17. A Description of the Calvinist Church at Ghent, 1567

Explanatory Comment : On Marcus van Vaernewijck see document 10. During 1566 Calvinist churches were built in several towns. At Antwerp the Lutherans and Calvinists had begun to build by late September.

Text : … because I had begun to give an account of all these changes which had never been witnessed since Ghent had become Ghent and Flanders Flanders, I ventured to go this temple of the Beggars, not in order to hear the doctrines taught there but to view its interior design, as I thought it would not long survive, and therefore to leave a record for posterity. Certainly I never heard a single word of the sermons nor did I once permit anyone from my household to attend.

This temple was then octagonal1 and surrounded by a gallery so that it was much broader at its base than at the top. It was largely built of wood, like the churches of Muscovy, except that the spaces between the posts had been filled with brickwork set in tanner’s mortar. Both the lower and upper storeys of the building were lit by numerous windows. These were all glazed with plain glass, except for the lower windows which bore inscriptions from the Ten Commandments of God and from other passages of Scripture. Looked at from both the outside and inside, the temple resembled a lantern or riding school, only much larger. As I remarked in Book. iv Chapter 3 the building measured 150 feet in length and 130 feet in width.2 The master carpenter Willem de Somer, who had worked very industriously on the building with his brother Lievin, told me this. Inside there was an enclosure, a good twenty feet wide, where men could stand or sit around. The women all sat in the middle separated by a partition or parapet against which they had put benches for the men to sit on and those outside, in the said enclosure, could use it as a balustrade on which to lean. The interior of the temple was supported by roof timbers, the work of some master craftsman. The pulpit, recently made from pine in the antique style,3 stood at the far end. In the middle before the pulpit was the great wide enclosure, mentioned above, where the women and girls sat. The entrance to this was some fifty feet wide so that it would not be too congested. A large number of fixed benches stood behind and on either side of the pulpit and these extended at the back to two small separate rooms, with hearths, built on to the temple. The children and youth received their instruction in their sort of confession or catechism sitting on these benches; they were asked questions and had to reply. They worked so cheerfully that many a heart would have rejoiced and many would have been moved to pious tears, if only the doctrine had been sound. On working days they used, moreover, to teach one another the psalms in the evening, which fostered a truly godly exhilaration, the more so because each understood the fine words of the holy Scriptures which he sang. This temple had a very fine thatch while the roof of the surrounding covered way below (which we call the gallery or storey) was covered with planks from Magdeburg, the joints and seams of which were packed with linen cloth and pitch to prevent the rain from seeping through.

Source: Marcus van Vaernewijck, Van die beroerlicke tijden in die Nederlanden en voornamelijk in Ghendt 1566-1568 , ed. F. Vanderhaeghen II (Ghent, 1873) 109-109; cf. French translation entitled Mémoires d’un patricien gantois sur les troubles religieux en Flandre , ed F. van Duyse I (Ghent, 1905) 374.
1 As was the Calvinist church which the Walloon congregation built at Antwerp, De kroniek van Godevaert van Haecht I, 109.
2 Marcus van Vaernewijck visited the church while it was being built on 23 November 1566. Situated just outside the town, by the gate leading to Bruges, it was reached by a dyke running along the town moat. Van Vaernewijck described the chosen site as a ‘very pleasant spot, right behind the houses of the suburb with three entrances, one of which was situated beside St. Jacob’s inn’. Hedges surrounded the grassy enclosure in which two outdoor pulpits had been erected. The plan of the octagonal building was marked out with oak beams cut to the appropriate size while the carcass of the roof was prepared on the ground, Van die beroerlicke tijden , II, pp. 14-15.
3 In other words, the pulpit was in the classical or Renaissance style.