We in Alkmaar still consider our Grote Kerk to be huge. We cherish it. Our finest monument. But just imagine how grand it must have seemed in the eyes of our ancestors, who undertook its construction. It took 50 years, a lifetime in those days, from 1470 to 1520. Alkmaar was much smaller in size then. At the start of the construction it had about 4000 inhabitants, at its completion about 7000, in predominantly small, low houses. What an achievement. To our former fellow Alkmaarders it must have been the largest building they had ever seen. The site had seen earlier churches. As far back as 1063 sources mention a Capella Alcmere, a chapel therefore. In 1116 a deed about interment duties mentions the name St Laurentius. Possibly Alkmaar was at that time an independent parish? When the church becomes too small, they add another one onto it, just like it. This double church is named after saints Laurentius and Matthias, the patron saints of the town. When in 1468 a steeple collapses, it is decided to build a new, considerably larger church in Brabant Gothic style. The famous architect Keldermans came over from Mechelen for the purpose.
The new steeple never materialized although it was in the planning as an old painting in the church shows. On the west side of the church a most impressive foundation for this steeple was discovered. Did funds run out? Was the soft soil found unreliable? After 1572 the Roman Catholic church is converted into a Protestant one, as happened in many places in our country after the Reformation. The first Reformed pastor was Jan Arentsz, who lives on in the name of a local comprehensive school. Major restorations in the 20th century have seen to it that the present-day church is such an outstanding monument. It does not house a religious congregation any longer. The building is now ‘the town’s living room’, for the entire population for concerts, exhibitions, fairs and parties.