The swinging bells and the "Saint Ursula-beiaard" of the Nieuwe Kerk in Delft
The construction of the Delft Nieuwe Kerk (Saint Ursula Kerk, according to the second patron saint of the church) began in 1383 while its elegant tower was begun 13 years later in 1396. After several interruptions (in 1412 and 1434) the tower was ready exactly one century later in 1496. However, less than fifty years after its completion, it was struck by lightning on 3 May, 1536 and burst into flames. Fanned by a strong east wind, the fire spread out of control and devastated virtually everything in Delft west of the Nieuwe Kerk. Part of the tower was burned down, the bells were badly damaged and the roof of the clerestory had collapsed. The spire was re-built in 1537 but the Nieuwe Kerk’s bad luck was not over. On 12 October 1654, just after midday, the town was struck by the infamous Delft thunderclap. Ninety thousand pounds of gunpowder exploded in the Delft powder-magazine damaging the walls roof of the Nieuwe Kerk and totally destroying its magnificent stained-glass windows. After immediate restoration, the church could be used again by spring of 1655. In 1872 the spire was again destroyed by lightning. The present spire was built in 1877, bringing the total height of the tower to about 109 meters, which is only surpassed in the Netherlands by the Dom tower in Utrecht.
View of Delft
with a view towards the Nieuwe Kerk
National Gallery London
Between 1436 and 1443, seven bells, cast by Pieter van Dormen from Antwerp, were hoisted and put in place in the Nieuwe Kerk spire. But they were damaged in a fire in 1536 so that the kerkmeesters (churchwarden) had to commission new one. cast by Joest Cetelaar in Mechelen and the second two by Claes Jansz., a coppersmith. In 1538 the kerkmeesters ordered four swinging bells by the bell founders Geert van Wou and Jan ter Steghe in Kampen near Delft. The founders utilized the remains of the damaged bells as klokspijs (bell metal) and fabricated the new ones between September 1538 and May 1539. They were given the names "Jesus," "Maria," "Ursula" and "Martinus" but unfortunately, they survived briefly. The Jesus bell broke within the first year, the Ursula broke later and had to be re-cast in 1565, the Maria had to serve as klokspijs for the third cast of the Jesus bell in 1548. The fate of the Martinus is unknown.
After the building was taken over by the Reformed Church in 1572, the use of the bells for the church services declined. However, some years later new bells were commissioned by the town mayors indicating that they had some right to decide about the use of these bells. First, the "Vrijheid-klok," or "Libertas," was cast in 1607 by Jan Burgerhuys from Middelburg (Zeeland). This bell was destined to replace another one which probably was brought to the city hall tower in order to complete a set of chimes. The Libertaswas one of the few swinging bells which were not sold in 1808 to relieve a grave financial crisis of the municipality of Delft. During World War II, the Libertas was confiscated, together with many other Dutch bells. It returned to Delft but while it was being hung, it crashed down to the ground and was totally destroyed. In 1955 the bell foundry "Koninklijke Eijsbouts" in Asten cast a copy of the Libertas which still serves its purpose.
The tower of Saint Ursula
in a 17th-century engraving.
In 1662 the master-bell-founder François Hemony, commissioned by the town mayors, cast another swinging bell for the Nieuwe Kerk. It served as a werkklok, to tell the working citizens of Delft when to begin work in the morning and when they were allowed to go home in the evening. Like with the Libertas, the werkklok wasn't sold in 1808, and after World War II it returned safely to Delft, once again hung in the Nieuwe Kerk tower where it still is in function.
After the proclamation of the short-lived Batavian Republic in 1795, the use of the swinging bells declined and a clearer distinction was made between the use of the bells for sacred or for municipal purposes. In 1808, the city of Delft underwent severe financial problems and the mayors were obliged to sell some of the eleven remaining bells in the Oude and Nieuwe Kerk and the city hall. Frederik J. Berghuys, municipal carillonneur in that time, made a detailed inventory with the diameter (measured by himself) and the estimated weight of each of the bells.2 He proposed to preserve at least two bells per tower, one for the half- and one for the full hour stroke. This meant that five of the eleven bells were sold and six remained in place. One of the survivors was the large Libertas bell of the Oude Kerk, 1570 cast by Hendrik van Trier. For the Nieuwe Kerk these were the Libertas and the Hemony werkklok, as mentioned above. The sale brought the amount of 11,820 gulden.
The Trinitas and the Bourdon Bell of the Oude Kerk
Two unique bells hang from a heavy oak bell cage in the fourth loft in the tower of the Oude Kerk (Old Church). These are the Trinitas bell dating from 1570 and the Laudate bell dating from 1719. The Trinitas bell, or Bourdon bell, is the most exceptional of the two, weighing almost nine tonnes (!) and with a diameter of approximately 2,3 meters.
The Bourdon can still be heard each day, although somewhat modestly, when a hammer chimes the hour and half-hour. The Bourdon is only rung on very special occasions such as, for example, the funeral of a member of the Dutch royal family. The powerful chime of the Bourdon causes such heavy vibrations that regular use could damage the monument.