Oude Kerk in Amsterdam
- For the Oude Kerk in Delft, see Oude Kerk (Delft)
The Oude Kerk ("old church") is Amsterdam’s oldest parish church, consecrated in 1306 by the bishop of Utrecht with Saint Nicolas as its patron saint. It stands in De Wallen, now Amsterdam's main red-light district. The square surrounding the church is the Oudekerksplein.
The bust of famous organist and composer Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck celebrates the lifetime he spent playing here. His early career began at the age of fifteen when he succeeded his deceased father Pieter Swybertszoon as the Oude Kerk’s organist. He went on to compose music for all 150 psalms and secure an international reputation as a leading Dutch composer. His music would also be played over the city from the church’s bell tower. He is buried in the church.
The church has seen a number of renovations performed by 15 generations of Amsterdam citizens. The church stood for only half a century before the first alterations were made, the aisles lengthened and wrapped around the choir in a half circle to support the structure. Not long after the turn of the 15th century, north and south transepts were added to the church creating a cross formation. Work on these renovations was completed in 1460, though it is likely that progress was largely interrupted by the great fires that besieged the city in 1421 and 1452.
Before the Alteratie, or Reformation in Amsterdam of 1578, the Oude Kerk was Roman Catholic. Following William the Silent’s defeat of the Spanish in the Dutch Revolt, the church was taken over by the Calvinist Dutch Reformed Church. Throughout the 16th-century battles, the church was looted and defaced on numerous occasions, first in the Beeldenstorm of 1566, when most of the church art and fittings were destroyed by a mob, including an altarpiece with a central panel by Jan van Scorel and side panels painted on both sides by Maarten van Heemskerck. All that was spared were the paintings on the ceiling that could not be reached.
Locals would gather in the church to gossip, peddlers sold their goods and beggars sought shelter. This was not tolerated by the Calvinists, however, and the homeless were expelled. In 1681 the choir was closed off with a brass screen. Above the screen is the text, “The false practices gradually introduced into God’s church, were here undone again in the year seventy eight,” referring to the Reformation in 1578.
In the same year, the Oude Kerk became home to the registry of marriages. It was also used as the city archives, the most important documents locked in a chest covered with iron plates and painted with the city’s coat of arms. The chest was kept safe in the iron chapel.
Rembrandt was a frequent visitor to the Oude Kerk and his children were all christened here. It is the only building in Amsterdam that remains in its original state since Rembrandt walked its halls. In the Holy Sepulchre is a small Rembrandt exhibition, a shrine to his wife “Saskia” van Uylenburgh
Today the Oude Kerk is a centre for both religious and cultural activities and can be rented for presentations, receptions and dinner parties. Among the events hosted is the prestigious annual World Press Photo awards ceremony.
Part of the Oudekerksplein, the square surrounding the church, is used by prostitutes who offer their services from behind windows. The street also features a bronze relief of a hand caressing a breast that was set in the cobblestone at night by an anonymous artist. In March 2007 a bronze statue named Belle honoring the prostitutes of the world was also installed there.
- Oude Kerk - official site
- Oude Kerk congregation - Protestant congregation of the Oude Kerk
- Bureau Monumenten & Archeologie - history and architecture of the Oude Kerk
- Amsterdam Oude Kerk Organs - Visitor's information and details about Oude Kerk's organs