Oude Kerk memorial

In 1686, the same year in which he sat for his portrait by Verkolje, Leeuwenhoek bought two graves in the northwest section of the Oude Kerk. Almost four decades later, he was buried in one of them, but his body didn't stay there very long before it was moved.

The diagram on the right is from "Een Paar Nieuwe Bijzonderheden Over Van Leeuwenhoek", Abraham Schierbeek's 1930 article in Nederlandsch Tijdschrift voor Geneeskunde; it also appears in his biography of Leeuwenhoek, p. 86.

The wall on the left is the wall of the tower, with Leeuwenhoek's niche clearly marked just under the spiral staircase leading to the clock and bells. The wall at the top is the north wall, closest to the Oude Delft gracht that had to be slightly re-routed when they decided to add a tower to that end of the church.

The dotted lines for the 19th and 22nd rows show how the plots were arranged. Twenty-five rows would have fit into this end, with fifteen graves in each row. However, several bodies could be buried on top of each other.

Leeuwenhoek bought graves 11 and 12 in the 19th row. His first wife and four of his children had been dead for over twenty years, and I don't know where they were originally buried, but they are listed in the burial registers as being buried in the Oude Kerk. Also, the Oude Kerk burial book notes that the caskets were three and four deep in these graves. If they are Leeuwenhoek's wife and children, they must have been buried elsewhere and then moved to numbers 11 and 12 after 1686.

Leeuwenhoek's second wife Cornelia Swalmius died in 1694 and was buried in number 12 on January 6. From Schierbeek's article, which seems to be quoting the unpublished notes of Delft archivist L.G.N. Bouricius:

den 6 Januari 1694 is in dit graff gelegt juffr. CORNELIA SWALMIUS HUYSVR. van dr. ANTHONY VAN LEEUWENHOEK Lid van de Kon. Societyt binnen Londen. blijft nog 3 diep. Nota: dat graf op dato voors. schoongemaakt op 4 diep en een kistje met gebeente onder in graf gezet.

On 6 January 1694 was in this grave laid Cornelia Swalmius, housewife of Anthony van Leeuwenhoek member of the Royal Society in London. remains 3 deep. Note: the grave on that date cleaned out 4 deep and a box with bones set under it in the grave.

Whose bones were in that box?

Leeuwenhoek was buried beside Cornelia in August 1723. However, when his daughter Maria gave the money for the burial niche set into the tower wall in 1739, the contents of that grave ("also all of the skeletons") were exchanged with whatever was in number 15, which belonged to the church. Maria was laid to rest beside her father (and presumably her stepmother and perhaps her siblings) in number 14 on April 30, 1745.

The two inscriptions on the monument (right) are in Latin. The first is behind the fence just under the skull resting on crossed bones:

Patri Charissimo Hoc Monumentum Filia Maria A Leeuwenhoek Moerens P.

Dobell's translation (p. 100):

To her most beloved Father this monument his daughter Maria van Leeuwenhoek mourning has erected.

Above the skull and under the profile of Leeuwenhoek on the obelisk is a longer inscription. Dobell translated it:

To the fond and everlasting memory of Antony van Leeuwenhoek, Fellow of the English Royal Society, who, by detecting through diligent application and scrutiny the mysteries of Nature and the secrets of natural philosophy by means of microscopes invented and marvellously constructed by himself, and by describing them in the Dutch dialect, has earned the highest approbation of the whole world. Born at Delft 24 October 1632, and died in the same place 26 August 1723.

This memorial was designed by Taco Jelgersma and scultped by Gerrit van der Giesen.

On the floor in front of the niche, the inscription on the tombstone reads:


Here rests
Anthony van Leewenhoek
Oldest member of the Royal Society in London,
Born in the city of Delft on 24 October 1632,
And died on 26 August 1723,
being 90 years, 10 months, and 2 days old.
To the reader

Underneath that is a poem written by Huibert Corneliszoon Poot:

Heeft elk, o wandelaer, alom
Ontzagh voor hoogen ouderdom
En wonderbare gaven,
Soo set eerbiedigh hier uw' stap:
Hier legt de gryse weetenschap
In Leewenhoek begraven.

Dobell's translation tries to preserve the original rhyme pattern.

Since everyone, O traveller,
Great age respecteth, everywhere,
And gifts of wondrous merit:
So here all reverently tread,
Where Science old and gray of head
In LEEWENHOEK lies buried.

Under the poem is a defaced coat of arms, and under that:

En Maria Van Leeuwenhoek
Desselfs dogter gebooren te Delft den 22
September 1656 en overleeden den 25 April 1745

And Maria Van Leeuwenhoek
Daugher of the same born in Delft 22
September 1656 and died on 25 April 1745

Note the spelling, his last name twice without the U and her name with it, all on the same stone.

In the Kasboek van ontvangsten door de koster voor begrafenissen van de Oude Kerk (Account book of receipts by the sexton for burials of the Oude Kerk) in the archives of the Reformed Church (HGD), a note under Leeuwenhoek's name reads, doen nogh een sarck op het graft, do another sarcophagus on the grave.