17 July 2013

To Gouda

We had found little in Leiden to cause us to want to stay longer, so shortly after noon on Sunday the 14th of July we slipped from the free mooring and continued our journey. We passed back under Wilhelminabrug and then turned southeastward into Oude Rijn, which led us out through the suburbs of Leiderdorp.

Along the way we passed a marvellous assortment of architecture, old and new. In Koudedkerk we passed what appeared to be the conversion of a former water tower into offices or condominiums, with an external elevator running up the side.

Also along the way were many old windmills, including a rather large one at Alphen aan der Rijn. We are impressed with how well these antiques are maintained. At Alphen, we turned southward to follow the Gouwe, which led past pastures of grazing cattle and fields of crops, mainly flowers. 

With our low air draft we were able to glide under many of the bridges, having to wait for only two until we arrived at the edge of Gouda. There, we paused to be let under Steve Bikobrug, which with its 85 centimetre clearance was obviously too low. This was followed closely by De Kock van Leeuwensluis, which dropped us about 20 centimetres to the level of the canals of central Gouda. While we were being lowered, the lock keeper gave us a booklet on the city of Gouda, and told us there was municipal moorage along the banks for the next few hundred metres just beyond the next bridge. As we exited the lock, Rabatbrug was lifted for us and we glided through.

At 1622 we secured in a tight space along Turfsingel with less than half a metre spare room fore and aft. As we arrived, the havenmeester pedalled-up on his bicycle and welcomed us. In response to our questions, he told us moorage would be €9.30 for one night, including water and electricity. He told us to take our time settling-in and that he would be by in the evening or the next morning to collect the fees.

Before deciding on how long we wanted to stay, we decided to walk into the old city to see if there was much of interest to us. We were immediately charmed by what we saw. Just along the canal from Zonder Zorg is Molen de Roode Leeuw, the Red Lion Windmill, the oldest corn mill in the Netherlands. According to the plaque on its walls, it was a 1771 renovation of a stellingmolen built in 1727-28 to replace an older wipmolen that had stood there since 1619.

We turned and walked through two blocks of newer housing toward the centre of the old city, guided by the towering hexagonal tapered steeple of Gouwekerk. 

We arrived on the banks of the old Gouwe and followed it past the Visbanken, the ancient fish markets toward the spire of Sint Janskerk.

A pleasant half kilometre walk from the boat brought us into the Markt and its imposing fifteenth century Stadhuis. The City Hall was built between 1448 and 1450, and it is one of the oldest Gothic city halls in the Netherlands. 

Across the Market Square is De Waag, the Weigh House built in 1667. Now a National Monument, this building was formerly used for weighing goods, especially Gouda cheese, to levy taxes.

Looking back from the front of De Waag, across the Markt and past the Stadhuis, we saw the western end of Sint Janskerk. At 123 metres, it is renowned as the longest church in the Netherlands; however, it is more famous for its stained glass windows, which were made between 1530 and 1603. These windows comprise the most significant stained glass collection in the Netherlands and they have been a tourist attraction since the seventeenth century.

Our whirlwind introductory tour of the old city of Gouda convinced us to stay for a while, so when the havenmeester came by Zonder Zorg in the evening, we asked to be charged for three nights. The total came to €13.85 with unlimited water and electricity.

On Tuesday we explored the area around the Markt, and then in the afternoon we visited Sint Janskerk to admire the stained glass windows. The construction of the church was begun in 1280 and much of the present building dates from before the great fire of 1552.

It was built as a Roman Catholic church, but with the Reformation, it was assigned in 1573 to the Protestants. It continues today under the jurisdiction of the Dutch Reformed Church. The creation and installation of the famous windows ceased at the time of the Protestant takeover, and none was added for over twenty years.

Then from 1594 to 1603, the remaining windows were created. They have survived the wars and fires through the centuries and they now comprise half of all the sixteenth century stained glass surviving in the Netherlands. The windows are huge, many of them towering twenty metres and more in height.

The earlier windows depict typically Catholic themes, while later windows created under the Protestant control, include scenes with a more regional and national theme. Among the Old Testament scenes depicted is this one of Judith Beheading Holofernes.

The Queen of Sheba Visits King Solomon.

Rebuilding the Temple.

Among the New Testament themes: John the Baptist Preaching.

The Birth of Jesus.

Jesus’ First Preaching.

On a more local historical theme, this window depicts the Capture of Damietta, Haarlem.

One huge window is titled the Maid of Dordrecht.

Another depicts the various coats of arms of the Rijnland.

The number and scale of the windows are overwhelming and after two hours among them, we were just beginning to comprehend the magnitude of this treasure. 

There are more than eighty windows, and it would take many hours over several days to gain a basic understanding of them.

We left Sint Janskerk with kinked necks, heads swimming with images and minds trying to grasp the enormous significance of this cultural and historic collection that has managed to escape the ravages of fires and wars for centuries. As we walked past De Waag toward Zonder Zorg, we paused to think that here we are in Gouda, but we have not yet gotten to the cheese.

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