Middelburg (Zeeland, Netherlands)

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Doopsgezinde Kerk, Middelburg.
Photo by J. P. de Koning, Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed.
Source: Wikimedia Commons
Doopsgezinde Kerk, Middelburg.
Photo by Paul van Galen and Kris Roderburg, Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Middelburg, capital of the Dutch province of Zeeland (1957 population, 21,500; 2005 population, 46,554; coordinates: 51° 30′ 0″ N, 3° 37′ 0″ E), has since very early times been the seat of an Anabaptist congregation with a rich history. Already in 1532 the magistrate had learned that there were Anabaptists in the city. He searched for a "Melchiorite" Jan Matthijsz Blauwaert (Jan the Goldsmith, not to be confused with Jan Matthijsz van Haarlem, of Münsterite notoriety) and four others because they were sowing the Melchiorite seed among the simple populace. Between 1535 and 1571 at least 18 Anabaptists were put to death here. Jan Everts was beheaded on 19 April 1535, and in the same year Marcus Cornelisz and Cop Heyne; the latter had been a Münsterite, but was converted at Amsterdam. Of Münsterite ideas there is no further trace among the Anabaptists of Middelburg. Marcus Cornelisz declared that neither he nor the others had anything to do with them. The people were obviously on the side of the martyrs. Gillis Matthijsz, a surgeon, was executed in the prison one night in 1564, for fear of the populace. Other martyrs executed at Middelburg were Maeyken Daniels, Jan Hendricksz, Andries van Laerbeke, all in 1559, Dirck Jansz in 1561, Willeboort Cornelisz in 1564, Hendrick Alewijnsz, Mattheeux Maurisz, Magdaleena Jansdochter, Hans Marijnsz, Gerrit Duynherder, Bastiaen Corsz, Maeyken Jans, Aelken Jans, all in 1569, and Anneken Jans van Woerden in 1571. Other Anabaptists who were martyred at other places are known to have been citizens of Middelburg or the vicinity. These are indications that Middelburg was an important Anabaptist-Mennonite center. The existence of a large congregation here explains why Leenaert Bouwens baptized only 13 converts here (in 1557-1561). The martyr Valerius de Schoolmeester was active here in 1563-1564 and 1566.

The bloody persecutions ceased when the city passed into the power of William of Orange in 1574. At once the Calvinist preachers, though they were in the minority, began to molest the Anabaptists. In 1576 the government gave them a hearing and made it obligatory for the Anabaptists to swear the oath. Without it they could not be citizens or carry on a trade or craft. When William visited the city in 1577 the Anabaptists presented a petition to him. In his reply of 26 January 1577, William promised them release from this obligation. On this occasion the words were used which have become of great significance to the Dutch Mennonites because they marked the beginning of religious freedom for them: "His Excellency commanding and charging the magistrates of Middelborgh and all others whom this may concern, not further to oppress the petitioners contrary to their conscience, with regard to the oath and otherwise."

But the magistrate did not follow this regulation and in April 1578 again demanded the oath, closing the shops of 40 merchants (evidence of their prosperity). In addition the magistrate demanded that the Mennonites serve as armed guards. Thereupon they sent another petition to the prince. In reply he wrote to both the governor of Zeeland and the councilors of Middelburg (23 June 1578), with emphatic instructions to give the magistrate of Middelburg express orders to leave the petitioners in peace; they were to keep their domicile beside the other citizens, carry on their business as well as they could, and were not to be in any way molested or disturbed. But the magistrate paid no attention; another letter from William was needed (26 July 1578): "And therefore we order and demand expressly of you to cease to molest the aforesaid persons, who are Mennonites, or to prevent them from carrying on trade and crafts."

New disturbances soon followed. An attempt was made to disturb and prevent their services (June 1580) and to compel them to take their armed guard duty. The Mennonites were willing to pay taxes, serve as guards to prevent and aid in case of accident or fire, and even dig trenches, but refused to bear arms. At first William of Orange, to whom the Mennonites had addressed a letter (signed by Arendt Pietersz, Jan van Son, Matthys Hermansz, and Aert Conincx, apparently preachers or deacons of the congregation), was unable to do anything for the oppressed Mennonites, but in 1582 he again intervened on their behalf. After another letter had been sent by the Mennonites he decided on 29 January 1582 that all Mennonite men should pay a special tax.. Since this was very high, a new ruling was passed in 1588, whereby the brotherhood paid the fee of 1,200 florins annually. This amount was reduced to 800 in 1626, 600 in 1659, 420 in 1681, 350 in 1708, and was dropped in 1795. After the death of William of Orange (1584) the magistrate of Middelburg apparently continued to thwart the Mennonites, for on 4 March 1593 William's son and successor, Stadholder Maurice of Orange, in reply to a letter written by Maillaerd de Poorter and Joost Leonisse in the name of the Middelburg Mennonite congregation, admonished the magistrate of Middelburg not to interfere with the privileges granted the Mennonites by his father. It was always the Reformed Church which set the magistrates against the Mennonites. In 1578 Hans de Ries, visiting Middelburg, was imprisoned here for about a month and banished from the territory.

