Leiden, Netherlands

One of many picturesque canal bridges in Leiden. Photo © Sacred Destinations.

Leiden is a city and municipality in South Holland (Zuid-Holland), the Netherlands. It is located on the Old Rhine, 23 miles SW of Amsterdam and 12 miles NE of The Hague. Leiden has a population of about 120,000 inhabitants, who are called Leidenaren. With its scenic river banks and canals, Leiden is like a small version of Amsterdam without the crowds or hippie ambience.

Leiden flourished in the 16th and 17th centuries due mainly to the weaving industry. In 1574, Leiden overcame a siege by the Spaniards - as a reward for the heroic defense of the city, William I of Orange founded the University of Leiden the following year. The University of Leiden became a center of Calvinist theology. Jacobus Arminius was appointed to the faculty in 1603, where he and fellow professor Gomarus developed different views of the doctrine of predestination. While Calvinism was the official religion of the Dutch Republic, non-Calvinists were tolerated, making the Netherlands a relatively safe haven for many who fled religious persecution. In the early 17th century, Leiden was one of the sites from which the Pilgrim Fathers departed to the New World to seek permanent religious freedom. From the late 17th century onwards, Leiden experienced an economic decline that prevented nearly all new construction, leaving the 16th and 17th century town center well preserved for visitors to enjoy today.

The Pieterskerk (St. Peter's Church) is a Gothic church built between 1390 and 1565 and now deconsecrated. Several Leiden notables are buried here, including Pilgrim pastor John Robinson, theologian Jacobus Arminius and painter Jan Steen.
Hooglandse Kerk
Located on high ground, the cross-shaped Highlands Church was founded in the 14th century. Although emptied of its art by Calvinists, its elegant architecture and tombstones are worth seeing.
Designed in 1639 for a Protestant congregation, the Marekerk is a good example of Dutch Classicism.
Ruins of a 14th-century church with connections to the Pilgrim Fathers, now in danger of demolition.
The Lokhorstkerk is a modest building with a classical facade in Leiden. A "clandestine" church, it was built in the 17th century by the Mennonites.