Thursday, April 25, 2013

Pillars, Pilgrims, and the Pieterskerk

Climbing steadily higher on the ladder of places to go and things to see in The Netherlands, one of my all time personal favorite places is next on the list. Coming in at number four (which probably should have been two or at least three) is the fabulous Pieterskerk in Leiden.

This is one of the oldest and most important churches in all of Europe, and its origins date back to the Middle Ages -- 1211 to be exact! In the centuries following, it went through various stages of building and tearing down, but the current church as it now stands is basically the same as it was back in the sixteenth and seventeenth century. This was about the time when a small group of English separatists who fled Britain during the reign of James Charles settled in Leiden and would later set sail for the New World to become known as the Pilgrims and some of the first settlers in America!

Many of the Pilgrims moved with their families to Holland to escape religious persecution and they set up textile shops in and around the Pieterskerk where they gathered to worship around 1611. Here they remained for almost a decade, but then decided to leave for the New World when their children started to take on the "bad habits," "depraved language" and "faults" of their local Dutch friends. A small group of these Pilgrims departed from Delfshaven and set out for England on the Speedwell where they were to rendezvous with another ship filled with English separatists called the Mayflower. Both ships left England on August 5, 1620, but when the Speedwell began to take on water, both ships returned to Plymouth and all the Pilgrims were loaded into one boat -- the Mayflower. Then all 103 people aboard set sail for the colonies, and the rest they say--is history.

Each year on Thanksgiving, Americans and Dutch friends alike come together to celebrate the historic Pilgrims' voyage by gathering in the most beautifully restored place where it all began, the Pieterskerk in Leiden. I have had the privilege of attending the Thanksgiving Day service in this church not once but three times--the church is less than five miles from my house. Upon researching my own family history years ago, I was able to trace my lineage all the way back to one of the original members of the Mayflower Compact and I am very proud of this fact.

But sometimes I wonder how my ancestor would feel knowing that one of his descendants had returned to the very same culture of "bad habits," "depraved language" and "faults" that had forced him to leave The Netherlands all those many years ago!

For more information on the Pieterskerk Leiden visit the official web site!