After 1550 the membership increased rapidly, especially after the arrival of the foreigners, mostly Mennonite merchants from Belgium. In 1580 some Anabaptists arrived from England. In 1574 the male membership was about 90, in 1581 about 130. In the 17th century it continued to grow. Many immigrants from Flanders joined the Mennonites in Middelburg. Elder Bastiaen Willems baptized 42 persons here in 1632-1633. Numerous complaints were made by the pastor of the Reformed Church concerning these transfers, which were not limited to foreigners. In 1656 these complaints were still heard. Hermann Faukelius, the zealous pastor of Middelburg, appeared several times in the Mennonite church services in 1620 and in July 1621, read a paper to the congregation, which was published under the title, Babel, dat is de Verwerringhe der Wederdoperen. In 1660 the synod called the attention of the government to the "great and dangerous errors" which tended to creep in especially among the Mennonites; this is a reference to Socinianism. The 12 articles ("Geuze vragen") set up for this purpose were presented to the Mennonite preachers for signature, Joost Isenbaert complied; Adriaen van Eeghem and his cousin Thomas refused to do so and were forbidden for some time to preach.

The Middelburg congregation, which belonged to the Flemish wing, at first was rather conservative. In 1632 their representatives, Elder Bastiaen Willemsen and Preacher Jan Winckelmans, signed the Dordrecht confession. But through the influence of its excellent elder Adriaan van Eeghem it grew more progressive; in the schism between Galenus Abrahamsz and Samuel Apostool, called the "Lammerenkrijgh", it took a moderate position, as did most of the Zeeland congregations. When Samuel Apostool, the leader of the conservative wing, visited Middelburg in 1665 to persuade the congregation to join the stricter Zonist group and to cooperate in the Verbond van Eenigheydt, although Joost Isenbaert signed, the congregation led by Adriaan van Eeghem would not involve itself in the quarrel.

Besides the Flemish congregation there was also in Middelburg a congregation of the (Groningen) Old Flemish or Ukowallists. This group apparently is identical with a congregation mentioned in 1576-78, called "Voetwasschers" (Footwashers). Of this group Gerrit Gerrits was a preacher in 1663, while in 1681 Claes Pieters and Winink Alberts attended a conference of the Groningen Old Flemish. In 1663 the elders of this wing, Derk Sierts (Huizinga) and Luirt Luirts (Huizinga), visited Middelburg on their great preaching journey. This Old Flemish congregation had died out or merged with the main Middelburg congregation before 1710.

After the restless history of the 16th and 17th centuries the life of the congregation developed more quietly. The calm was broken in December 1732 when 12 Mennonite families from Dannenberg in Prussia settled on the island of Walcheren in the vicinity of Middelburg. In the following years several of their brethren, who had found a temporary home near Wageningen, also moved to Walcheren. The Committee for Foreign Needs assisted in buying farms for these people. But the new settlers did not feel at home here, and one after the other they returned to Prussia. Since the sale of these homes did not bring enough to cover the original cost, to say nothing of additional expenses incurred in making the settlement, Middelburg suffered a considerable financial loss through this episode.

Old Mennonite families formerly of Middelburg are de Clerq, van Da(e)le, Dobbelaer (Dobbelaere), Dyserinck, van Eeghen (Eeghem), Fak (Fack), Goudeseboys, d'Hoye, van Houcke (Hoecke), van de Steenkiste, Strubbe, Tak (Tack), de Wind, Winckelmans (Winkelman); most of these families have died out, a few in the course of time joined the Reformed Church, and many others left Middelburg during the 17th and 18th centuries, moving elsewhere, particularly to Haarlem and Amsterdam.

The congregation of Middelburg, whose baptized membership was about 270 in 1600, decreased rapidly in the 18th century. Figures about the 18th century were not available, but in 1847 the baptized membership had decreased to 92. After that there was some increase: 102 in 1861, 187 in 1900, 209 in 1911, but 132 in 1939, and 107 in 1957. The congregation formerly was rather well-to-do. The small congregation contributed liberally to the needs of the Mennonites in Poland and Prussia: in 1727, 255 florins; in 1733, 727 florins; in 1736, 530 florins. Among the ministers who have served here there are a number of outstanding men. Bastiaen Willemsen, named above, died in 1636 or 1637. Adriaan van Eeghem served here in 1655-1709. In 1705-1752 Gerardus de Wind, a physician, was its preacher. Johannes Nettis, also a physician, 1729-1773, Gerrit Boothamer 1751-1790, Abraham Wynands 1773-1778, Sjoerd Ysbrandi 1778-1783. Eke Menalda served 1784-1831, Sicco Rekker 1790-1832, Alle M. Cramer 1832-1871, K. R. Pekelharing 1849-1884, Tj. Kielstra 1885-1901, P. Sybolts 1901-1906, P. H. Veen 1907-1919, Jacob Koekebakker 1919-1940, Miss A. H. A. Bakker after 1940. In 1808 an agreement was reached with the neighboring Vlissingen congregation to have the Middelburg preachers serve both congregations. This union lasted until 1898. In 1920 a similar agreement was made with Goes; this union still existed in 1955.

