Begijnhof in Amsterdam

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The Begijnhof is one of the oldest inner courts in the city of Amsterdam. A group of historic buildings, mostly private dwellings, centre on it. As the name suggests, it was originally a Béguinage. Today it is also the site of the English Reformed Church.

The courtyard has two bleaching greens, one on each side of the chapel.


The old Begijnesloot gate, restored in 1907, dates from 1574 and has a gable stone depicting Saint Ursula, patron saint of the Amsterdam beguines. The Spui gate from about 1725 was replaced by the present gatehouse in the 19th century. The Begijnhof has a great number of gable stones, many of which show a strong Roman Catholic character.

Religious strife

After the Alteration (Protestant takeover) of 1578, when Amsterdam came under Calvinist rule, the Begijnhof was the only Roman Catholic institution to be allowed to remain in existence. This was because the houses were the beguines' private property. The Chapel, however, was closed and lay empty for around 30 years before being ceded to the English Presbyterians, and since that time has been alluded to as the "English Church". Several of the pulpit panels were designed by Piet Mondrian.<ref name="Dunford2010"/>

A clandestine church

In 1671, the architect Philip Vingboons converted two dwellings opposite the Chapel entrance into a conventicle church for Catholics, the Church of Saints John and Ursula, named after the patron saints of the Begijnhof. This church was kept secret, as was demanded by the city government, and could not be recognized as a church from the outside. In 1908 this became the Miracle Church, after the original Miracle Church had been deliberately destroyed by its Protestant owners.

Buried in the gutter

The most famous beguine in the Begijnhof's history is sister Cornelia Arens, who died on 14 October 1654. (Her date of birth is unknown, but she professed the vows of chastity and the Catholic faith on 6 July 1621.) Rather than be laid to rest in the Chapel, which she considered "desecrated" by Presbyterians, she chose to be buried in the gutter of the court. Legend has it that contrary to her wish, she was in fact buried in the Chapel, but her coffin was found in the adjoining gutter the following day. This happened two more times, until she was at last laid to rest in the gutter. Another version of the legend is that her soul found no peace and roamed the court at night until she was buried in the gutter.

The last beguine

On 23 May 1971, the last beguine died at the age of 84. "Sister Antonia", whose original name was Agatha Kaptein, was born on 13 April 1887 at Akersloot. She was buried in the Sisters' Grave in the St. Barbara's Roman Catholic Cemetery in Amsterdam on 26 May of the same year.


Until its renovation in 1979, the court had 140 dwellings — some 110 of them consisting of a single room, and about 25 comprising two. The occupants likewise numbered 140. The renovations enlarged the houses to two or three rooms. Since that time, the number of female inhabitants has been an unvaried 105.

See also

  • Beguines and Beghards


External links