Pilgrims Depart Leiden

If life was good in Leiden, Holland, why did the pilgrims depart for the New World?  William Bradford gave several reasons:

  • They were working hard but living in small houses and their families were growing
  • They were beginning to experience extreme poverty
  • Their children were becoming more Dutch than they were English
  • The Netherlands was too liberal and they feared for their children
  • Threat of war from Catholic Spain
  • King James of England would fight against Spain, but would take control of all Dutch congregations
  • Their religious freedom was under threat
  • They strongly opposed the many followers of Jacobus Armenius’ doctrine in Leiden
  • The pilgrim printing press of William Brewster had been confiscated by the British Ambassador, and he had to go into hiding
  • It was increasingly difficult to maintain their language, religion and habits

So they began to make preparations for leaving Holland.  It was not going to be easy.  Only one third of their six hundred-plus congregation could go.  This meant that the one they most wanted to go–John Robinson–would have to stay behind.  When it came time for departure, Robinson declared a day of fasting and prayer, culminating in a farewell dinner that celebrated with goose, pudding and wine; along with the singing of psalms.  Edward Winslow wrote:

We refreshed ourselves, after our tears, with the singing of Psalms, making joyful melody in our hearts as well as with the voice, there being many in the congregation very expert in music; and indeed it was the sweetest melody that ever mine ears have heard.  [The Light and the Glory, Peter Marshall & David Manuel, pg. 113]

Many accompanied them by barge to Delftshaven (Rotterdam).

The chosen boat–the Speedwell–was loaded with all the supplies, and before departure, John Robinson knelt on the dock and prayed for them, as they followed his lead in kneeling.  They sailed for Southampton, where they would meet the ninety-ton Mayflower and a good number of “strangers” that would make the voyage with them.  It’s interesting that the colonies here would be founded by people of various faiths, some of no faith at all.  They came from different backgrounds and careers.  They wanted to establish a free and open society.  It truly was a remarkable event.

John Robinson didn’t live much longer after the Pilgrims left; he died in Leiden in 1625 and is buried at Pieterskerk.  There are signs for him inside and outside of the church.  This is what it says (note that the dates are of his ministry in Leiden to the pilgrims):

In Memory of


Pastor of the English Church in Leyden

1609 – 1625

His Broadly Tolerant Mind

Guided and Developed the Religious Life of


of Him These Walls Enshrine All That Was Mortal

His Undying Spirit

Still Dominates the Consciences of a Mighty Nation

In the Land Beyond the Seas

This tablet was erected by the General Society of Mayflower

Descendants in the United States of America A.D. 1928.

This sign memorializes family members that died in Leiden before the journey to America. Included are children of both Isaac Allerton and John Allerton, Robert Cushman’s wife and children, Samuel Fuller’s wife and child, William Brewster’s child and John Robinson’s three children.

These brave people faced many hardships, but their days were only going to get harder, for 1/2 of the pilgrims would die in the first harsh winter in America.

It appears that the fears of the Pilgrims regarding staying in Holland were well founded.  It was true that the Dutch society caused the church to merge into the culture.  A sign in the church says this:

For a small minority like the Pilgrims, it was difficult to maintain their own language, religion and habits.  There were several marriages with Walloons, who had similar religious viewpoints.  After many of the Pilgrims left for America it proved impossible to remain a clearly defined community.  After their own preacher Robinson died, the people left behind in Leiden joined Dutch churches and, after 1630, the English reformed church.  Finally the group merged into the Leiden population.

I had always heard that they fled to America for religious freedom, but it was also about not losing the specific doctrines and beliefs that they held so sacred.  They were concerned for their children above all.  Their leaders had often debated with other religious leaders in public, such as follower of Jacobus Arminius, who is buried in Pieterskerk.

Another thing I had not known previously was that the tradition of Thanksgiving most likely came from Leiden.  It had been a custom there since October 3, 1574.  From another sign in the church:

After the siege of 1574 it became custom to have an annual service of thanksgiving in St. Peter’s Church, for the liberation and the delivery of food to a hungry city.  Herring and white bread are distributed to remind people of the ships with food that came into the city via the river Vliet.  People also eat “hotspot,” a kind of vegetable stew that the Spaniards are reputed to have left behind.  Some people believe that Thanksgiving Day consists of elements of this celebration added onto a harvest festival.

