A small wooden chapel stands on the spot where the Der Aa Church now stands. The chapel is used by sailors, because what is now the Vismarkt (fish market) was once a port from which ships set sail to a branch of  the river Aa.


In 1200 the chapel is  elevated to parish church status. Baptisms and funerals may be held there and other  sacraments may be administered. The wooden chapel is replaced by a stone cruciform church, built in honour of Mary, Saint Nicholas and all the other saints.

Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of sailors and it was for them that the Der Aa Church was built.  The three golden balls on the roof tell us that the church is dedicated to Saint Nicholas. Three is a number that turns up repeatedly in the legends about Sinterklaas. One of them tells the story of a poor man with three unmarried daughters. Saint Nicholas saves them from an uncertain fate in a brothel by giving them each a gold nugget for their dowry.

The church was also dedicated to Mary: Our Lady of the Aa. Later this became Der Aa Church and later still it was known as the A-church. After the restoration the church was given its rightful name: Der Aa-kerk.


On the 4th of April Otto III, Bishop of Utrecht, confirms the rights granted by a previous Otto to the parish church dedicated to Maria and Nicholas. This is the first recorded mention of Der Aa Church.

Architectural style of a 13th Century church: triple-aisled cross-basilica with  semi-circular apses. The shape is still discernible in the floor of the chancel. There  were altars dedicated to Maria and Nicholas in the apses. You can still see traces of the cross-basilica in the exterior walls on the south side of the church (beside the sacristy). The church was built in the Romano-Gothic style, at approximately the same time as the Martini Church.


In 1400 the Martini Church enlarges the chancel and in 1425 the Aa Church follows. Next the nave is extended and heightened. The arches are now 26 metres high, a metre higher than those in the Martini church. The architectural style changes to Gothic, as we can see from the height and the windows. In 1465 the renovation is complete and the enlarged chancel now has 19 altars.


After the reconstruction the vaulted ceiling is ornamented with paintings. Groningen's Martini Church has scenes from the life of Christ, but in Der Aa Church the artist depicts the resurrection and the afterlife: the Emmaus Pilgrims, the Ascension, the Descent of the Holy Ghost. In the side aisles Arma Christi (the Weapons of Christ). The paintings are completed in 1495.


The year of the Reformation in Groningen. Prince Maurits’  bombs damage the tower. After the state militia conquer the city, all traces of the Catholic era must be erased. On August 2nd the altars are dismantled. The colourful church is  whitewashed. But this all happens peacefully, there is no ‘iconoclasm’. The Word is paramount and the pulpit is placed in a central position in the nave. On 14 August 1594 the first sermon is delivered.


A partition is raised between the chancel and the nave. From now on the nave is only used to celebrate the Eucharist. The Protestant interior is austere, the only ornaments are the texts on the pillars in the chancel, which are framed in painted cartouches.


The tower is struck by lightening and collapses. Repairs are slow, because in 1672 the city is under siege by the Bishop of Munster, Bernard van Galen (who is still known as Bommen Berend  - Bomber Berend - in Groningen).


The tower collapses again, this time for no apparent reason but probably due to faulty reconstruction. Two women are killed. The houses on the north and west side of the church are destroyed. If the tower had collapsed on a Sunday the tragedy would have been catastrophic. When the tower comes down it takes the western vault with it, which is why part of the depiction of the sufferings of Christ is missing. The masterpiece by the famous organ builder Arp Schnitger (click here for more information about the Der Aa Church organ) is also lost. In 1718 Groningen’s master builder Allert Meijer rebuilds the tower  as we know it today. This marks the end of a catastrophic half-century.

The French Occupation

During the French period, around 1795, the church is used as an army depot. From 1811 to 1812 the French use the chancel as an army depot and stable for their horses.


After the French retreat the church is once again used for worship services. It even gets a ‘second hand’ organ from the Broer Church. Click here for more information about the Der Aa Church organ


The church is closed down because of a  risk of falling masonry. Architectural inspection brings to light the enormous damage to the foundation and the pillars. Reconstruction begins immediately. Due to a lack of funds work comes to a halt for a time in 1983, but the construction work is eventually completed in 1987. Secondary benefit: beautiful late medieval wall paintings that were whitewashed many centuries ago are rediscovered.


There is an increasing awareness  that a large, high-maintenance building in the centre of town can only survive if it is put to use. The Der Aa Church is fitted with modern toilets and professional catering facilities. The 30-year old plaster layer is replaced. The monumental character of the building remains intact. Der Aa Church is alive and kicking!


Der Aa Church is still a hub of activity. The building is hired out for a wide range of events such as concerts, trade fairs, lectures, weddings and receptions.

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