Oude kerk (Old Church) is Amsterdam’s oldest monument and it’s first parish church. It stands on the site of a wooden chapel built around 1250 which was destroyed by fire. The church was rebuilt as a small stone Church in the 14th century and over the years grew into a Gothic basilica.
Oude Kerk is located to the west of Nieuwmarkt in the heart of Amsterdam’s red light district. It was original called St Nicolaas Church but following the construction of the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) on Dam Square, it was naturally referred to as the Old Church. The old church was actually more than the church. Along with the square, it was a meeting place for the citizens of the city & traders visiting on business. Many of Amsterdam’s famous and wealthy citizens are buried here. Today, its primary function is an exhibition venue for art and photography. It’s also the venue for the famous world press photo exhibition each year.
Iconoclasm & Alteration
The interior is very basic. It was stripped of all its Catholic icons during the iconoclasm in 1556 which swept from Flanders up to Amsterdam. This event was the precursor to the alteration which took place in 1578. At this time, the city changed from Catholic to Protestant. The Calvinists looted the Catholic Church, destroying their treasures. Among these treasures were pictures, altars and statues. The ceiling was out of reach- perhaps too much trouble to reach and as a result remained unharmed. This huge wooden ceiling is claimed to be the largest in western Europe. The stained-glass windows were also spared during the looting. Although the church is now quite bare, the great stained-glass windows, English Spiral Staircases, ceiling paintings and world famous organ are impressive sights.
The organ in Oude Kerk was dedicated to St Nicolaas. It has eight pairs of bellows and 4000 pipes. Its pipework is cased in oak and surrounded by typical figures. The organ is a glorious sight built by Christian Vater in 1724. Fourteen years later it was renovated by Johann Caspar Müller and is known as the Vatter-Müller organ.
The most beautiful stained-glass can be found in the three windows of Maria chapel, dating back to the 16th century. The images depict scenes from the Virgin Mary’s life. One of the other stained-glass windows in the old church contains a series of coat of arms. These represent each of the city’s mayors and aldermen between the years 1578 and 1807.
Amongst the many graves in the old church, is that of Saskia Van Uylenburgh – Rembrandt’s first wife. She died in 1642. The grave can be found in the Weitkopers Chapel which is opposite the South Doorway (visitor entrance) to the church. The grave number 29K and is marked Saskia. The red door which leads into the old sacristy has an inscription above which reads “Marry in haste, repent at leisure”. Rembrandt passed to this door to announce his marriage.
The church spire which was built in 1565 by Joost Bilhamer. It offers splendid views over the Oude Zijde. The tower also contains a 47 Bell Carillon built by François Hemony. This 17th-century addition can be heard ringing out over the city every Saturday afternoon. The tower is open to the public between April and September for accompanied tours.
The quire of the church contains special folding choir seats called Misericords which date back to 1480. These are designed help the choir to take the weight off their feet during lengthy services. Beneath each of the seats, there are humorous carvings which illustrate traditional Dutch proverbs, folk myths and scenes from everyday life.
During the restoration work in 1955, the church foundations were reinforced and several graves had to be emptied. The whole interior of the church was overhauled, including the stained glass windows. Thick layers of blue-grey paint on the vault and beams of the church were removed. To everyone’s surprise, this revealed beautiful 15th-century paintings from the period before the Alteration. For latest information check out the Oude Kerk website.
The Old Church is located in the centre of Amsterdam between Damrak and The Red Light District.
Address: Oudekerksplein 23, 1012 GX Amsterdam,
– Stained-glass windows
– Great Organ
– Painted Ceilings
– Saskia Rembrandt tomb
– English Spiral Stairs
– Shoot exterior from Oudezijds Voorburgwal near Oudekennissteeg or Korte Nietzel bridges
– Bronze sculpture of a female breast set in the cobblestone of Oudekerksplein
– Climb the tower for a great panoramic view of the city