The Bosses of Dordrecht

Bosses, c. 1500, Great Church Dordrecht. Photo. H.A. van Duinen, Bosses 15th century Great Church (Dordrecht 1987).

The city of Dordrecht is the oldest and until the mid sixteenth century most prominent town in the former County of Holland. The real beginnings of the town lies around 1150 and in 1220 the count gave the town city rights. The city was a centre of international trade. Soon after the beginning of the Eighty Years War against Spain (1568-1648) the town switched side and became protestant. In 1572 the first independent and free assemble of the States General took place in Dordrecht and William of Orange was recognized as lawful stadtholder and leader of the revolt. Another important date is the synod of 1618, which marked a swift to radical Protestantism and the beginning of a round up of adversaries, including the execution of Johan van Oldenbarnevelt in 1619.

One of the main symbols of Catholicism, the Great Church of Dordrecht, was stripped of all windows and altars depicting saints in 1572. One place could not be reached easily however, the 25m high vault. The vault is made of stone and still depicts the polychromed bosses of Christ’s Passion in the nave, other medieval bosses can be seen in the south transept, the chapels, the north transept and the sanctuary. The bosses are a unique medieval heritage from around 1500, unreachable for iconoclasts and incomparable and superb in carving and painting. Twenty-five meters may be too high to view the bosses in detail, but the smallest details can be seen in recent publications. (Source: H.A. van Duinen, Bosses 15th century Great Church (Dordrecht 1987).