was placed in the church and the chandeliers became gas fired. In 1929, the gas light was replaced by electricity and the chandeliers were given back their candles.



We can assume that from as early as 1412 people were buried in the Grote Kerk. The Grote Kerk was the general burial ground for all religions, except the Jewish community. The last person to be buried there was Neeltje Dirks Hossemus on 30 December 1830. Although, there are a number of different opinions on the subject, we assume that in the intervening period of more than 400 years around 30,000 people were buried in the church. On average 150 people died each year in Monnickendam. Half of whom could be buried in the church, while the remaining 75 were buried in the graveyard behind the church without headstones. These burials naturally resulted in a huge variety of grave stones, the most ornate of which are located of course in the choir. In the Roman Catholic period, this part of the church was the closest to the altar and thus to God. Church burials have also given us the expression 'stinking rich’.

Since the major restoration of the church in the years 1959-1969, the church has contained 1299 reconstructed graves.

We come across grave stones with dates, house marks or trademarks, coats of arms, texts and tools. A house mark can be viewed as a family emblem that passed from father to son.



One very special stone is the one with the letters ‘DGZHIGEWEEST-DIBSWDDLEEST’, which stands for 'die gij zijt heb ik geweest, die ik ben sal worden die dit leest'. (I have been as you are now, and you who read this will become as I am now). The stone is located behind the mayor's pew, in the north aisle.

Nearly all the coats of arms on the gravestones were destroyed in the time of Napoleon (Liberty, Equality and Fraternity).

Famous Monnickendam sea heroes buried in the church include:

Cornelis Dirckszoon, mayor of Monnickendam and commander of the North Holland fleet during the Battle on the Zuiderzee in 1573, during which he beat the Spanish with his 'beggars' fleet. His gravestone is located near the western gate.

Jan Mauw, captain served on one of the ships of Michiel de Ruyter and died in 1672 during the Third Anglo-Dutch War at the Battle of Solebay. His grave lies in front of the pulpit.

Hermanus Reijntjes, vice-admiral, who died in 1797 during the Battle of Camperdown between the Batavia and Dutch fleets. His grave is in the choir.

Wendelmoet Claesdochter

There is a commemorative plaque and a painting of Wendelmoet Claesdochter ­on the wall of the north aisle. She was the first female martyr to die for the Protestant faith in the northern Netherlands. According to Jan Mens, the author of the book about her life De Witte Vrouw (the white lady) she was the daughter of a fisherman and was born in Monnickendam on 1 May 1490. As a result of all the trading activity on the Zuiderzee, ­the people of Monnickendam became rapidly acquainted with the new teachings of Luther and Zwingli.




The latter condemned the sacraments and his followers were known as 'sacramentists'. Wendelmoet felt drawn to this sect and was outspoken in her support. She was arrested in the spring of 1527, first spent several months in prison in Monnickendam and was then transferred to the Gevangenpoort prison in the Hague and then to the castle in Woerden, where she was to remain for 157 days 'to come to her senses'. On 18 November, her trial began in the Hague, during which she refused to relinquish her beliefs. Two days later she was condemned to be burnt at the stake, a verdict that was carried out on the same day.


Jan Nieuwenhuijzen epitaph

The monument to Jan Nieuwenhuijzen, a clergyman for Monnickendam's Baptist community, is on the west wall of the north aisle. It was designed by Jacques Kuijper and made by Charles Sigault. Jan Nieuwenhuijzen was the initiator of the 'Maatschappij tot Nut van 't Algemeen', an important social institution at the time, which was established by his son Martinus on 16 November 1784 in Edam. We still recognize it today in the prefix 'Nuts' in the name of a savings bank, infant school and library. Jan Nieuwenhuijzen was clergyman in Monnickendam from 12 May 1771 until his death 25 February 1806.





There are six gentlemen’s pews around the pillars. The mayor's pew, the one with the roof, was the first gentleman's pew, dating from 1618. In 1634 this was followed by the pews of the vroedschap (city council), the schout (local officials) and the schepenen (aldermen). Next to the choir screen is a covered churchwarden's pew, also known as the oliebollenkraam (doughnut stall). We are lucky that the gentlemen's pews are still there. Under the guise of 'égalite'(equality) on 10 June 1795, the French government decided that the Eergestoeltens  (the seats for the honourable) should be destroyed. Monnickendam protested however on a number of occasions and nothing further was done. The gentlemen's pews were removed from many other churches.



De current pulpit is probably the third pulpit to have been used in the Grote Kerk. In 1826 a new pulpit was built to replace the first one that probably dated back to pre-reformation times. In 1909 the Korthals Altes family from Heemstede offered the church council the current pulpit. It was built in 1695 and came from a church in Winschoten.





The font is made from a single piece of sandstone and is 96 cm high and has a diameter of 99 cm. The bowl is octagonal and decorated with diamond tracery and with hearts and lilies. On two sides of the four-sided pedestal there are a man and a woman's head and on the other two roses are displayed. The font probably dates back to the 13th century and would have probably been used in Monnickendam’s first church. In the 19th century the Rijksmuseum unsuccessfully tried to acquire the font on a number of occasions. The font stood in the baptistery of the church up to 1644, then under the tower, from 1866 in the choir, later in the north-west corner of the church and since 1969 in the place it is now. The font was also used for many years for the preparation of lime mortar and a place to keep the coals for the foot warmers used during the church services. The font is now once again used for what it was originally intended - baptisms.




