48. Religious Conditions in the Province of Utrecht, July 1606

Explanatory Comment : In 1580 the States of Utrecht suspended the public celebration of the mass in the province. Yet a presbyterian church order was not established in the province until 1620. In the intervening forty years the political elite tried, rather half-heartedly, to establish a Protestant territorial church, which was firmly under their control. In many parts of the province Catholic services continued more or less openly. The Protestants were weakened by divisions between those who advocated a comprehensive church with open access to the Lord’s Supper and a small Calvinist party, which insisted on consistorial discipline and classes. A visitation of the rural parishes, conducted in 1593, exposed how far short the official church fell of the expectations of the Calvinists. Rather fewer than half of the fifty-six parishes had Protestant ministers and many churches still retained their altars and statues. In 1606 the States of Utrecht summoned the first provincial synod of the Protestant church. At the opening each minister in turn gave a short report on the situation in his church. Though the Reformation had made headway since 1593, the following extracts show that the pace of religious change varied enormously. At Montfoort where the governor and magistrates openly sided with the Catholic Church very few attended the Protestant services whereas a well-organised and explicitly Calvinist congregation had developed at Wijk bij Duurstede.

Text :
Rhenen : The minister there reported the reasonable condition of his church, though he complained that the services on Sunday were impeded by the buying and selling at the market, which was held then. Many of the children were not baptised in the church and since no one afterwards had any knowledge of the same baptism, great confusion might arise later. He also complained that some sort of private school was held in the monastery to the detriment of the Christian religion. He declared that he had not presented these complaints in order to invoke the help of their noble lordships, the States, but only to demonstrate the present condition of the church there, since he intended to seek such [assistance] from his own magistracy, who had also given him an undertaking to remedy [matters] (which has also happened with other towns).

Wijk bij Duurstede : The minister of the church declared that the condition of his church was good and to that intent he showed a certain document which set forth the government of the church by six elders besides the minister, the administration and care of poor relief by two deacons and also that the Holy Supper was held three times a year and that on each occasion [the members] were visited or examined at home and a preparatory sermon delivered, that newcomers were catechised in the presence of two elders in the articles of faith and then admitted to the Supper; that three services were held each week, two on Sunday and one on Thursday, with the Sunday morning sermon on the Sunday gospels and the afternoon sermon on the Heidelberg Catechism (when the [school] rector also instructed the schoolchildren in the psalms) and the Thursday sermon on the first epistle to the Corinthians. He also exhibited another document in which the consistory of Wijk bij Duurstede, having given thanks to their noble lordships, the States, who had been pleased to summon the synod, petitioned for the continuation of synodal and classical meetings in Utrecht. The aforesaid consistory also complained in the same that several papist conventicles occurred in the town of Wijk (in contravention of the edicts of their noble lordships the States) at which mass was celebrated, children baptised and marriages confirmed. This was done by the Heer Steven at Overlangbroek and by others. Also petitioned that the rector’s salary, being only 145 guilders) should be supplemented from the monastic properties administered by their noble lordships the States.

Montfoort : The minister reported the sorry state of the church there as a result of the manifold activities conducted by the Roman church there; that there is still no organised church; that he administers the Supper twice a year, has few communicants, to wit only thirty in number; that previously 300 would attend (sometimes 500 or 600 on feast-days), but now only 100 because a certain priest, called Heer Hinderick, coming there from Utrecht, impedes the progress of the gospel by holding mass, preaching, baptising etc.; that the magistrate looks after poor relief, the school is middling: though the schoolmaster is of the Reformed religion, he uses books of all sorts.

Amerongen : The minister reported that his church was in a dismal state because (although a fair number attended, often between 100 and 150) there are few, indeed no communicants; that the church also, as regards its external condition, suffered from having been very badly ruined as a result of destruction inflicted by soldiers who had marched through. [He] complained that the congregation also leaves the church when baptism is administered before the public prayer and general blessing; that the superstitions associated with St. Cunerus Day are very detrimental to the religion; that the sexton only comes to church now and then; that he cannot lead the singing and also refuses to give any undertaking to do so; also believes that the schoolmaster teaches from books of all sorts, whatever comes to hand.

Doorn : The minister reported that the church there is in a good state; that the country people come to the services, bring their children for baptism, the Supper is only administered once a year at Easter; that he has fifteen or sixteen communicants; that there is no school.

Zeist : The minister reported that his church is in a fair state, but he complained about two hindrances; in the first place, since there is no bell, there is much heavy drinking during the service; the tavern-keepers say that they do not know the time and the taverns remain open during the services. Secondly, [he] also complained about a certain priest from Wijk, who did great disservice hereabouts. Reported further that he had three communicants at Christmas and forty at Easter and hoped to choose elders; that he himself taught there at the request of the inhabitants; that also certain endowments, belonging to the school, are kept back by a knight; for this reason a letter might be written to his grace Van Beverwijk in order to obtain in this way a schoolmaster of their own.

Houten : The minister reported the dismal state of his church; few attended [church] because of a former priest, called heer Jan van Houten, who keeps watch on the inhabitants from the Tolsteegpoort and threatens them with damnation if they want to go to church to hear the sermon, also inducing some inhabitants to stand by the church and to jeer at those who enter the church. [He] also showed certain sheep etc. made of wax which the inhabitants even offered in church during the service. [He] also reported that the maarschalk1 only comes on Whit Monday; complained that the local officer resides in Utrecht and does not appear in church; consequently the inhabitants act very insolently.

