Westerkerk and Anne Frank
Late 16th and early 17th century Amsterdam expanded. Homes along the newly dug canals were built for the growing population of Amsterdam. Not only houses were needed also churches. Westerkerk became the showcase Protestant church for wealthy Amsterdam citizens who lived along Herengracht. Today, Westerkerk is the main gathering place of the Dutch Reformed Community of Amsterdam. Anne Frank mentions the chimes of Westerkerk in her diary entry of 11 July 1942.
Westerkerk in Amsterdam
Bare and plain is exactly what the Calvinist congregation in Amsterdam wanted the church to be. The only features to note are the tall windows, the soaring columns and the wooden pulpit. Tall windows bring in the light of God. At the far end of the church is the original organ whose panels are decorated with biblical scenes. When Westerkerk was built, it was the largest church in the Netherlands. The vault is constructed of wood because Amsterdam’s marshy soil would not allow the use of heavy stone.
Hendrick de Keyser designed the church. De Keyser copied his design of the Zuiderkerk but increased the scale. The building of Westerkerk began in 1620 and was not finished until 1631. When in 1621 De Keyser died, another architect, Jacob van Campen, finished the job. He added the square bell tower. Although it looks elegant, De Keyser would never have approved of it. He would most likely have designed a hexagonal or octagonal spire.
The Bell Tower
Westerkerk clock tower soars 85m (278ft) up in the sky and is Amsterdam’s tallest building. The bridal-cake-shaped tower is topped by the imperial crown of Habsburg Emperor Maximillian and shows the Andreas Cross, a triple cross. The tourist industry has embraced these three crosses as their logo.
Westerkerk with the Maximillian Crown
Climbing the Bell Tower
Climb the 186 steps up the bell tower for a panoramic view. On the way up, you will pass the chamber where watchmen would keep a look-out for fires. You will also pass the bell ringing equipment and the bells themselves. The tall spire sways three centimeter in a good breeze, but it is nothing to worry about. The tour to the tower runs every thirty minutes from April to October and involves climbing incredibly narrow staircases, some more like ladders. Only six people at a time are allowed to participate in each tour.
The chimes of Westerkerk reverberate across Prinsengracht canal, then the sound ebbs away. This musical intermezzo reminds us of what Anne Frank wrote in her diary on 11th July 1942, when she and her family had been in hiding for only three days. Het Achterhuis or the Annex where the family spent almost two years in hiding was right behind Westerkerk.
‘Father and mother can’t get used to the chiming of Westertoren clock, which tells us the time every quarter of an hour. Not me, I liked it from the start. It sounds reassuring, especially at night.’
The church floor is a carpet of graves, most only with a number. Some graves are adorned with carvings, but only rich people could afford this. Rembrandt was buried in this church in a paupers’ tomb. Although his death is recorded in the church register, the actual spot was not. It is not likely that his bones are still in the church because it was customary to clear paupers’ tombs after twenty years to make place for others.
photo credit Marianne Crone & Albert van den Boomen