The Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk in Breda is a beautiful church in the center of the city. And even though most Dutch people won’t know why, it is a monument of great national importance. That is because in this church, the ancestors of our royal family are buried in beautiful mausoleums.
The Nassaus ruled in Breda since the beginning of the 15th century, when Engelbrecht I van Nassau married Johanna van Polanen. From this moment, the Nassau family has always played a great role in the Netherlands.
While the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk used to be a small wooden church, in 1410, the construction of a great gothic church started. It wasn’t finished until 1547. The Nassaus had a lot of influence on the construction and they made their own chapel in the church: the Prinsenkapel (the Prince chapel). Seventeen family members were buried here and it was even the plan to bury Willem van Oranje-Nassau here, but since Breda was in the hands of the Spanish troops at the time, Willem van Oranje-Nassau and most of the royal family members after him were buried in Delft.
One of the most important mausoleum is that of of Engelbrecht I van Nassau, his wife Johanna van Polanen, Jan IV van Nassau and his wife Maria van Loon-Heinsberg. It is no less than eight metres high and it shows the deceased kneeling before a statue of Madonna and child. Behind them stand their patron saints. The statue of Madonna and child was made in the 19th century, since there was an empty space in the mausoleum and people believed that there must have been a statue of Madonna and child. More recent research, however suggests that there must have been a cross, because there was also a painting in the chapel about finding the true cross from the same time as the mausoleum.
The other special mausoleum is the one of Engelbrecht II van Nassau and his wife Cimburga van Baden. It is remarkable that there are no saints depicted. Instead, it seems as if the grave is being opened by heroes from ancient times, reveiling the dead bodies of Engelbrecht and his wife. Among the heroes are Julius Caesar and Hannibal. On top of the grave lie the weapons of Engelbrecht and both the ancient military heroes and these weapons point to Engelbrecht’s military fame.
You can still see some evidence in the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk of the iconoclast Beeldenstorm, where (mostly) protestants destroyed religious art in catholic churches in the 16th century. If you look at the wooden choir stalls, you can still see that most figures don’t have a face. I liked that they kept these ‘broken’ statues as they were, so that you could see the damage that the Beeldenstorm had done. And when visiting the Prinsenkapel, don’t forget to look up either, the ceiling fresco is beautiful and just restored. And one last small detail not to skip: two of the little wooden statues on the choir stalls are modern additions, made after the Second World War. The Polish soldiers liberated Breda, so one of the statues depicts a German soldier surrendering to a Polish soldier and another depicts a Polish soldier with a Dutch girl on the back of his motorcycle!
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