News Articles

Dutch lead effort in cataloguing and recording history of Russian city

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia – Foreign churches in the Baltic Sea port of St. Petersburg not only played a crucial role as religious communities but also were important for the city from a cultural perspective. That point was made by Dutch church historian, Prof. Dr. N. Holtrop, during the presentation of his new book on the city’s history of foreign churches, which cover the period of 1703 to 1917. A Dutch Reformed Church was always part of St. Petersburg’s history during those two centuries.

The presentation took place in the historic Dutch Reformed Church building on the Nevski Prospekt, one of S. Petersburg’s best known boulevards. The book was presented to Dutch Consul-General, Mr. E.W.V.M. Hoeks, with a group of about thirty individuals in attendance. St. Petersburg was from its birth a focal point for Dutch merchants and traders in Russia, a role it assumed when Czar Peter the Great encouraged them to move their warehouses and supplies from the far northern port of Archangel.

The local representatives of Dutch trading houses in 1702 were given a Manifest in which the Russian ruler extended them unrestricted freedom of religion. The Dutch built three churches in the city which was located on the banks of the Neva River, at the Eastern end of the Gulf of Finland. The current building dates from 1834, when the original structure was renovated and expanded.

The Dutch Reformed congregation, which was part of Classis Amsterdam, was disbanded within a decade following the Revolution of 1917. By 1924 many of its members had left Russia for the Netherlands and by 1927 it had ceased to function. The building received a different function. Nowadays, it is the home of the Alexander Blok Library.


The events in St. Petersburg following the uprising were alarming. For the foreign churches the revolution signaled their demise. Member who had not been naturalized as Russians fled the country. Pastors who stayed anyway were imprisoned or continued to work underground. The church buildings were shut and confiscated. Much of the other possessions of the churches either were stolen or deposited in museums and archives.

Few people, remarked Prof. Holtrop, had expected to find any trace of the foreign churches, and their social, cultural and religious life, in archives and museums after the chaos of the Revolution and the Anti-Religious policies of the Soviet Union. They were surprised at how much survived the Soviet rule.

The book includes articles of the Swedish, the Anglican and Lutheran churches as well as of the pietists from Halle who over the centuries settled in St. Petersburg and in other regions of Russia. The book also lists a catalogue of archival material and where it can be researched in St. Petersburg.