In around 1100 the site held the county chapel of the counts of Holland, rebuilt in 1121. The present building took approximately 180 years to build, starting in 1390. Famous Leiden dignitaries are buried there, including the painter Jan Steen and the Leiden professor Herman Boerhaave. The beautiful stained glass windows already took a terrible blow during the Beeldenstorm, but were completely destroyed a couple of centuries later, in the gunpowder explosion of January 12, 1807. The windows were boarded up, and it wasn't until 1880 that a large-scale restoration took place.
The Pieterskerk used to have a church tower, the Westtoren (west tower) from 1290 on. It was nicknamed "Coningh der Zee" (king of the sea), and was completed in stages, eventually reaching 110 meters (including the 35 meters tall wooden spire). It collapsed in the night of 5 March 1512. The tower was not restored and the church remained towerless.
The building was deconsecrated in 1971 and since 1975 is managed by a foundation and rented for a wide variety of events. Since 2001, with 50% government funding, a long-term restoration project has been started that will run until 2010. Discoveries made during this and earlier restorations are on permanent display in the church. A mummy is also on display, that the foundation has chosen not to subject to scientific scrutiny. Though the windows have been lost, the various grave monuments by prominent Leiden sculptors can still be seen. The building is open to the public.
Before 1811 many prominent people were buried in the Pieterskerk, such as the Dutch theologian Jacobus Arminius (known for Arminianism), Herman Boerhaave, Jan Steen, Johannes de Laet, and John Robinson, pastor of the "Pilgrim Fathers".
For a listing, see the category Burials at the Pieterskerk, Leiden.
Historical marker to the memory of Pastor John Robinson near where he is buried.
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- van Maanen, Geschiedenis van Leiden, 2002, page 154