The parish church of St Michael (Grote of MichaŽlskerk)

The earliest known chapel at Oudewater was built in tufa around 1000 and subsequently enlarged into a Gothic cruciform church. The present brick hall church dates from the fifteenth century, when new aisles were added that equalled the original nave in width. The tower is older (c.1300-1340).

In 1566 parson Theodorus Aemillius converted to Protestantism and many of his congregation followed his example. Until the Oudewater Massacre of 1575 the church was being used by Catholics and Protestants alike. The church fortunately survived the 1575 fire, but Catholics were barred from using it for worship from 1576 on, although they continued to be buried there. A blue limestone altarstone of 90 x 150 cm (originally approx. 90 x 162 cm) was re-used as a paving slab in the presbytery floor: it still shows three of the customary five crosses, which symbolise the five wounds of Christ.

The church at Oudewater still houses a number of medieval and post-Reformation floor slabs, as well as the wall memorial to the locally born Rudolph Snellius van Rooyen (1547-1613), professor of Hebrew and mathematics at the university of Leiden, who was also commemorated on a large floor slab in the church. The earliest surviving memorial is probably the large slab of Dirck van Zijl (d. 1481) and other members of the Van Zijl and Van Swieten families. The slabs differ in size from large rectangular slabs to the more modest type of 'headstone' (hooftstuck). These smaller slabs, which were obviously less expensive, were laid at the head of the grave.

Around 1750 the church authorities at Oudewater decided that all floor slabs should be of equal width. Owners of graves were offered the choice of removing their family slabs or allowing the churchwardens to size down the stones. The resulting damage can be seen on slabs where edges have been cut away and parts of inscriptions lost. In more recent restorations nearly all slabs were relocated and some were cut down still further.

Unfortunately there are no burial records for the pre-Reformation period in Oudewater. The earliest known register, which dates from c.1595, is badly damaged but still contains interesting information about the location of graves and prices for burial in different parts of the church. It served as the basis for the register of graves that was begun around 1600. Graves are listed in rows ('regels') of floor slabs for each part of the church. The register offers a chronological record of who was buried in each grave between c.1574 (when the plague raged in Oudewater) and 1755.

The register also names the owner of each grave and the transfer of ownership through sale or inheritance. Ownership of private graves could revert to the church through sale or when families no longer paid the required duties (or had become extinct): such slabs are marked with the letter K for 'kerk'. There are also account books that record chronologically all receipts for burial between 1647 and 1800, both inside the church and in the churchyard. These account books and registers of graves are not complete and errors do occur, e.g. in 1672 and 1673 when the plague struck the town again: the daily death toll may explain why records were not always accurate in this period.

The inscriptions on memorials and slabs at Oudewater were published in 1922 by P.C. Bloys van Treslong Prins, who was able to record some texts that are now largely illegible. He also made use of the Inscriptiones manuscript by Aernout van Buchel. However, there are still slabs at Oudewater that Bloys van Treslong Prins did not record.

A selection of the medieval floor slabs surviving at Oudewater is presented here, together with transcriptions and translations of their texts and information about the people they commemorate.

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Last updated on: 7 May 2014.