History of St. Mary’s Anglican Episcopal Church in Rotterdam
In 1578 the Dutch government passed a decree encouraging trade between England and the Low Countries. So textile traders came to Rotterdam.
When in 1584 the Dutch Prince William of Orange was killed in Delft (you can still see the bullet hole in the Prinsenhof in Delft), a new leader had to be found. But Prince Philip of Spain was a very powerful opponent of the Netherlands and nobody wanted to take on this job against Philip. Like Queen Elizabeth I, but she saw a great opportunity to keep the Spanish soldiers away by supporting the Netherlands by military forces. In 1585 the Duke of Leicester, Robert Dudley, came to Holland with 6000 soldiers. They were encamped in Flushing, Brielle and Fort Rammekens.
And another group of Englishmen came to Rotterdam: refugees who fled from a Catholic England to Holland where the Reformation was in full bloom. Rotterdam was called Little London in these days.
And they all needed pastoral care.
In 1635 the English community in Rotterdam could start celebrating their services in St. Peter’s Church in the Hoogstraat together with the French in the French and English Court Church. But the English traders moved more and more to Dordrecht and the chaplain went with them, so only a few families stayed in Rotterdam.
In 1697 those families agreed to raise a salary for an Episcopal clergyman. They started in a converted warehouse in the Wijnstraat, but in the following years enough money was raised, with gifts from Queen Anne, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the English nobility, to build a Church. The Duke of Marlborough also donated liberally to the fund. For this reason the coats of arms of both Queen Anne and the Duke of Marlborough appeared on the front of the Church.
In 1708 the ‘English Church of St. Mary’s’ was consecrated on the Haringvliet. The British Government paid the chaplain (GBP 100 per year)! In 1733 the organ was installed, paid mostly by the Captains of the London and Dublin vessels, thus a close link with the seafaring community existed already.
Until the occupation of the French the Church and its congregation flourished. But then most of the English population returned to England and the Church was despoiled. The French used the building as prison, artillery arsenal and granary. The Russians used the building in 1813 as a stable, so the building was in a sad state when the congregation returned. But with the help of the British and Dutch Governments and many individuals the building was restored to her former glory.
But many disasters fell upon St. Mary’s Church; the Tower was struck by lightning in 1864 and many repairs were necessary because the Church, built on 700 piles, was set on very unstable soil and started to subside. In 1873 the British Government withdrew all financial support, so by 1875 St. Mary’s was in a very bad state. But in 1878 fortunately the building came under the patronage of the Colonial and Continental Church Society; they own the building and have the right to appoint the chaplain.
At the end of the 19th century the port of Rotterdam flourished through increasing international trading. The need for more pastoral care and support became obvious and together with the Scots Church a Seamen’s Centre was opened at the Boompjes. In 1893 the Missions to Seamen took on this job together with St. Mary’s Church.
The building on the Haringvliet was beyond repair by that time and St. Mary’s Church and the Missions to Seamen appealed for a piece of land to build a new church and Seamen’s Club. A piece of land in Delfshaven was donated and a new St. Mary’s Church with a Seamen’s Club could be built. In 1913 the first St. Mary’s Church at the Haringvliet was demolished. The interior of the church was sold; the organ casing went to Eton College Memorial Hall, the pulpit went to Lincoln Cathedral, the altar, baptismal screen and pews to Selwyn College, Cambridge. A British journal “Architectural Review” called the demolition ‘vandalism’! The ‘Inrichting voor Ooglijders’ (Eye Hospitaal), was built on this spot. (bombed in WWII)
In the polder Schoonderloo in Delfshaven the second St. Mary’s Church and the Seamen’s Institute was built, near the riverfront. The architect J. Verheul Dzn was a famous Rotterdam architect, who designed the building in Neo-Gothic style. The church is built on wooden piles on cowhides. In June 1913 the Bishop Bury laid the foundation stone.
A few years before the First World War, the money that was invested in Russian and Austrian shares was lost. The Finance Committee at that time started a Free Will Offering system. In 1924 a Church Council was established who took over this job, because there were no (rich) trustees of the church left. Also, with the financial support of the Colonial and Continental Church Society and the Missions to Seamen, St. Mary’s Church could survive.
The First World War was a difficult time for St. Mary’s Church. The church was used for the internment of prisoners of war. The Chaplain at that time, Rev H. Haworth Coryton, ministered the POW’s in Groningen and as a thank-offering Mr. Leonard A. Powell of Cornwall painted the three- panelled reredos at the back of the altar.
The Second World War meant another difficult period for St. Mary’s Church. On 17 May 1940 the Church with its contents and almost all funds were confiscated by the Germans.
Fortunately some treasures were kept safe in London. The Germans used the building first as sleeping quarters for their soldiers and later for storing motor cycles and petrol. But later that year the Church was used as the German Naval Garrison Church until the end of the war. The English community had to find their own place for worship, which they found at the Old Catholic Church, during the war.
When the Allied liberated Holland, the British Army took possession of the Church and the English Community could return to their church again. In 1946 the Bishop of London held the service of rededication I 1946.
After the war St. Mary’s held a large congregation thanks to the growing activities in the port of Rotterdam and many Anglo-Dutch marriages. The Church and the Mission to Seamen flourished not only at the Pieter de Hoochweg, but also in the new Seamen’s Clubs in Pernis and Schiedam.
In the 50’s the stained glass windows in the Lady’s Chapel and Sanctuary were donated and a peal of bells was placed in the bell tower.
A milestone in St. Mary’s history is no doubt the visit of HM Queen Elizabeth II and HRH Prince Philip together with HM Queen Juliana, Prince Bernhard and the Princesses Beatrix and Irene to commemorate the 250th anniversary of St. Mary’s Church in Rotterdam in 1958.
In 1994 restoration works started on St. Mary’s Church, from the roof to the foundations, for a total cost of Fl 328.000,-.
In 2008 St. Mary’s celebrated its 300th anniversary. The service on Sunday 20 April was attended by Queen Beatrix, Burgemeester Opstelten, Commisaris van de Koningin Mr Franssen, the British Ambassador Mr Lyn Parker and Archdeacon John de Wit. The Right Reverend Geoffrey Rowell, Bishop in Europe led the service.
In 2013 St. Mary’s celebrated 100 years at Pieter de Hoochweg. Again Bishop Geoffrey led the service and the party was rather private this time for our own members and friends.