Netherlands Church History

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The Netherlands

Netherlands Topics
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The Netherlands Background
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The FamilySearch moderator for The Netherlands is Daniel Jones.


General Historical Background[edit | edit source]

Christian missionaries began converting the inhabitants of the Netherlands from the late Classical Era and Early Middle Ages onwards. By the late Middle Ages the vast majority of the population was Catholic.

The Reformation led to many Netherlanders leaving the Catholic church and joining Protestant churches. The rise of Protestantism was closely linked to the movement for independence from Spain. This led to the Dutch Revolt and the Eighty Years War (1568-1648). The Dutch Reformed church became the majority religion and had a privileged status in the Dutch Republic that existed until 1795. Catholics and other minority religions such as Lutherans, Mennonites and Remonstrants were tolerated but endured discrimination.

Dutch society was quite religious until the 1960s and was also said to be "pillarised" with segregration between different religions. Catholics and Protestants, while living together, did not interact much with each other and had their own media, political parties, universities and unions. Since then, secularization had led to "depillarisation". Due to more intense secularization among moderate Protestants, since 1930 Catholics have once again been the largest religion in the Netherlands.

Roman Catholic[edit | edit source]

Gesu Pietro chiave.jpg

Christ Handing the Keys to St. Peter by Pietro Perugino (1481-82) Fresco, 335 x 550 cm Cappella Sistina, Vatican.

The Roman Catholic (Rooms Katholiek) faith was accepted in the Netherlands from the fifth century after Christ onward. It became the predominant faith until the 1500s, when the Reformation movements of Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Menno Simons began to take hold.

There was much conflict between Catholics and Protestants. In the 1550s the Catholic Church began a counter reformation movement. The Protestants united and fought the Eighty Years’ War against the Spanish, who were Roman Catholics. The Dutch Reformed Church became the state church of the Dutch Republic.

Roman Catholics have remained more predominant in the southern provinces of Limburg and Noord-Brabant, as well as in isolated pockets such as Twents in Overijssel and around Haarlem.

Dutch Reformed[edit | edit source]

John Calvin.jpg

Johan Calvin (July 10, 1509 – May 27, 1564) was a French Protestant theologian during the Protestant Reformation and was a central developer of the system of Christian theology called Calvinism or Reformed theology.

Based on the doctrine of John Calvin, the Dutch Reformed Church- or more literally the Lower German Reformed Church (Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk) - was the state church from 1588 to 1795. In 1814 it became known as the Nederlandse Hervormde Kerk. In 1834, dissenters left the Dutch Reformed Church. These and other dissenters formed several churches generally reformed to as Gereformeerde, whilst the Dutch Reformed church would be referred to as Hervormde.

Those of the Dutch Reformed religion have remained predominant in all provinces except for Limburg and Noord-Brabant.

The "Bible Belt" is an area stretching from Zeeland to the city Kampen in Overijssel where conservative Protestant religions remain very strong.

Huguenots (French Protestants or Walloons)[edit | edit source]

Bookstore of the Huguenots in Amsterdam.jpg

Natives of northern France and southern Belgium (known at that time as the Southern Netherlands) who accepted Calvinism were persecuted by Catholics, many of them fleeing to the Northern Netherlands. The oldest Walloon congregation, dating from 1571, is in Middelburg.

Because of their residence in the Netherlands, French immigrants began to adopt the language and customs of their new homeland, and through intermarriage they became integrated into Dutch society. Since the doctrines and teachings of the French Reformed Church and the Dutch Reformed Church were so similar, it was not uncommon for French Protestants to have their children christened in either of these two churches.

Information about Huguenots has been extracted from the parish registers of the French Protestant and Dutch Reformed Churches and entered, in abbreviated form, on cards that now comprise the Collection des Fiches, a section of the Walloon Library now housed in the Central Office for Genealogy. Because it was formerly at Leiden, it is also referred to as the Leiden Collection.

You can also find the French churches under the heading "Walloon Church", the services were mostly spoken and recorded in French.

Mennonites/Anabaptists[edit | edit source]

Menno Simons.jpg

Menno Simons (1496–1561) was a Protestant Reformer from Friesland, the Netherlands

Anabaptist doctrines were first preached in Zurich, Switzerland. They spread to southern Germany and then to the Netherlands, where, by 1543, the movement had gained a large following. In English, Dutch Anabaptists are called Mennonites after one of their most influential leaders, Menno Simons, while the Dutch use the term doopsgezinden. Mennonites believed that only adults should be baptized, so baptism records of infants do not exist. They did keep birth records of those in their congregations.

Originally, many Mennonites belonged to the social classes of small craftsmen, storekeepers, and farmers, but due to their industriousness and frugality they became people of means. Their religious doctrines did not allow them to hold government positions or bear arms. In time, however, the majority of the Mennonites became politically active and joined the Dutch Reformed Church.

As of 31 December 2006 there are still 8632 members of the Mennonite faith in the Netherlands.

Evangelical Lutheran[edit | edit source]

Martin Luther.jpg

Martin Luther (1483-1546) was a German church reformer

The first Lutheran congregations were founded in the late 1500s. They were, in large part, the result of substantial numbers of German and Scandinavian immigrants. While few people in the Netherlands accepted Luther’s teachings, the doctrine of the Lutheran Church had considerable influence on the doctrines of the other Protestant churches.

Remonstrant[edit | edit source]

The Remonstrant religion grew out of intense ideological debates within the Dutch Reformed Church. The Remonstrant Church, or Brotherhood, was founded in 1619 in Belgium. The religion was slowly tolerated by the state church in the 13 Netherlands, and nearly 50 congregations were established by 1700.

Other Christian Groups[edit | edit source]

Episcopalians, Greek Catholics, Presbyterians, Puritans, and other groups have existed in the Netherlands since the 1600s.

For more information about the history of the Presbyterians and Puritans, see the following source:

Sprunger, Keith L. Dutch Puritanism: A History of English and Scottish Churches of the Netherlands in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth 'Centuries.'''

Map of Religions in 1849[edit | edit source]


Red represents Protestants and Green Catholics. The blue areas have neither with a majority. The darker areas are where the dominant religion is that of more than two thirds of the population.

FamilySearch Catalog[edit | edit source]

Many books about church history of the Netherlands are available. Look in the Place search of the FamilySearch Catalog under: