The Oude Kerk is Amsterdam’s oldest building. The first traces of construction date back to the thirteenth century. Over the centuries, the church transformed from a wooden chapel and later a basilica into its present form. TheOude Kerkis one of the top 100 Dutch national monuments and is a listed European monument.
In 1306, the Bishop of Utrecht consecrated the building for the purpose of Roman Catholic worship and devoted it to Saint Nicolas.Saint Nicholas is the patron of the city of Amsterdam as well as the patron saint of all prostitutes. In 1687 the church transformed into a Protestant church and was renamed ‘Oude Kerk’, which means ‘Old Church’. The Roman Catholic congregation moved to the shelter church that is known today as Museum Ons’ Lieve Heer Op Solder. When the Roman Catholics were allowed to build churches again, a new Saint Nicholas basilica was erected opposite Amsterdam’s Central Station. In 1951, the Protestant Church transferred the church building to Stichting de Oude Kerk. The Oude Kerk currently functions as a place of worship and a museum and is a meeting place for people from different cultures, interests and backgrounds.
The building is preserved under the supervision of Amsterdam’s Monuments and Archaeology department and the Dutch Cultural Heritage Agency. A multi-year maintenance plan as well as occasional restorations ensure that the Oude Kerk is preserved for future generations. Read more about current restorations here.
Where the Amstel River culminated in the IJ, the river used to throw up banks of clay: de wallen. Here the first inhabitants of the 13th century built a chapel on a mound that also served as a cemetery. In the following centuries this church grew into one of the most impressive monuments in Amsterdam.
saint nicholas becomes oude kerk
On September 17, 1306, the Bishop of Utrecht consecrated the church to St. Nicholas. This gave it the name of this patron saint of sailors. About a hundred years later, due to the growing number of Amsterdammers, a new church was built on Dam Square: Nieuw Kerk (New Church). The Sint-Nicholas Church was therefore called the Oude Kerk.
The building has been expanded over the centuries, including in 1552 with the Maria Chapel where the stained glass windows are still located today.
from catholic to protestant
The interior of the Oude Kerk reflects the radical and revolutionary revolution from a Catholic to Protestant church. This makes the Oude Kerk one of the most important monuments in the Netherlands and Europe. During the iconoclasm and the later Alteration, images were smashed, altars removed, murals painted over and the ceremonial silver robbed or melted down. The choir screen witnesses this historic event. It reads: “Het misbruik, in godes kerk allengskens ingebracht, is hier weer afgedaan in het jaar zeventig en acht” [The abuse, gradually brought into the church of God, was settled here again in the seventies and eight]. In the church, preaching continued, mass was a thing of the past. To this day, the Oude Kerk is still in use for Protestant worship on Sunday mornings.
place of remembering and worshiping
The Oude Kerk has approximately 12,000 graves among its approximately 2,200 gravestones. A well-known grave is that of Saskia van Uylenburgh (1612-1642), buried in grave No. 29. In addition, grave monuments recall significant historical persons. Jacob van Heemskerck, for example, the admiral who died in Gibraltar in 1607 in a naval battle with the Spanish fleet; despite Heemskerck’s demise, his ships won the battle. Tourists already came to this kind of grave monuments in the 17th century. Another example of remembering is the stained glass window on which the Peace of Munster was commemorated, the peace that made the Netherlands an independent state in 1648.
more than just church
The Oude Kerk was and is never just a church but constantly plays a role in urban life. Fishermen used to pay for their nets and fix their sails, trade was conducted and concerts were given. In short, it was and is not only a church but also a lively meeting place.
The heart of the collection of the Oude Kerk is, obviously, the building itself, in addition to its interior and its collection of paintings, objects and furniture. The collection consists of approximately 3,000 pieces of fifteenth-century to twenty-first-century works and includes masterpieces that are part of the Collectie Nederland.
Its choir screen with choir stalls, numerous small column statues, circular vault bosses and vault paintingsdate back to the Middle Ages. Later Protestant additions include the gospel church with pulpit, pillar stalls and blocks of pews. The collection also includes the gravestones, grave monuments and stained-glass windows.
In a more immaterial sense, the temporary projects that artists realize here and the pictures, texts and memories that their interventions produce complement the collection as well.