For nearly 900 years, the Pieterskerk is the heart of Leiden. The two keys of Saint Peter are the symbol of Leiden and symbolically unlock the gates of heaven as well as the world. This symbolism is reflected in the present-day use of the Pieterskerk. A transformation from a Catholic to a Reformed Church and now a multipurpose meetingplace in a cultural and historic setting, genuine Dutch heritage.
The earliest history of the Pieterskerk is very uncertain. There may have been a number of different buildings here before the present-day church. Around 1100 the court chapel of the Graven (Counts) of Holland stood on this site. According to J.J. Orlers (1570-1646) the chapel was dedicated in 1121 to the Saints Peter and Paul. The dedication was performed by Godebald, the 24th Bishop of Utrecht, on 11th of September, the first Sunday after the Feast of the Nativity of Mary. The baptism of Graaf Floris V took place in this chapel.
For many Americans Leiden, and in particular the Pieterskerk, is inextricably linked with the so-called Pilgrims, who played an important role in the early colonisation of North America. Some of the Pilgrims settled in 1609 in Leiden to escape the persecution as heretics in England. The Pilgrims subsequently went to North America in the Mayflower in 1620 to make a new life for themselves there. Their departure from Leiden was principally due to the fact that they found the Dutch ideas of morality insufficiently strict. The Pilgrims saw this as a danger for their children who were growing up. One of the leaders of the Pilgrims, John Robinson, lived opposite the Pieterskerk in what is now the Pesijnshof. The Pilgrims held their church services in his home. Robinson is buried in the Pieterskerk. A memorial in the baptismal chapel of the church and one on the external wall on the south side are in his memory. In the baptismal chapel you will find a small presentation about the Pilgrims. Leiden appears to have had an important influence in one respect. Allegedly the American Thanksgiving day festival has its origins via the Pilgrims in Leiden’s 3rd of October celebrations.