The new Saint Bavo church in Haarlem has always been a bit of a mystery to me. Don’t get me wrong, I find it a beautiful piece of architecture to be admired from afar while biking along the Leidsevaart or walking on the edge of the Vijfhoek. But it’s not on “my side” of the city and as someone who prefers to spend my Sundays with a good walk in the dunes, there has never been a compelling reason for me actually visit the building.
That was until I noticed the platform that was constructed between the two towers and I saw the posters for Klim naar het licht which started popping up around town. When some friends were visiting from America last month, it finally seemed like the perfect opportunity to see what the new Saint Bavo was all about. So, we paid our 10 Euro and entered the church. As far as churches go, this one ticks all of the right boxes. Vaulted ceilings, massive pillars, beautiful organs, and lots of other typical “church things”. But those aren’t the things that Klim naar het licht is about. Once we were directed across the naïve and ushered into a small doorway, the uniqueness of the experience began to unfold.
We expected a dank and dark narrow staircase like what is found in some of the older churches across Europe. What a surprise! The first leg of our climb to the upper base of the towers was via a beautiful, open and airy, yet tight spiral staircase that was built with incredible precision. The smoothness of the railing and lightness of the stone were amazing. Looking back down from the top was one of the highlights of the tour. The deep shadows contrasting with the bright, white stones created the feel of a seashell vortex where you could almost hear the roar of the ocean. The pictures on St. Bavo’s website don’t do it justice.
The staircase delivered us onto a narrow, open walkway high above the naive of the church. This was the most difficult section for one of my friends who has a fear of heights. But as we made our way around the entirety of the inner dome, her nerves were calmed by the changing perspective of the people and sights far below us.
A small door on the other side of the dome led us into a narrow maze of walkways through the dark and dusty “guts” of the building. This was a fascinating look into the underlying architecture that supports this massive structure. I was also surprised by how much wood is behind all of the stone in such a building, helping me better understand how the extensive devastation of Notre-Dame was possible.
At this point we were only halfway up the church – now it was time to actually climb the towers. Much more spacious, these stairs were relatively easy and offered several large, open landings where you could take a break, read some history of the church, admire the bells, and see the inner workings of the clock.
Finally, after some 60 meters of climbing we reached the platform between the towers. It was one of those rare “wow” moments in life as I exited from the stone staircase into the open air, basking in the sun with a gentle breeze blowing across my face. It was worth each and every one of the 344 steps that it took to get up here. The views are spectacular! All of Haarlem lies in front of you. Amsterdam and Leiden glimmer in the distance. And there are far glimpses of the North Sea framed by the crest of the dunes to the west. This is a very special view that every Haarlemer should experience.
The platform is only open through the end of July, so you only have a few more weeks to Klim naar het licht!