Another sign reveals the practice of civil marriage, which also came from Leiden:

Civil marriage is a Dutch invention.  Normally, only a marriage performed by the state church was legal.  Because the Republic had such a large Roman Catholic minority it was impossible to deny marriage to almost half the population.  The justices could marry those who did not belong to the state church.  Their own church could bless the marriage afterwards.  Only the civil marriage was legally binding.  The Pilgrims brought this invention with them to America.

Finally, the custom of elected administrators came from Leiden:

Leiden was divided into districts (bon) and neighborhoods (gebuurte).  Chosen district governors ruled a city district.  The district took care of fire fighting and prevention, preventing pollution, the collection of special taxes and the distribution of money amongst the poor.  The neighbourhood took care of things like burial rituals and other neighbourly tasks.  The election of civil administrators, as proscribed by the Mayflower Compact, can be traced back to this system and to the election of church officials.

As you can see, there is much to learn about the Pilgrim Fathers from travels and from many great books.  I would recommend The Light and the Glory, by Peter Marshall and David Manuel, Saints and Strangers, by George F. Willison, Mayflower, by Nathaniel Philbrick, and Strangers and Pilgrims, Travellers and Sojourners, Leiden and the Foundations of Plymouth Plantation, by Jeremy Dupertuis Bangs.  Of course, original books by the pilgrims are always great too — William Bradford, Edward Winslow, John Robinson, Thomas Morton and others.  What courageous lives they lived, and all because of their deep religious beliefs and concerns that these be properly handed down to their children!



Pilgrim History

It was interesting to see the information and memorials related to the Pilgrims in the Cathedral of Pieterskerk, Leiden, Holland.  This one area of the church is dedicated to them.

Here are some of the posters on display:

Several legal documents can be found here, such as this wedding record for Francis Cooke and Hester Mahieu.  William Bradford and Dorothy May’s marriage is also registered at the town hall.


This is what they said of their time in Leiden:

For these and some other reasons they removed to Leyden, a fair and beautiful city, and of a sweet situation, but made more famous by the university wherewith it is adorned…they fell to such trades and employments as they best could, valuing peace and their spiritual comfort above any other riches whatsoever; and at length they came to raise a competent and comfortable living, and with hard and continual labor.  Being thus settled, after many difficulties, they continued many years in a comfortable condition, enjoying much sweet and delightful society and spiritual comfort together, in the ways of God, under the able ministry and prudent government of Mr. John Robinson and Mr. William Brewster…they grew in knowledge and other gifts and graces of the spirit of God; and lived together in peace, and love, and holiness.  And many came unto them from divers parts of England, so as they grew a great congregation…  [New England’s Memorial, Nathaniel Morton, William Bradford, Thomas Prince, Edward Winslow, pg. 254]



Pilgrims in Leiden

I was excited to walk in the Pilgrim’s footsteps, because my grandpa’s ancestry descends from several of them.  From the Mayflower, he was descended from William and Alice Mullins, John and Priscilla (Mullins) Alden, George and Juliana (Carpenter) Morton,  Thomas and Joseph Rogers, and Richard Warren.  However, not all of these arrived from Leiden and not all the Leiden Pilgrims travelled on the Mayflower.

They were called Separatists, for they wanted to separate both from the Catholic Church and from the Church of England, which they felt had not reformed enough from Catholicism.  Because of this, they found themselves banned from England and persecuted in their congregation in Scrooby, England.  In 1607 they booked passage on a ship but were betrayed by the captain.  William Brewster, John Robinson and others were imprisoned in Boston, Lincolnshire, England’s medieval guild hall.  A year later they tried again and finally made their way to Amsterdam, little by little, in various passages (some had even made the move in the late 1500’s).  Here they could practice their religion freely.  William Bradford wrote:

They all got over at length, some at one time and some at another, and some at one place and some in another, and met again according to their desires, with no small rejoicing.