Originally the congregation may have met for its services in the homes of its members; in 1629 Pieter van de Vegte bought a building in the Hoogstraat, which was adapted as a meetinghouse. It was used until 18 June 1889; a new church in the Lange Noordstraat was dedicated on 7 July 1889. The old church was then used by the Salvation Army. The congregation of Middelburg always took good care of its poor members. They not only supplied them with money, food, clothing, and fuel (usually peat), but in the economically difficult period of the French occupation in August 1807, moved a number of poor Mennonite children to the province of Drenthe to work in textile mills. In 1838 Pastor A. M. Cramer initiated a project to create work for the unemployed (not only Mennonites) during the winter months. Until the 19th century the congregation possessed a "Fund for the prevention of poverty," directed by four "comissaries" and the pastor of the congregation. There was a ladies' circle and a West Hill Sunday school for children.


Algemeen Doopsgezind Weekblad 11, No. 47 (23 February 1957).

Boothamer, G. "Geschiedenis van de Doopsgezinde Ge-meente te Middelburg uit de boeken en geschriften ter kerkefcamer berustende tot den tegenwoordigen jare 1773." Manuscript containing valuable information. Located in the Middleburg Archives.

Catalogus der werken over de Doopsgezinden en hunne geschiedenis aanwezig in de bibliotheek der Vereenigde Doopsgezinde Gemeente to Amsterdam. Amsterdam: J.H. de Bussy, 1919: 150 f. 294.

Cate, Steven Blaupot ten. Geschiedenis der Doopsgezinden in Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht en Gelderland, 2 vols. Amsterdam: P.N. van Kampen, 1847: I and II, passim.

Doopsgezind Jaarboekje (1837): 24; (1850): 42; (1930): 115-141.

Doopsgezinde Bijdragen (1863): 113 t; (1875): 36 t, 99; (1877): 5; (1879): 7, 93 f.; (1883): 88, 114, 106; (1890): 142; (1900): 228; (1905): 118, 157 ff.; (1906): 111 ft.; 120, 122-124; (1908): 1-64; (1912): 113 note 2.

Eeghen, C. P. van. Adriaan van Eeghem. Amsterdam, 1896.

Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe; Schneider, 1913-1967 III, 131 f.

Hoop Scheffer, Jacob Gijsbert de. Inventaris der Archiefstukken berustende bij de Vereenigde Doopsgezinde Gemeente to Amsterdam, 2 vols. Amsterdam: Uitgegeven en ten geschenke aangeboden door den Kerkeraad dier Gemeente, 1883-1884: I, 424-34, 439, 441 f., 452, 580, 887, 1072, 1168, 1195-2085. II, Nos. 1645-67, 2094-2108; II 2, Nos. 273-95, 503, 518, 571, 608.

Kühler, Wilhelmus Johannes. Geschiedenis der Nederlandsche Doopsgezinden in de Zestiende Eeuw. Haarlem: H.D. Tjeenk Willink, 1932: passim.

Kühler, Wilhelmus Johannes. Geschiedenis van de Doopsgezinden in Nederland II. 1600-1735 Eerste Helft. Haarlem: H.D. Tjeenk Willink & Zoon n.v., 1940: passim.

Mellink, Albert F. De Wederdopers in de noordelijke Nederlanden 1531-1544. Groningen: J.B. Wolters, 1954: 317-19.

Pekelharing, K. R. "Geschiedenis der Hervorming in Zeeland." Archief Zeeuwsch Genootschap VI (1866).

Additional Information

Congregation: Doopsgezinde Gemeente Walcheren

Address: Lange Noordstraat 62, 4331 CE Middelburg, Netherlands

Telephone: 0118-614686

Church website: Doopsgezinde Gemeente Walcheren

Denominational affiliation:

Algemene Doopsgezinde Societeit


Map:Middelburg (Zeeland, Netherlands)

Author(s) Nanne van der Zijpp
Date Published 1957

Cite This Article

MLA style

Zijpp, Nanne van der. "Middelburg (Zeeland, Netherlands)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1957. Web. 17 Aug 2022. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Middelburg_(Zeeland,_Netherlands)&oldid=146622.

APA style

Zijpp, Nanne van der. (1957). Middelburg (Zeeland, Netherlands). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 17 August 2022, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Middelburg_(Zeeland,_Netherlands)&oldid=146622.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, pp. 677-679. All rights reserved.

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