Veenendaal : The minister reported that he has brought the affairs of the church there (which had once been fairly rough) to a tolerable order; that he preaches the Sunday gospel on Sunday morning and in the afternoon he used to preach the Catechism, but in its place he now [preaches] on Revelation, administering baptism and the Supper after the practice of the Reformed church, holding the Supper four times a year. Said that he had a fair attendance which could certainly be improved if the markets and taverns, held on Sunday during the services, could be remedied and removed. Said that he had forty-three communicants, and if the above abuses are remedied, he hoped some eighty to one hundred would attend. Reported also that he has a Reformed schoolmaster, but he deplored the number of killings: thirty people had been killed during the time of his ministry there. [He] also complained that he was not allowed to draw up wills during outbreaks of plague, which worked to the disadvantage of the poor relief, since it had little income there. For the same reason the minister could not come by the wills or gifts which had been granted to the same.

Breukelen : The minister reported the good condition of his church. He has a good attendance and follows the practice of the Reformed church in the ministry of the Word and the holy sacraments, both baptism and the holy Supper. Of the school he reported that since the lord of Nijenrode had in his gift the endowments for the sextonship, the sexton therefore carried out his office at the behest of the said lord and submitted himself to the minister. He reported that he had several communicants, from the household of the lord of Ruwiel and some other inhabitants. Only preaches once a week as the others also do.

Abcoude : The minister reported the reasonable state of his church, having a reasonable attendance, also holding the Supper with twenty-eight communicants and everything in accordance with the Reformed churches; relating that he has a suitable sexton and schoolmaster, employing Reformed textbooks, but adding thereby that he resorts to the taverns rather too often and he [the minister] certainly wished that he might be admonished by apt measures. [He] complained about some assembly of Anabaptists. Also complained that the inhabitants of Abcoude often went into Holland to take part in papist exercises held in certain houses belonging to Holland, whither the Jesuits and other young students training for the priesthood, maintained by merchants from Amsterdam, came to hold services. Said that he usually only preached once and in Lent also on Wednesday in order to draw the papists, but he cannot accomplish much here because they [the Catholics] have bound them not to go to the [Reformed] services, threatening otherwise to take away their means of existence.

Mijdrecht : The minister reported the good state of his church so that he, despite many having died from the plague, still has 120 communicants. Said that he holds the Supper every ten weeks, not only on feast-days. Related also that he also preaches the Catechism on Sunday afternoon, except during the harvest, that he also preaches during the week on Wednesday during the winter. Also said that he sometimes gives three sermons on Sunday, in the early morning at Mijdrecht, at 9 o’ clock at Thamen and in the afternoon the Catechism in the school midway between the two [villages]. Concerning poor relief he said that alms are collected on Sundays by some of the deacons and distributed by them to the poor, although in his time accounts had never been presented. Complained about a certain priest to whom the farmers often went for baptisms etc. He also complained about some papist gatherings at Waverveen to which many from his [village] had gone. Also complained that on the most recent day of prayer the Catholics held a childbed feast, and when they were drunk, scoffed at the day of prayer. Also complained that the school is not well endowed and that there is some guild of pot-companions, from whose income the schoolmaster’s pay could certainly be increased. [He complained] that a crucifix stands in his village, where many superstitions are also conducted with the tying on of garters.2 Also said that women who are pregnant only want to carry those who have died in childbirth in the superstitious belief that they would have an easier labour: [he asked] whether it might not be better if women were excluded all together from burials. He also warned that people there had tried to withhold the bodies of those who had been killed and murdered, taking [these] off to the churchyard as if it were an immunity in order to prevent the officer from [starting] legal proceedings [against those responsible].

Wilnis : The minister told of the mean state of his church, having few (only four) communicants; the Supper is administered three times a year. He related that he combined with the other churches in the vicinity to hold the Supper in turn. He complained about the sexton and schoolmaster because he teaches from all sorts of books. He reported that thirty or forty come to [church]. He showed some document which contained certain grievances, for instance, that a certain blind priest lives in Wilnis, who is fetched on all sides to [perform] baptisms and also baptises children at his house. He also first celebrates mass for, and gives the sacrament to, women who are about to bed in childbirth; before Easter the people go to him for confession and to receive the sacrament. He is, moreover, a drunkard and accuses their Noble lordships, the States, of violence, when he happened to be dismissed from his office, and he also boasted about his scandalous lechery. [He] complained in the same document that they open the church, outside the proper services, for women coming from childbirth. These process outside and inside the church with superstitious Paternosters and Hail Marys etc. They commit various superstitions when they bury the dead, placing the dead body in front of the grave, praying over it on their knees, and then sticking crosses in the earth. On Corpus Christi Day there is a public pilgrimage round the church and a large number are dressed in wool and go barefoot. [He also reported that] those who go to church are mocked; that all sorts of books are used in the school and that many live together without having been married, etc.

Source : Acta der provinciale en particuliere synoden, gehouden in de noordelijke Nederlanden gedurende de jaren 1572-1620 VI Friesland 1581-1620 Utrecht 1586-1620 ed. J. Reitsma and S.D. van Veen (Groningen, 1897) 298-307.

1 Name of superior officer in Utrecht who discharged administrative and judicial functions in countryside. His functions closely resembled those of the baljuw in Holland.
2 Presumably talismans intended to secure safe child birth.