The Grote Kerk or St. Bavokerk is a former Catholic cathedral located on the central market square in the Dutch city of Haarlem. This church is an important landmark for the city of Haarlem and has dominated the city skyline for centuries. It is built in the Gothic style of architecture, and it became the main church of Haarlem after renovations in the 15th century made it significantly larger than the Janskerk. First mention of a church on this spot was made in 1307, but the wooden structure burned in the 14th century.

The church was rebuilt and promoted to chapter church in 1479 and only became a cathedral in 1559. The main architects were Godevaert de Bosscher, Steven van Afflighem and Evert van Antwerpen. The term 'Catholic' was never really associated with this church, since it was only consecrated as a cathedral in 1559, which was already in the middle of the period known as the Protestant Reformation. The church was confiscated only 19 years later during the Haarlemse noon in 1578, when it was converted to Protestantism. It was dedicated to Saint Bavo at some time before 1500, though there exists a curious painting in the collection of the Catholic Cathedral of St. Bavo illustrating the miracle of St. Bavo saving Haarlem from the Kennemers in a scene from the 13th century. This painting was painted a century after the Catholics were banned from 'their' church, and may have been a commemorative painting referring to the defense of the Church and the Catholic faith as well as the defense of the city.

On May 22, 1801 there was a fire caused by lightning which struck the tower. Another disaster was prevented in 1839 by Martijn Hendrik Kretschman, the guard of the tower. He stopped Jan Drost who worked for the church. Drost had tried to set fire to the pipe organ and piano by throwing hot coals on top of it. Drost committed suicide and he was buried in the tower. In the church was a high sentry bos reserved for fire-watchers. If they saw a fire in the city then they would signal using red flags so that the guards in the main guard house opposite could react. This sentry position was still in use in 1919.

Though the exterior of the church seems timeless, it changed twice in the past 500 years; once when all statuary was removed from the outer niches during the Haarlemse Noon, and the second time in the late 19th century when a 'more Gothic look' was given to the church by adding some fake ramparts to the roof edge. This can be seen easily when comparing pictures made before and afterwards.

Around the church various low buildings have been built up against it, most notably the former fish market called De Vishal, which today is used for exhibiting modern art. On the south side a series of low buildings used as shops are built up against various church buildings such as the former 'librye' or library, and sacristy. In 1630 the architect Salomon de Bray designed and built the consistory which still exists today.

The interior of the church has also changed little over the years, though the inner chapels suffered greatly during the Beeldenstorm, and many stained-glass windows have been lost to neglect. Fortunately, the interior has been painted many times by local painters, most notably by Pieter Jansz Saenredam and the Berckheyde brothers. Based on these paintings, work has been done to reconstruct the interior so various items such as rouwborden or 'mourning shields' hang again today in their 'proper' place.

The stained glass windows of the Bavo have suffered through the years from neglect. It is hard to imagine that Haarlem was an important center for stained glass art in the 16th century, since so little evidence of it still exists in Haarlem. After the Reformation, Haarlem promoted the stories of the Damiaatjes and the associated Wapenvermeerdering and produced many windows with this central story, which it presented as a gift to other churches and town halls. Today the original Haarlem gift by Willem Thibaut still hangs in the Janskerk (Gouda) as designed. That window gives an impression of the type of window that once hung in the Western wall. When the famous Muller organ was installed, the glass on the west side of the church (now only known to us from the painting by the local painter Job Berckheyde) with the Wapenvermeerdering, was dismantled and bricked up. The sketches for this glass have survived and are in the possession of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and were drawn by Barend van Orley.

The organ of the Sint-Bavo church (the Christiaan Müller organ) is one of the world's most historically important organs. It was built by the Amsterdam organ builder Christian Müller, with stucco decorations by the Amsterdam artist Jan van Logteren, between 1735 and 1738. Upon completion it was the largest organ in the world with 60 voices and 32-feet pedal-towers.

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Founded: 1479
Category: Religious sites in Netherlands

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david miller (5 months ago)
A very beautiful and picturesque cathedral in the market square of Haarlem. We had the pleasure of seeing it while on an Easter break European tour with our daughter. The Gothic architecture is exquisite, and it has historical importance musically, as its organ was played by some of the greatest musicians, Mendelssohn, Händel and Mozart.
Bob Stam (5 months ago)
Beautiful old church in the center of Haarlem .. it's a pity they now charge you with an entrance fee ..
Cherie Amour Stanyer (6 months ago)
Very historical and picturesque. The market outside is very nice and festive. Would highly recommend visiting the cathedral for an authentic experience of Haarlem.
Ros Morris (6 months ago)
This is a beautiful church.The interior is wonderful and I enjoyed my self guided tour.
SignsofLifeSA (7 months ago)
Definitely worth a visit. Incredibly beautiful church with great acoustics. Am so glad we took the time to view.
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