After a year in Amsterdam, over 100 of the separatists decided to move to Leiden, Holland, in 1609, which initially worked out very well for them.

Chris and I were there in 2015, and made our way towards Pieterskerk Cathedral, near to their homes and businesses.

Sure enough, we found an alley named after William Brewster, where he lived and worked.

The General Society of Mayflower Descendants placed this sign in 1955, 335 years after the Pilgrims sailed to America.

The alleyway is very narrow and at the very end is a building where William Brewster and Edward Winslow set type for books that were forbidden in England.  These books were then smuggled back into England under much danger.

I loved seeing the old brick along this way.

We then turned around and headed back to the archway.

Here I am near Brewster alley.

We also found the area where the Pilgrim Pastor, John Robinson lived, and where he held services.  This almshouse replaced his home soon after his death.

Through the archway and back in the courtyard behind his home is where most of the Pilgrims lived, in small homes.

Just imagine all the singing, worship and discussion that took place in this courtyard!

Pieterskerk Graves

Another interesting thing about the Pieterskerk in Leiden is the memorials and graves, some for very historic figures.  The famous Dutch painter of the 17th century, Jan Steen, is buried here.

This was interesting to see–a memorial for engineering mathematician Ludolph van Ceulen (of Cologne) inscribed with the first 35 decimals of the figure Pi, which he calculated and published in 1596.  He died in Leiden in 1610.

There were several other interesting memorials, including ones for John Robinson, Pastor of the Pilgrims; Willebrord Snellius, a Dutch astronomer and mathematician; Jean Luzac, lawyer and journalist, who had a huge influence upon the American Revolution; Herman  Boerhaave, botanist, chemist and physician, considered the “father of physiology, and Johannes de Laet, a Dutch geographer and director of the Dutch West India Company, among many, many others that had a huge impact on science, engineering, politics, music and art.

I love seeing these ancient stones.  However, some people understandably get bored looking at gravestones and historical markers.


Pieterskerk Art

Today I’m sharing photos of some of the artwork in the Pieterskerk of Leiden, Holland.  This includes sacred art, the 14th century organs, 16th century guild signs and pillars.  It’s incredible to think how old these items are!

These paintings on the pillars date back to the first half of the 13th century!  Wow.



The Dutch Reformed Cathedral in Leiden, Holland (Netherlands) is called Pieterskerk.  This was not officially the church of the Pilgrims, for they brought their own congregation with them, led by John Robinson, and held their church meetings nearby.  However, in the final year when house churches had been shut down, they were allowed to use a large room in this building for their meetings.  They also lived very close to this church.  The original Catholic chapel here dates back to 1121, and the Protestants held their first service October 5, 1572.  The present building was begun in 1390 and completed by 1570.  A large-scale restoration took place in 1880.


Corrie’s Quotes

I have been sharing stories from Corrie ten Boom, and today I want to share some final quotes from Corrie.  What an amazing woman; humble and unpretentious; always admitting her faults, loving others, even enemies; and trusting God in the darkest of situations.  I’m truly thankful for her life and witness.

Have you read my book A Prisoner and Yet...”  In it you can see that Jesus’ light is stronger than the deepest darkness.  Only those who have had the experience of being in a concentration camp can know how deep that darkness really is.  No matter how deep down into darkness one goes, deeper still are the everlasting arms.  — Corrie ten Boom, Not Good if Detached, pg. 119

God gave me a concentration camp.  It was in Darmstadt, where shortly after the War I found several of my former guards.  They were then prisoners; I was free.  They had been very cruel.  How their experiences during the War had demoralized them.  Young women still, now imprisoned behind barbed wire; but more imprisoned by demoniacal powers.  I could speak to them of Jesus’ victory, His love for sinners and His finished work on the Cross when He carried the sins of the whole world, theirs included.

