The construction of the Grote Kerk

The reformed Great or St.-Bavo Church was last restored in 1980-1985. It is a late Gothic cross-basilica with a slimline cross tower (restored in 1964-1969).

The nave and the choir are covered by wooden vaulting (16th century).

Much of the furniture dates back to before the 16th-century iconoclastic fury: rood screen (1509-1517), choir stalls (1512), later painted with family coats of arms, brass lectern with a pelican (1499) made by Jan Fierens from Mechelen.

The Bavo Church has a richly decorated organ by Christian Müller (1738; restored by the Danish organ builders Marcussen in 1961), its front is decorated by Jan van Logteren; the marble relief underneath is by Jan-Baptist Xavery.

More about construction and history

Predecessors

The very first St. Bavo Church was mentioned yet in 1245 and was already considered prominent, among other things because of its belfry. Influential people like Arnoud van Sassenheim acted there as priests.

The direct predecessor of the present church consisted from a choir, nave, transept and a west tower which was tall enough to be used as a watchtower for firemen. This tower had a peak made of slate and probably also lead, and possibly also a small lantern. It was provided with a weathercock and a clock (1402) with a bell and an indicator.
In the tower there hanged 7 bells, including:

  • the Salvator (1440 / ± 4600 kg)
  • the Maria (1375 / ±1700 kg)
  • the Baef (in 1440 enlarged for Salvator)
  • the hour bell

In 1423/1433 a richly decorated Font Chapel was built against the west side of the church with a charming baptismal font in it with a wrought-iron tap. In the old nave (the new choir was in the meantime complete) the glazing was constantly embellished. In those times there probably existed no further building plans.

Crossing

The Dutch word ‘viering’ originates from the word ‘vierinc’ (‘vierdinc’, ‘vierdonk’) = square space formed by the crossing of the nave and the transept.

The four big columns and the stellar vault are property of the municipality of Haarlem; one day they formed the foundation of the crossing tower.

‘When the year MCCCCC (1500) came, Jacob Engbrechts/Dirk Klaesz. de Vries/Jan Bruijn Harmann were the church wardens who commissioned in that year the construction of the vaulting with the two big arches’.

The tower contained at the time:

  • a clock with 1 hand, a golden finger (creation / beginning of the time) and a cloud (representing Christ/end of the time)
  • a rope to the Bell Roelant (5500kg), founded in 1503 by G. van Wou, with the Belfry of Gent being the example.

Crossing Tower

The original design for the stone tower was made by Cornelis de Wael in 1502. It is still visible on a pattern painting of Pieter Gerritsz from 1518.

Upon his death the work was taken over in 1505 by master Anth. Keldermans. The stone tower seemed to be too heavy for the crossing pillars and the north-east pillar sank (still visible); some gravestones around it cracked.

Between 1514 and 1517 the tower was then broken off again. Then Michiel Bartszn. designed a wooden crossing tower covered with lead.

Master Jacob Symonsz from Edam carried out the project in the years 1518-1520. Instead of two original lanterns the wooden tower received three lanterns. The stone planning of De Wael/Keldermans stayed preserved as a fundament for the new crossing tower.

The dimensions are: 35 to 40 m height; an ‘onion’ of 3m high and 3m in diameter; a cross of 550 kg, a cock of 65 kg and a carillon of more than 10.000 kg (47 bells). The weight of the leaden cover comprises about 85.000 – 100.000 kg.

Style

The Church is built in basilical style: the nave is twice as broad as the side aisle.

The Church is built in basilical style: the nave is twice as broad as the side aisle.

Maria stood at the right of the cross; this is also the place of Maria Chapel. The crossing pillars represent four evangelists; the twelve choir pillars stand for the twelve disciples.

The north transept was dedicated to Maria, the south transept dedicated to the patron saint of the church, St. Bavo.

Once there also hang a big crucifix in the east arch of the crossing, symbolising the transition from the earthly (the nave) to the heavenly reality (the choir).

Choir

The choir was built in 1370-1400 by Engebrecht van Nijvel (later in service at the count’s court).

It was made in Brick Gothic with economical use of sandstone. It has a unique style.

During its construction a heavy and closed form was strived for consciously: heavy walls and columns, small light openings in the triforium, seeming heavy, rising walls up to the small windows placed high and an angular apse (3 sides of the hexagon). This is the biggest choir on the continent.

Transept

The transept was built in 1445-1455 by master Evert Spoorwater, stonecutter from Antwerpen, in the style of the classic Brabant Gothic.

The transept was larger than it is now: the gutter lay at the height of separation of brickstone and sandstone, the ridge reached the foot of the clerestory cap.

Between 1480 and 1495 the transept was raised, and so ‘Jan with high shoulders’ came into being. In 1892 vaulting was applied at the originally intended height. Thus there appeared wasted space above, complemented with windows.

Nave

The construction of the nave was performed by master Evert Spoorwater in 2 phases:

  1. First between 1456 and 1470 the walls of the side aisle and the bottom part of the west facade around the old nave and west tower were built (between the new and old outer walls there already were graves).
  2. Then the church wardens received in 1471 permission of the bishop to move the altars and they let break down the old nave and the old tower. Then from 1471 to 1478 the clerestory of the nave was built in the style of classical Brabant Gothic, with richly worked chapiters (double cabbage leaf motif), no real triforium and frames in the big frame niches