There’s a lady with a white bun. Find her. She knows everything about the Gouda windows. I enter the St John church in search of typical Gouda in stained glass windows.
Group activity in the longest church of Netherlands
It’s Wednesday morning. A few rays of sunlight found their way through the clouds and now shine on the red-white shutters of the Gouda city hall. While I spot a LEGO version of the church, a woman with white trousers and red jacket swirls her small group of tourists through the alley. I follow them to their, no, our destination. As the group swarms into the St John, I stop at the counter.
Teambuilding typical Gouda in the stained glass windows
I make myself tall as the longest windows in the church (20m) and say: “I’m organising a team building event on Dutch culture ánd diversity and want to include the stained-glass stories of the St John church. Can you tell me what the most typical Gouda in the stained glass windows is?”
Erasmus in Gouda
“How Gouda is presented, you mean”, the man behind the desk replies, while you see how he’s trying to formulate the perfect answer. The man clearly likes to think along: “John the baptist is the patron saint of the city Gouda. All through the city you see the colors red and white. Red for his suffering and white for purity. You can find the city’s coat of arms – red and white- in several of the Gouda windows. The glasses in the choir tell the story of John the Baptist’s life.”
The man puts his thumb and indicative finger on his chin and thinks out loud, nodding towards the most modern glass. “Of course this stained glass window is quite abstract, but it is representing the beliefs of Erasmus. The humanist was born in Gouda, his father was a priest in this church. If you really want to know what is typical Gouda in the Gouda glasses, look for the lady with the white bun. She’s a guide and can tell you all you want to know about the windows.
Gouda Glasses and Leiden team event
Every time I visit the St John, I run to one stained-glass window. That has to do with my passion for the Leidens Ontzet and the team event on Dutch culture I once organised in the city of Leiden. The creation of this customised teambuilding activity has priority now. I enter the church and I immediately see ms Kraal, the lady with the white bun. She’s passionately explaining the story of one of the Gouda windows to a couple of visitors. The scene is so intimate I fear to intrude and break the serene atmosphere. My excitement to find the answer to my quest is far bigger though and in a stutter I begin my question:
“The man behind the counter told me you know everything about these stained glasses. What is typical Gouda in the stained glass windows?”
The Night Watch of the St John church
Ms Kraal looks over her glasses at me. “There nothing typical Gouda in the stained glass windows”, she replies. “But,” as she goes on after seeing my disappointment. “Many of the Gouda glasses have a connection with the biblical humanism, the teaching of Erasmus. And Erasmus was an important figure for Gouda and for the Netherlands.” For her, window 15 is the Night watch of the St John church. She places her hand on an imaginary hand: “John the Baptist doesn’t baptise Jesus in the traditional way…”
I try to listen to her, but find myself to eager to run to the stained glass window and see for myself. I say my thankyous and goodbyes and Ms Kraal gives me one more tip: window 7. This is not your ordinary presentation of the Last Supper. This is a real conversation. The focus is not on the dinner or the characters, but on the lively interaction between the characters. Ow, I’m excited to see for myself!
Humanism in thought bubbles & speech balloons
While the orgue plays a tune I recognise, but can not put a name on, I sit in front of window 15. 10 minutes, half an hour. I listen to the audioguide and see what Ms Kraal explained. John the Baptist doesn’t look at Jesus and baptises him. He looks up and listens to God. His words come down in a ray of light that runs down to the holy ghost. It’s the dove that represents him.
I’ve fallen in love with window 16 before as that does have a typical Dutch element: the landscape. The brothers Crabeth, who made this glass and 14 & 15 which together form a tryptich, used the countryside around Gouda for the landscape. Now that I see the full story of these 3 glasses, I know I have found the answer to my quest. I’ve found typical Gouda in the stained glass windows ánd typical Dutch elements. Now I only need to think of a creative assignment to include this in the team building event on Dutch culture and diversity….
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