History, Hookers & Hashish
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Did you know that Amsterdam’s Red Light District is in the world where you’ll find religion and prostitution literally standing opposite each other. The Old Church in Amsterdam is located in the heart of the Red Light District and is surrounded by window brothels, bars, cannabis- and magic mushrooms shops. But this church also has a daycare and many residential houses next to it. The Old Church in Amsterdam (in Dutch: Oude Kerk) is one of the city’s best kept secrets. In fact the Old Church is the city’s oldest building, established in 1306 in the heart of its medieval centre. When it was founded, over 800 years ago, Amsterdam was its infancy and its history reflects the city’s eventful past.
Originally, it was a Catholic church, with thirty nine richly decorated altars. When Amsterdam joined the revolt against Spain and switched from Papist to Puritan in 1578, the Old Church became a Protestant church. In 1955, foundation the Old Church in Amsterdam bought it for a nominal one guilder. Five decades of thorough restoration followed which have only recently been completed.
The Old Church’s function as a public place reflects the city’s dynamic: over the centuries, this vibrant urban centre has adapted to historical change. In the Middle Ages, it was the chaotic hub of a burgeoning town. In the Golden Age it was the centre of trade and economic prosperity, as wealthy guilds invested in the Old Church. In the 18th century, as historian Geert Mak observes, it was an island of sobriety in an exuberant city. And today, it is in the middle of a metropolis whose characteristics are creativity and innovation.
In the 15-century a choir was established to sing God’s praises and to recite prayers for the souls of the departed. While originally the choir was made up of between four to eight priests, all trained singers, they were soon assisted by between 4 and 6 boys – generally from a Latin school in Amsterdam.
In the 16-century, lay singers joined the choir: musicians who added bass and tenor voices to produce the new style of polyphony. Two facing rows of folding seats accommodated a considerable ensemble by around 148 – even eventually there was space for 42 people. All these seats can never have been meant exclusively for the choir, since there were never that many singers. Presumably the numerous chaplains and chantry priests would sit here too. It was the latter who conducted services at the 39 altars endowed by various guilds & private donors.
Contemporary art will regularly engage and dialogue with the authenticity of the Old Church. Many artists have found inspiration here through the centuries, and the church has embraced art since its earliest years. Music is often performed here: the acoustics of the Old Church’s timber ceiling is spectacular. These days this wonderful church is especially known for its authenticity, acoustics, light and silence.
The church has often art exhibitions inside. From November 2014 and March 2015, there was this cool art project in the oldest building of Amsterdam. Made by Tony Oursler. He was immediately fascinated by the Old Church. He installed a number of digitally produced performance videos at the Old Church.
Tony Oursler is a key figure in contemporary video art. His layered installations question the constant presence of digital and audiovisual media in our lives by immersing us in ghostly worlds, inhabited by isolated faces and 3D objects.
These alienating projections merge with static surfaces, seemingly animating them while evoking an uncanny state of confusion. Through this strategy, Tony Oursler attempts to shake our trust in mediated information. The title I/O underflow refers to the disturbing undercurrent that accompanies all developments in information technology. The notions of input and output exemplify Ourler’s apprehensions about the way electronic media shape.
On 17 September 1306, The Old Church was consecrated and dedicated to St. Nicholas, patron saint of seafarers and of the city of Amsterdam. In 1578 the Amsterdam city was taken over by the Calvinist and this so-called alteration caused the divine service to be changed from Catholic to protestant.
In Amsterdam’s Old Church you will find 15th and 16th century vault paintings, unique stained glass windows from the 16th and 17th centuries, as well as the graves of Saskia van Maayken, the wives of painter Rembrandt and poet Vondel. Many Amsterdam mayors, admirals, naval heroes as well as discoverers rest in this church. Underneath 2500 tombstones rest 10.000 Amsterdam citizens, who together represent 35 generations of world history, between 1250 and 1865.
The furniture comprises medieval choir stalls, an 18th century pulpit, unique wooden Burgundy figures high on the pillars and 3 famous organs. There is also the famous Hemony carillon in the Old Church tower, besides since 2006 the Angelus bell in the small on the central roof. The oldest city garden, 1260 can be found in front of sacristy. With three ship models (1350, 1607 and 1856) around the choir is also the “Port Church of Amsterdam”.
Here’s what the Old Church Square looked like in 1914:
Somethings haven’t changed at all. That house on the left, is still around this very day. The buildings on the right have been demolished and replaced by new buildings.
The Old Church Foundation of Amsterdam is officially the owner since May 1955. Between 1955 and 2012 this monument has been completely restored three times. It still function as a church, but most of the time it’s being used for expositions.
The Old Church in Amsterdam is one of the highlights during our Red Light District tours. Hear more about it while we walk through this fascinating neighborhood.