Vincent’s father, Theodorus “Dorus” van Gogh, was appointed parson for the village of Zundert in 1849. He gave weekly sermons in the local church, which had been built in 1806 and was home to a small Protestant community of 114 members, 56 of them practising. Many significant events, including the Van Gogh children’s baptisms, took place in and around the church. The font used to baptise Vincent on 24 April 1853 is still inside.
Starlings often perched on the roof of the church, and the image stayed with Vincent. He recalled the memory in a February 1877 letter to his brother Theo and drew the church with birds on its roof in a sketchbook for Betsy Tersteeg (the daughter of his boss at the art dealers Goupil & Cie in The Hague).
In January 1871, Dorus left his post as parson in Zundert and moved to the Protestant community of Helvoirt. He occasionally returned to Zundert to preach, sometimes – for instance, on 21 July 1878 – accompanied by Vincent.