Choir and choir partition

The choir dates back to the second building phase of the Grote Kerk in 1450, as does the partition built around it. The choir was an area separated from the rest of the church by the choir screen to which only the priests and altar servers had access. The space surrounding the choir was sometimes used to hold processions. The altar stood where the chest organ now stands. After 1572 the choir was used as a representative space for the town council. People had been buried in the choir from the earliest days, because in 1611 the floor was raised.


An important annual event in the choir was the election of the mayor. A city had four mayors. Every year, three new mayors were chosen and one of the four mayors in office was nominated as mayor president.

Since 1951, communion, in which about 150 members of the community take part, is celebrated in the choir.

 On the panels of the choir partition there are 49 coats of arms, a picture of King David and the prophet Jeremiah. Given the damage, we assume that the last two were in place prior to the reformation. As far as the 49 coats of arms are concerned, we are still in the dark. They may have been added in the years following the reformation as compensation for all the Catholic 'finery' that was removed from the church. Neither do we have an explanation for the five panels on the outside of the partition.


Choir screen

The almost ten metre wide oak choir screen is one of the show pieces of the Grote Kerk. In its initial form, it dates from the fifteenth century. The six head styles with the low-Gothic corbels and canopies were added in around 1530, together with the icons. The banisters, tracery and the panel infill date from the years 1562-1563, based on the dates carved on the banisters. The panels all contain a candelabrum, flanked by stylised dragons. The banisters are richly carved with acanthus leaves, coats of arms, profiles, lion masks, heads of little girls, swans, devils and rosettes. The doors, with their carving rarely seen in the north of the Netherlands, date from 1786.



In the church, griffins are depicted on the small door to the font and on the choir screen. They are also in the Monnickendam coat of arms. A griffin is a mythological beast with an upper body like an eagle, the ears of a horse and the lower body of a lion. It is a symbol for the earthly and the godly; Christ in two forms: as man and as God.


Altar stone

In the south east corner behind the choir still stands the altar stone dating back to Catholic times. After the reformation, in a display of contempt for the Catholic faith this stone was placed in the floor near the entrance of the eastern gate, so that everyone would have to walk over it. Traces of this are still visible! The hole in the front of the stone is designed to hold a relic.


Swallow-nest organ

The main organ was built between 1778 and 1780. It is the Grote Kerk's fourth organ. The first organ was a small monastery organ, probably already in the 15th century, that hung next to the sacristy. It was removed in 1653. The second organ was the first large organ next to the tower and was built in 1530. In the years 1639-1640 that organ was thoroughly overhauled and the fourth organ is the one we still have today. The floor plan from 1530 was used but the organ builders Gerstenhauer and Richter made the organ twice as big. It is now a mixture of late Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque styles. The two-keyboard organ has 36 registers and 1914 pipes, varying in length from 5 cm to more than five metres. A small number of the pipes came from the organ dating from 1530. The organist sits behind the decorated open lower part of the organ casing, the Gothic part from 1530. Because of its location resting against the wall of the tower, it is sometimes known as a 'swallow-nest organ'




After the reformation the organ was not used during the services, it was regarded as an instrument of the Roman Catholic mass. In 1659 the mayors decided to reintroduce organ accompaniment to the singing during the service. In Amsterdam this was only reintroduced in 1680. The organ has been restored and repaired on a number of occasions. The penultimate restoration followed the church restoration in the years 1959-1969. Following the demolition work inside the church in 2007, it became apparent that a thorough overhaul of the organ would also be necessary. The company Reil carried out the restoration work between 2008 and 2011. The instrument was restored to perfect condition ready for the celebrations that were held to mark the completion of the restoration work. Wim Dijkstra is currently the Grote Kerk's organist; he took over from Piet Wiersma who died in 2003.


Chest organ

Since 2000 a chest organ stands where the altar used to be. It was built in around 1828 by James Bruce. Its owners, Mr and Mrs Verloop, restored it to its current state.


Stained-glass windows

The church is particularly light; this is because the windows are made of clear glass. This was initially in order to save money. If in the event of a fire, expensive leadlight windows had to be replaced, it was usual to seek sponsors such as gilds, nearby towns or businessmen. Those sponsors wanted their names and heroic actions to be shown in the stained-glass windows. There has never been a fire in the Grote Kerk in Monnickendam, which is why the windows here are still made of clear glass. The exceptions are the two stained-glass windows in the north aisle of the Grote Kerk that date from the 20th/21st  centuries. In 1947 a memorial window was added to commemorate the Second World War.




 In 1962, builder Johannes Cornelis Vlak died during the major restoration. His son had a commemorative window made in 2005.


Panel showing list of clergymen

The panel showing the list of clergymen hangs on the west wall of the south aisle and gives the names of all the clergymen since the reformation. It was made in 1853. The previous one dates back to 1810 and hangs in the consistory. This list includes the clergymen up to and including Jan van der Ven (1851-1852). When in 1853 the names of the previous clergymen were transferred to the current panel, a number of small written errors occurred. It is doubtful whether Laurens Janssoon really was the first clergyman of the Grote Kerk. Four historical sources indicate that Lambert Gerbrantz. was the first. Those worthy of note and known throughout the country were Samuël Bartholdi (1599-1640), the building now known as Waterlandhuis was built for him, and Petrus Nahuys (1722-1742), a descendant of a famous Monnickendam family.


Panel with the text of the Creed

This was painted in 1985.


Our Father panel

This was embroidered in 1995.


Mourning panel of Petronella Nahuys

The only mourning panel (funerary hatchment) in the Grote Kerk. The panel was made in Louis XV style. Petronella was the granddaughter of Petrus Nahuys, clergyman in Monnickendam from 1722 to 1742.






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