Religion & Science
St Peter’s Church in Leiden
St Peter’s Church — Pieterskerk in Dutch — is the oldest church in Leiden. The choir was built between 1390 & 1415, the nave during the fifteen years that followed. The church was further expanded between 1465 & 1565, when transepts & double aisles were added. (The last building phase took longer than expected because of the collapse of the tower in 1512.) After all these years of construction, the congregation had just one year to enjoy the completed church before the Iconoclastic Fury took place in 1566, when Lucas van Leyden’s splendid altarpiece The Last Judgement, now at Museum De Lakenhal, had to be removed to safeguard it from angry mobs of Protestants. Things got worse in 1572, when St Peter’s became a reformed church & all things worth looking at disappeared, except for the stained-glass windows, which were subsequently blown out in 1807 when a ship laden with gunpowder exploded nearby.
Protestantism in Leiden didn’t stick, and in AD 1971 St Peter’s was deconsecrated. The church continues to serve Leiden University as its auditorium maximum for large gatherings, and as mausoleum academicum for its most illustrious 17th- & 18th-century brainiacs, such as Carolus Clusius, Joseph Scaliger, and Herman Boerhaave. Among the other notable dead are Pilgrim Father John Robinson, Johan van Kerckhoven, son of Polyander the Divine, best known for the posh tomb that sculptor Rombout Verhulst made for him, and painter Jan Steen. Every year on 3 October, the townspeople of Leiden flock to St Peter’s to offer thanks to God for the relief of their city in 1574, guzzling herring, white bread & large quantities of beer afterwards. The concerts that take place throughout the year are surprisingly less popular, but the Van Hagerbeer organ (1643) & the Thomas Hill organ (1883) are well worth listening to.pieterskerk.com