When I returned to the camp it was empty.  The women had been freed or sent to other prisons  The same week I rented the whole camp, and now it is a place where refugees can stay while they build houses in the neighborhood…What a change bright-green paint and flowers, many flowers, can make to a place!  … Human love has failed in this world, but the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who is given to us (Romans 5:5).  It is this love that overcomes, and is able to change even a colorless prison camp into a garden of flowers. –Ibid, pg. 25-26

A widow of the suburb of Blemendaal provided an estate to Corrie, to be used as a place of healing for victims of the holocaust.  Not surprisingly, it looked exactly as Betsie had envisioned it, right down to the inlaid wood floors and statues.

Round the final bend, we saw it, a fifty-six room mansion in the center of a vast lawn.  Two elderly gardeners were poking about the flowerbeds…[there were] inlaid wood floors inside, and a grand gallery around a central hall, and–and bas-relief statues, set along the walls…

“We’ve let the gardens go,” Mrs. Bierens de Haan said.  “But I thought we might put them back in shape.  Don’t you think released prisoners might find therapy in growing things?”  — Corrie ten Boom, The Hiding Place, pg. 245

This is exactly what Betsie had seen.

In June the first of many hundreds of people arrived at the beautiful home in Bloemendaal.  Silent or endlessly relating their losses, withdrawn or fiercely aggressive, every one was a damaged human being.  Not all had been in concentration camps; some had spent two, three, even four years hidden in attic rooms and back closets here in Holland…The home in Bloemendaal served ex-prisoners and other war victims exclusively until 1950, when it also began to receive people in need of care from the population at large.  It is still in operation today, in its own new building with patients from many parts of Europe.  Since 1967 it has been governed by the Dutch Reformed Church.  — Ibid, pg. 245

Corrie shared one story that was particularly meaningful to me:

It was at a church service in Munich that I saw him, the former S.S. man who had stood guard at the shower room door in the processing center at Ravensbruck.  He was the first of our actual jailers that I had seen since that time.  And suddenly it was all there–the roomful of mocking men, the heaps of clothing, Betsie’s pain-blanched face.

He came up to me as the church was emptying, beaming and bowing.  “How grateful I am for your message, Fraulein,” he said.  “To think that, as you say, He has washed my sins away!”

His hand was thrust out to shake mine.  And I, who had preached so often to the people in Bloemendaal the need to forgive, kept my hand at my side.

Even as the angry, vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them.  Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more?  Lord Jesus, I prayed, forgive me and help me to forgive him.

I tried to smile, I struggled to raise my hand.  I could not.  I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity.  And so again I breathed a silent prayer.  Jesus, I cannot forgive him.  Give Your forgiveness.

As I took his hand the most incredible thing happened.  From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand, a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me.

And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on His.  When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself.  — Ibid, pg. 247-248

Finally, Corrie used an embroidered crown to express an important truth, and that piece of embroidery is in the family home for all to see today.  This story is told by Corrie’s traveling companion and biographer, Elizabeth Sherrill:

I remember the time thirteen-year-old Liz and I were helping Corrie unpack.  From the bottom of the suitcase, Liz lifted a folded cloth with some very amateur-looking needlework on it–uneven stitches, mismatched colors, loose threads, snarls.

“What are you making?” Liz asked, bewildered.

“Oh, that’s not mine, Corrie said.  “That’s the work of the greatest weaver of all.”

Liz looked dubiously at the tangled mess.

“But Liz,” Corrie told her, “you’re looking at the wrong side!”  She took the sorry thing from Liz’s hand.  “This is what our lives look like, from our limited viewpoint.”

Then, with a flourish, Corrie shook open the cloth and turned it around to display a magnificent crown embroidered in red, purple, and gold.  “But when we turn over the threads of our lives to God, this is what He sees!”  — Ibid, pg. 250-251

Corrie passed away on her ninety-first birthday–April 15, 1983.  It is a traditional Jewish belief that maintains that only specially blessed people are granted the privilege of dying on their birthday.  That would be Corrie!

Make sure you check out this website, to see more photos and stories about Corrie; you can also go on a virtual tour of the house that is outstanding and well worth the time it takes.  Blessings as you hear about this amazing believer!