The Oldest Church in Amsterdam

The Oude Kerk stands right in the middle of the historic centre of Amsterdam. Dating back to the thirteenth century, this church is both the oldest building and the oldest church in Amsterdam. The Oude Kerk is noteworthy for its wooden vaulted ceiling and the artistically carved misericords, seats for the singers to rest as otherwise they would have had to stand for long hours when singing hymns.


Oude Kerk right in the middle of the Red Light District in Amsterdam

Funded by Pilgrims

The Oude Kerk or Old Church in Amsterdam dates back to the 13th century and is indeed old but much of what you see is 16th century. The wardens’ offices, choir rooms and houses were added to the church over a period of three centuries. Funds came from pilgrims who flocked here in their hundreds after a miracle had occurred. A dying man received communion but regurgitated the Host which was thrown into the fire but wouldn’t burn. After this the Host was taken from the embers and kept in the church as a relic but disappeared some time during the Reformation period. Ever since, thousands of faithful have come to take part in the annual commemorative Stille Omgang, a nocturnal procession which is held in the month of March.

Peddlers and Merchants

Today the church is surrounded by sex shops, coffeeshops (Dutch variety) and window prostitutes but remains a peaceful haven in the Heart of the Red Light District. Over the ages its yawning interior served many functions. It was a home to travellers, a communal gathering place for the homeless, peddlers set up stalls in the aisles and merchants concluded deals.

 

Look up high

Look up at the gilded ceiling, the brocaded pillars that form niches now empty because the iconoclasts destroyed all the statues of the apostles that once stood there. The stained glass windows by Dirck Crabeth depict the death of the Virgin Mary.

 

Carpet of gravestones

More than 10,000 people were buried in the Old Church. Rembrandt’s wife, Saskia van Uylenburgh (grave number 29K) was among them. The master himself was buried in Westerkerk. In fact the whole floor of the Oude Kerk is covered with tomb stones. One tomb stone might contain up to four graves. The dead lie buried on top of each other because of lack of space. Common Amsterdammers rented these graves but wealthy families bought them. The graves are often indicated by a number only. However, the register kept in the church’s archives shows exactly who is buried in which grave.

Sweelinck Organ in Oude Kerk in Amsterdam

Sweelinck Organ

While wandereing through the church you will notice many interesting details. Right at the back of the church a secret door leads to the IJzeren Kapel, the iron chapel, a safe hiding place for important city documents. At the head of the church is the oak-encased Vater-Müller organ surrounded by wooden statues of biblical figures. Composer and organist Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck was the church’s main organist. An inscription on the lintel above the door of the former sacristy warns those about to enter – marry in haste repent at leisure (translation of the Dutch).

 

Climbing the Tower

Climb the tower for a bird’s eye view of Amsterdam. The tower of the Oude Kerk is the tallest tower in Amsterdam and can be climbed on a guided tour only.

Guided tours:

Thursday, Friday and Saturdays from April to September every thirty minutes from 13.00 and 17.00.

 

Address

Oude Kerk Oudekerksplein 23 Amsterdam

Opening Hours Monday – Saturday 10.00 – 18.00 Sunday 13.00 – 17.30

photo credit Marianne Crone & Albert van den Boomen

Oude kerk