The Old Church in Amsterdam can be found on Oudekerksplein, in the heart of the Red Light District.
Did you know that Amsterdam’s Red Light District is the only place in the world where you’ll find religion and prostitution literally standing opposite of 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 shops, 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 center. When it was established, over 800 years ago, Amsterdam was in its infancy and its history reflects the city’s eventful past.
Originally, the Old Church in Amsterdam 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, the foundation for the Old Church in Amsterdam bought it for a nominal price of 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.
A video of the Old Church Tower.
In the 15th 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 often has art exhibitions inside. From November 2014 and March 2015, there was a 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.
An exhibition in The Old Church.
On the 17th of September 1306, The Old Church was consecrated and dedicated to St. Nicholas, patron saint of seafarers and of the city of Amsterdam. In 1578, Amsterdam cwas taken over by the Calvinist and during this so-called alteration caused the divine service to be changed from Catholic to protestant.
In Amsterdam’s Oldest 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 wive of painter Rembrandt, and the poet Vondel. Many Amsterdam mayors, admirals, naval heroes as well as discoverers rest in this church. Underneath 2500 tombstones lay 10.000 citizens of Amsterdam. Together they 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 which sits on the corner, is still around this very day. A few decades into the 20th century, that building was used by Dr. Groothuyse. He researched prostitution, wrote books about it (like The work structure of prostitution) and was the GP of many prostitutes who worked in De Wallen area. The buildings on the right have been demolished and replaced by new buildings.
The Old Church Foundation of Amsterdam has been the official 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.
Learn more about Amsterdam, Dutch history and the Red Light District during our walking tours with locals. It’s interesting, fun and healthy.