A+ A A-

Dordrecht Ancient Capital of Holland

Counts of Holland Arms.svg Wapendordrecht
Coat of arms of the County of Holland Coat of arms of Dordrecht

The Dordrecht Minster or Church of our Lady


Origin of the Minster

The first Romanesque church was build by order of Count Dirk V (1061-1090) and started in 1077 managed by a certain Pietsser de Groot who was the grandfather of Anna, a spiritual virgin, who is said to have lived for 113 years (1081-1196). During excavations in 1986 under the choir of the present Minster, walls of tuff stone in the form of a semi-circular Romanesque chancel were found, which could be dated to the 10th century. The inner diameter was about 9 meters. Regrettably only part of the choir could be investigated and it is therefore uncertain whether there was an even earlier building. Nevertheless it is clear that at that time (10th century) Dordrecht had already a significant church.

The medieval Grote Kerk of Dordrecht, or Dordrecht Minster is a building which is rich in history. Its origin lies in the early 12th century. There is no accurate confirmation about the age of the present Dordrecht Minster, but archaeological data indicates that a chapel which was mentioned in a charter of 1122 could be the basis of the Minster. The first written story of the present Minster dates from 1182 where it is mentioned as a parish church.


On the oldest known City-seal of Dordrecht dated 1255, we can see at the left the original seal and at the right a reconstruction of the seall  The Church on the seal must be the early Dordrecht Minster (a Romanesque building). The first tower of the Minster was build from about 1182.

The Romanesque Church was replaced in the 12th century by the present Gothic building with its famous massive tower. The present tower dates from 1339 and was never finished because the tower started leaning over 2,5 meters and the building had to stop, otherwise it would simply have fallen over. After the St-Elisabeth flood of 1421 four massive clocks were placed on top of the never finished tower. The Church nave itself was enlarged from about 1339. The whole Church was finally ready by the end of the 14th century.

 The Dordrecht Minster is the third biggest in the Netherlands, and the tower is about 75 meters high (about 250 feet). The dome-vault of the Dordrecht Minster is the only one in Holland fully made of stone. It is not only the external architecture which is impressive, but also its monuments, chapels and the 16th century finely carved choir stalls, a famous 17th century organ and a 18th century Marble pulpit make this church the most important building in Dordrecht and one of the most important monuments in The Netherlands.

Growth of the church

The growing town of Dordrecht continued to cherish its Minster church. Ancient city accounts show that in 1284 and 1285 extension were built onto the north side of the Lady Chapel. Costs are also given for the construction of the tower. However, it is unlikely that first tower was on the same site as the current tower. The church also underwent a re-building, which was so important that the Archbishop of Utrecht consecrated it in 1367 and the church was raised from the status of parish church to Minster.

 This also lead to further major building extensions. However, details of this are scarce and one can only surmise over the size and range. Probably the Sanctuary was rebuilt and a choir gallery was installed. The construction of the current tower probably commenced in 1339. The four tower clocks have sent out their well-know sounds since 1460. About 1470 the Minster reached its current form. A great fire in 1457 delayed further progress, but did not destroy existing building.

The Tower

P100074 P100075 P100261
The tower at present day

toren tekeningDrawing of what the tower originally should have looked like.

There is an interesting story to be told about this tower, and church towers in general. A few centuries ago, when most churches were built, the size of the church's tower was an indication of the city's wealth. You might notice that many towers look like this one: as if it was suddenly cut off, with the last bit added on hastily. (in this case the 4 clocks) This is usually because the town turned out to be less wealthy than they would have liked to think, and they ran out of money before they were finished.

But this was not the case in Dordrecht. Dordrecht was a fabulously wealthy city, as it was positioned at a crossroads of some main rivers and played an important part in trade, so they could easily have afforded to make it 125 meters high, as was intended.

Unfortunately, Dordrecht's position in between rivers also meant that the ground was very wet and spongy and due to the St-Elisabeth flood of 1421 the ground became unable to support a structure so high. The tower started leaning over 2,5 meters, which it still visibly today, and the building had to stop, otherwise it would simply have fallen over.

The Carillon

The famous tower of the Dordrecht Minster has the largest Carillon of Europe, recently has been added 16 bells to the carillon and now the Carillon consist of a total of 67 bells.

Hear the Bells during the "vijfgelui" (pealing 5 bells at once).

If you like Carillon music you can download a nice example of the sound of this famous carillon (7,416 kb) in CD quality HERE.

Panorama views from top of the Tower

The tower can be visited whole year and after you have walked 275 steps you have a wonderful view at Dordrecht from a height of 75 meters.



View to the west, the Old Meuse river with the road and train bridges View to the west, Korenbeurs and Kalk harbors


panorama1 panorama5
 View to the west, Prinsenstraat View to the south-west, Voorstraat harbor


panorama9 panorama12
View to the south-west, Voorstraat harbor View to the south, Voorstraat harbor


panorama7 panorama2
View to the south-east, Voorstraat harbor View to the east


panorama10 panorama4
View to the east View to the east-north-east with the New harbor


panorama11 panorama3
A panoramic view to the east-north-east with the river Old Mease A panoramic view to the east-north-east with the river Old Mease

The Reformation

Dordrecht sited with the Watergeux (Watergeuxzen) and on June 25, 1572 Dordrecht declared William of Orange their leader in the war against Spain. In July 1572 the first assembly of the States of Holland was held at Dordrecht in which the Seven United Provinces under the leadership of William I the Silent of Orange declared themselves independent from Spain.

This ended five centuries of Roman Catholicism in the United Provinces. Altars and holy sculptures were removed in that year but the wall paintings required a different method of removal. The chalk bush was the weapon used to attack the colored illustrations of the church patrons. Fortunately the choir stalls, made about 1540, were saved. In 1609 these already began to attract the attention of tourists. After 1572 the pulpit replaced the altar in order of first importance. A new pulpit was constructed in 1597 and placed in the Nave. It was used until 1756 and then replaced by the present one with marble steps and body and wooden sounding board. The beautiful organ which nowadays adorns the church was installed about 1678 and replaced one from about 1400.

Maintenance and restoration

From the 1600’s major maintenance has been carried out from time-to-time. Due to constant shortages of money sometimes only the most necessary work was undertaken. However, in 1982 the last major restoration took place after detailed preparation which required considerable funds. This restoration lead to the church being re-established in its former grandeur. Those who visit the Minster will see this for themselves.


The Dordrecht Minster outside

P100221 dort2
The Big Church backside at the Voorstraat harbor  View at Dordrecht from the river Old-Meuse  


DSC00041 DSC00050
Maria Chorus dated 1283 and partly rebuild after the great city fire of 1457 High Chorus seen from the Grote kerksplein


P100072 P100224
Buildings before the tower  The Pottenkade at the Voorstraat harbor


DSC00245 DSC00236
The characteristic clocks on top of the tower Voorstraat harbor side


P100225 P100223 P100233
Tower dated 1339 seen from the Voorstraat Voorstraat harbor side Voorstraat harbor backside


P100232 P100229
Close up of the characteristic clocks High Chorus (Nave) outside


P100231 P100238
High Chorus outside, close up Voorstraat harbor side


P100227 P100236
Southern Transept The chapels


DSC00031 P100249
Grote kerksbuurt side Roof of the Sanctuary


P100247 P100248
Grote kerksbuurt side

back to top