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The Laurens Church of Rotterdam

This State Reformed Church is the biggest historic building of the famous Dutch harbor city of Rotterdam. The church takes its name from St. Laurentius, arch-deacon in Rome, who died a martyr in 258 because emperor Valerianus hated his Christian teaching. It was built during the years 1449-1525 in Dutch late Gothic style with very wide, lofty aisles and timber barrel-vaults: more related to a hall-church type than a Basilica. You see the first picture of the completed building, from a copper engraving by Joost van Geel in 1665. The water is the Rotte River, where Rotterdam started as a settlement in 1200.

Inside there are decorated capitals, mausolea, memorials, and a copper choir screen. The organ is in fact three organs (main, transept, and choir organ), all three of them built by the Danish Marcussen Company. The base of the main organ consists of one solid piece of Itatian marble.

The second picture shows the Laurens Church from the other side, with its back to the Rotte River, reproduced from a drawing of C. Pronk in 1750. In the meantime a big part of the river had been filled in and the center of the city was full of houses (some of them built against the walls of the church, which made the construction cheap.

The bronze doors of the main entrance were the design of the Italian sculptor Giacomo Manzu, who also designed those for the St. Peter Cathedral in Rome and the Cathedral of Salzburg

In 1572 the Laurens Church became a place for Reformed worship, but the price was high, because the Spanish army led by General Bossu came and murdered half of the population.

In June 1575 the first Reformed Synod of the region was held in Rotterdam. Soon there came problems with Remonstrants who had many followers in the city. This went on till in 1643 a Scottish Reformed Church was founded (Rev. Alexander Petrie). He brought many Reformed books with him, which were translated in Dutch. In the period till 1723 Rev. Thomas Hoog and Rev. Hugh Kennedy came and had a very good influence. In 1797 a Missionary Society was founded (for work in the East Indies). Its activities were well supported by the Reformed people in the city.

On May 14, 1940, the air force of Nazi Germany began a carpet bombing attack which went on as long as The Netherlands refused to surrender. The center of Rotterdam was erased without mercy. The Laurens Church was destroyed except for a few pieces amidst the burning city which became a bare plain. Exactly five years later, Rotterdam would be liberated by the Allied Forces.

In 1947 a beginning was made with the restoration, clearing the rubble away. In 1952 Queen Wilhelmina came to lay the first stone for the new State Reformed Laurens Church, exactly like it had been. Architect J.D. Meischke took care of the rebuilding of the church, and Architect L. Voskuyl the tower. In 1959 the transect of the church could be used again, in 1962 the choir, in 1968, the nave. The finishing touch was in 1973, the new main organ. In 1986 the tower was completed (owned by the city of Rotterdam).

The story of the Laurens Church would not be complete without a picture of the interior, as it was in 1657, from a painting made by Anthonie de Lorme. Straight lines, much light, fresh colors. See how small the people are. The Italian Roman Catholic theologian Guido de Bovio called it once “typical for the Calvinist sect, those bare walls.” But also the grave-tombs in the church of three famous Dutch admirals of the past have been carefully restored, namely of Kortenaer, Van Brakel and Witte de With, who defended The Netherlands against many enemies at sea.

But now, the character of the church has changed. It is ecumenical, no pews left but 200 modern easy chairs covered with red textile, and a corner for smoking and drinking coffee. Several so called Third World shops and offices. There are yet organ concerts and a choir, but also “Laurence deliberations.” There is a strange contemporary baptismal font. It seems that the word Reformed is forgotten.

There is yet an annual commemoration on May 4th, the eve of Liberation Day, remembering the war and occupation victims. There is an annual “Jam Hashoa service” for all churches, with guest participants of the Jewish community; remembering the annihilation of Jews in Europe by Hitler. Each Friday, a Prayer for Peace and Reconciliation is said in the Peace Chapel of the Church.❖