History

The recorded history of the Greek Community in Holland goes back to about 1760.

These events are documented in the famous “Chronicles of Amsterdam” written by Johannes Brink, who was born Ioannis Pringos, in the small Greek mountain village of Zagoras in the Pelion area. Pringos settled in Amsterdam which he refers to in his “Chronicles”, as “the great trading store of the world!”.

From his diaries, written in simple but very graphic language, we learn many details about the Greeks living in Holland during the 18th century.

The common dream and goal of that small group of traders, living and working in Amsterdam – the flourishing heart of the Netherlands – was to establish a place of worship which as well as satisfying their religious needs, would also serve as a centre to promote contacts with one another and preserve their Greek identity, culture and traditions. Above all, they wished to safeguard their faith in the faraway, Lutheran country they had settled in.

They duly approached the city council in about 1763 to ask for permission to the celebrate the Orthodox Divine Liturgy. They were asked “But what are you?” to which they answered, “Hellenes and Christians”. Permission was granted for the services and according to these Chronicles, two Greek traders, Pigazis and Avgerinos, made available the attic of their business premises to be used as a place of worship.

The first church service was held on 22nd July 1764, with the Rev. Anthimos Zagorianos officiating.

Soon, the little attic was filled to capacity, mainly with passing Greek and Russian Orthodox seamen. However, among the congregation, one would frequently find intellectuals, Dutch Hellenists and clergy who were drawn there by the mystic, contemplative atmosphere of the service, as well as the opportunity to follow the Divine Liturgy in the original Greek language and not in the “Erasmian Greek” which they had been taught at the great Dutch universities.

In time, the need to establish a proper Greek church could no longer be put off and this great dream and ambition was achieved by a serendipitous series of events which reads like a thriller.

In 1748, in Batavia, in the distant Netherlands Indies colonies, a very wealthy Greek merchant named Dimitrios Papathanassis passed away. However, before he died, he went to the Dutch Governor and entrusted him with the fortune of 15,417 gold florins which he had amassed together with his partner the late Konstantine Mavroudoglou. This fortune was to go to their heirs, who were then living in Philipoupolis in Bulgaria.

The wish was duly executed by the conscientious Governor and the money was sent to Holland and deposited with the “Weeskamer”, a body which administered inheritances of widows and orphans. Thus one day in 1762, two of the heirs arrived in Amsterdam to claim the fortune.

In gratitude for the help given to them by the local Greek community and in particular by the priest the Reverend Nektarios, in obtaining the required proof of identity, the heirs donated the then considerable sum of 5 000 florins to be used towards the purchase of a three-storey building at 91 Oudezijds Voorburgwal. This building was subsequently converted into a church.

And so, one Sunday morning in May 1764, the first service was held in the new Greek-Russian Orthodox Church of Saint Catherine, named after the church’s patron, Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia. This building still stands in Amsterdam today. It may be of interest to note that on the same street, from 1772-78, lived another Greek merchant, Adamantios Korais, who was later to become one of the leading visionaries in the struggle to liberate Greece from the oppression of the Ottoman Empire.

Despite a constant shortage of funds church services were held more or less regularly from then onward subject to the availability of a priest.

During the 1830′s new life was blown into the Orthodox community when the Russian princess Anna Paulowna came to Holland to marry William Prince of Orange. She endowed several orthodox chapels in the royal palaces and also worshipped at the church of Saint Catherine of which she became an important benefactress.

Generous gifts were also given to the church by her brother Czar Nicholas I.

Sadly however, by 1867, after the death of Anna Paulowna, the church had to close because of a lack of funds and the building in which the church was located was sold by auction. The gifts donated by the Czar were passed on to the Russian consulate.

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