/ The Amsterdam Guide
Amsterdam — By Marianne on December 20, 2009 at 8:42 am
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Oude Kerk, Amsterdam’s Oldest Church

The Oude Kerk or Old Church dates back to the 14th century and is indeed old. However, much of what you see is 16th century because 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. It 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. Ever since, thousands of faithful come to take part in the annual commemorative Stille Omgang, a nocturnal procession mid-March.

Today the church is surrounded by sex shops, coffeeshops (Dutch variety) and window prostitutes and remains a peaceful haven at 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. Pedlars set up stalls in the aisles and merchants concluded deals.

Oude Kerk, Old Church, Amsterdam

Oude Kerk, Old Church, Amsterdam

The church is a peek more than worth. 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 de Westerkerk. In fact the whole floor 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, but a register kept in the churches archives shows exactly who is buried in what grave.

While wandering through the church you will notice many interesting details. Right at the back of the church a secret door once covered in plaster leads to the IJzeren Kapel, the iron chapel, a kind of 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. Componist and organist 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).

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

These days the church hosts travelling exhibitions. The most popular is the World Press Photo which comprises prize-winning photographs from world’s biggest photo-journalism competition.

WHAT: Oude Kerk
WHERE: Oudekerksplein 23, Amsterdam
OPENING HOURS: Monday – Saturday 11.00 – 17.00, Sunday 13.00 – 17.00
Adults €6
Children under 12 free
IAmstedam Card and Museum Card €1

CLIMBING THE TOWER for a bird’s eye view of Amsterdam
Saturdays and Sundays from April to September every thirty minutes from 13.00 and 17.00
Admission: €6

Most Saturdays and Sundays at 3 pm
Admission: €5, IAmsterdam Card and Museum Card free entrance.
Tickets are available at the church 30 minutes before the start of the concert.

10 minutes on foot from Central Station
Tram 4, 9, 16, 24 and 25, get off at Dam Square

photo credit: personal collection

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