Rotterdam’s Laurenskerk

The walk from Rotterdam Central Station to the Laurenskerk was well sign-posted. Round the town-hall, past Rotterdam’s Dudok café, straight on, then a right turn and the Laurens church was in sight. Once it must have towered above the town. Now, modern architecture dwarfs it.

As I was too early for the opening of the Rotterdam International Art Fair (see here), I walked around the church. At its back, Saturday’s market was starting up. There may have been a market near this church since the Middle Ages. But the Laurenskerk is not a well-preserved medieval church.

When WWII started, Rotterdam was one of several Dutch cities bombed by an army. As is so often the case with such brutalities, the precise number of perished citizens will never be established. As in Dresden and other towns, Rotterdam’s centre became a firestorm. This church was one of its many victims.

The fire razed much of Rotterdam. It is one of the reasons Rotterdam has no real (medieval) centre, hardly any period buildings, and such a lot of modern architectural creations. Of the Laurens church, enough was left to rebuild it as a symbol of the disaster which had destroyed so much.

While walking around it, look carefully at the northern rose window and you will spot a devil casting a fire-bomb. On its northern side, there is an Angel of Peace. Once back at the front, the odd masonry on each side of the main entrance intrigued me. It looked like brickwork from some kind of fortress.

This church, built between about 1450 and 1525, was erected on swampy ground between the rivers Rotte and Maas (Meuse). Above ground, its walls are sometimes 1.5 m thick. The walls reach deep into the swampy earth, at some places becoming 4 meters thick! The walls and foundation rest on a double floor consisting of broad oak beams, cross –laid for support, hidden deep in the earth. This “floor” rest on wooden pillars of about 6 m long. The high groundwater level ensures all the wood is preserved.

However, these measures did not prevent the building and especially its tower, from starting to behave like Pisa’s more famous one. A new foundation to shore up the tower had to be created in 1650. The odd brickwork on each side of the main entrance is just part of this “new” foundation.

To enter, one passes through bronze entrance doors, made by Giacommo Manzu and called “Doors of War and Peace”. Each door has a bird on its back: the symbolic pelican and dove. Manzu also created church doors for the St Peter in Rome and the St Rupert und Virgil in Salzburg.

Once inside, the church is light and airy. When it rose from its ashes, the former stained glass windows were not placed back. Each plain rose window now also has a fenix-like bird.

All the grave monuments in the church were of course severely damaged. But many have been beautifully restored, like the monuments for the Dutch admirals de Kortenaar and van Brakel. The monument to commemorate Witte de With even shows the sea battle of the Sont. A stone laid by Queen Juliana commemorates the rebuilding of this church. Gifts and donations from ordinary citizens, corporations, government institutions enabled its restoration. Dutch firms as well as German towns for instance donated chandeliers and the baptismal font.

Where some churches have to make do with one organ, this church has three. All were built by a Danish firm and replaced earlier organs destroyed on May 14th 1940. The main organ, 1973, is the largest mechanical organ in Europe and has 7.600 organ pipes.

Of course the church is not only used for art fairs or religious services, but also for regular concerts. To see if there is a chance of hearing the large organ being played during a visit, check the church’s website.

For more information on the organs: Marcussen
For information on the church: Laurenskerk

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