On our trip to Europe this spring, we spent a few days in Haarlem, Holland. We have always enjoyed Amsterdam, but decided that it was time to mix it up a bit! Haarlem is a small city right outside of Amsterdam and can easily be reached by bus from the airport. There are museums and churches to explore, canals to wander along, parks to enjoy and the same friendly people as in the big city nearby. The only things missing were the traffic and crowds. And that’s fine with me.
Meandering through the narrow streets of Haarlem eventually led us to the Central Market Square. The plaza is framed by beautiful old buildings, sidewalk cafes and restaurants. One end of the town square is home to city hall, the other is home to the incredible Grote Kerk of St. Bavo.
If you look up toward the sky right on the Central Market Square in Haarlem, you’ll see the tall church tower of the Grote Kerk (Big Church) reaching up into the clouds. Although I don’t subscribe to any particular religion personally, visiting old churches and cathedrals while traveling, is something I enjoy tremendously!
Anyway, of all the churches I’ve seen over the years, the Grote Kerk in Haarlem is the most interesting and intriguing one ever! Come along, and I’ll take you on a tour!
This gothic church originally dates back to around the 13th century. and officially became a cathedral during the mid 1500s. The church organ was built between 1735 and 1738 by Christiaan Müller. At the time it was the largest organ in the world. It is said that in 1766, a then ten year old Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart visited the city with his father and played this very organ! Other famous composers, like Mendelsohn and Händel did so as well.
After walking around and taking it all in, I sat down and listened to the organ music for a while. This really gave me goosebumps, especially thinking about how far back this church building and this beautiful organ date. Sure made me feel minuscule!
There was something else I had never encountered before in a church! The floor of the Bavo Church is made up entirely of grave stones. Back then, only the rich could afford buying a “gravesite” inside the church. This was allowed until around the 1830s. Stories tell that despite wealth and riches, the buried corpses under the stone floors smelled of decay just like the rest of the people, and left an unpleasant stench in the building. Perhaps that’s where the phrase “the stinking rich” originated from.
As I was sitting there, my husband came over and told me that he had seen a little mouse crawl out from between some gravestones and scamper off! I’m not fond of rodents, and was glad to have missed that one!
I hope that you enjoyed this tour of the Grote Kerk as much as I did!