Peaceful Oasis in Bustling Amsterdam

Tucked away behind Kalverstraat, you will find Begijnhof, Beguine Court, a green space that offers a welcome break from Amsterdam’s people-packed streets. Sneak into this haven of rest through a little gateway on Spui or go to the main entrance on Gedempte Begijnensloot and you will find yourself in a peaceful garden, seemingly far away from bustling Amsterdam.

  Begijnhof in Amsterdam – a Huddle of 17th and 18th Century Houses 


Begijnhof History

Begijnhof was built in the 14th century as homes for Beguines, Catholic lay nuns who educated the poor and cared for the sick. When men took off during the crusades, society was left with an abundance of single women. Many women were widowed by the hazards of overseas trade, when their husbands never returned home from dangerous voyages.

Single Women

In the late Middle Ages, careers available to women were wifehood or the nunnery. Many single women did not want to take religious vows and became lay nuns. They cared for the needy in return for lodging. However, the Beguines living at the Amsterdam Begijnhof were different. They were women of independent means and they owned their houses. That’s why the dwellings at Begijnhof are not uniform in size and architecture.

 

Begijnhof Today

Only one wooden house survived the many fires that ravished Amsterdam in the Middle Ages. Today the 17th and 18th-century houses in Begijnhof encircle a central garden with the atmosphere of a village green. The last Beguine died in 1970 and since then Begijnhof has provided subsidised housing to single women.

  The English Church at Begijnhof in Amsterdam

The English Church

The church in the middle of the square dates back to the early 15th century and is the only church in Amsterdam with a tower in its original state. During the alteration in 1578, the church was confiscated from the Catholics and given to Presbyterians fleeing from England seeking refuge in liberal Amsterdam.

 

Mayflower

Today, the church is known as the English Church. A wall plaque commemorates the fact that some members of this group of refugees were the later Pilgrim Fathers. A stained-glass window depicts pilgrims praying before boarding the Mayflower and sailing for America.

 

Cornelia

Cornelia Arens, a seventeenth century beguine, loved the Begijnhof so much that she asked to be buried in the gutter. Her wish was not granted. She rests under under a slab of red granite on the left side of the church.


                                                                                      Begijnhof Amsterdam

Begijnhof Chapel

After their church had been confiscated, the Beguines went without a church for almost a century. In 1671, the Protestant authorities allowed them to have a clandestine church in which they and other Catholics attended mass in secret until freedom of religion was restored at the end of the 18th century.

 

Clandestine Church

This clandestine church is known as the Begijnhof Chapel and located at Nos 29 – 30. Its stained-glass windows tell the story of The Miracle of Amsterdam. On 15 March 1345, a dying man was administered the last rites. After receiving the host he became sick. The vomit was thrown into the fire but the next day the host lay undamaged in the ashes. A priest put the host into a box and brought it to the parish church, today’s Oude Kerk. But the box miraculously found its way back to the sick man’s house. It was brought back to the church, but again went back to the house. This was seen as a miraculous sign and Amsterdam became the centre of pilgimage.

 

Silent Procession

Each year on or close to 15 March, pilgrims flock in their thousands to Amsterdam to take part in the Silent Procession through the Amsterdam’s old centre. It begins with Holy Mass at the church at Begijnhof Chapel. The procession is held in absolute silence, no singing, no praying, no religious attributes and no clerical attire.

                                                                 The Wooden House at Begijnhof in Amsterdam

Begijnhof Courtyard

In 1521, Amsterdam municipality banned all wooden buildings because these houses had become fire hazards. That’ s why most houses in Begijnhof date from the 17th century and later. The only exception is No 34, the Houten Huys, the Wooden House, dating back to 1465. In front of this house is a charming statue dedicated to all Beguines who once lived in Begijnhof.

 

Gable Stones

Elegantly carved gable stones adorn many house fronts. They identified dwellings until 1795, when Napoleon introduced house numbers. Next to the wooden house you will find naughty images, that is to say naughty in the Middle Age – roosters, they are male, dogs, they are dirty animals, and male humans over the age for three, standing for dangerous living.

 

Closed Gates

In summer you may find the entrance gate to Begijnhof closed, even though the notice says that opening hours are until 5 pm. The reason is that the residents have seen enough visitors walking about. Bear in mind that common people live in Begijnhof who want to sit outside without tourists staring at them.

photo credit Marianne Crone & Albert van den Boomen

 

 

Begijnhof