News Articles

Future Leiden Pilgrim heritage site in doubt

U.S. ambassador asks to postpone demolition

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

LEIDEN, the Netherlands - Plans to raze a much restored section of an old church wall in the centre of this Dutch university town do not sit well with some Americans a continent away. Prompted by many letters and e-mails from concerned citizens in her home country, U.S. Ambassador to the Netherlands, Mrs. Cythia Schneider, has asked the Leiden municipality to reverse their decision.

At the centre of the controversy are the remaining parts of the Our Lady Church, once the house of worship of a group of English Puritan separatists from the Church of England who subsequently in the early part of the 17th century moved to the New World where they founded a colony near Plymouth. Known as the Pilgrims, they include forefathers of U.S. Presidents Franklin and Theodore Roosevelt and George Bush.

Present-day Leiden City Fathers call the wall section ‘no longer original’ because of a series of restorations. In a city with 1,300 historic sites, city councilors say they can afford to dispense with a few. To make space for redevelopment, Leiden has designated about twenty other medieval and 17th century sites for demolition.

Leiden's American-born Jeremy Bangs, an expert on the Pilgrims who is curator of a museum on the migrant group, is leading the opposition to the plans. If Leiden's City Fathers get their way, they will have removed any visible remnants of the Pilgrim Fathers’ stay in the city, laments Bangs. The house in which Pilgrim leader William Bradford lived until he boarded the Mayflower in 1620, already was demolished in 1985.