church – monument – museum
The Oude Kerk is Amsterdam’s first church and its oldest building. The church’s history goes back to the Middle Ages, the cradle of the ‘Golden Age’. For centuries it has been one of the most characteristic and special buildings in the city, to which it is irrevocably connected. The Oude Kerk was the central point of the burgeoning city of the Middle Ages, the heart of the trading metropolis Amsterdam in the seventeenth century, and today, after a period of silence, it has once more become a vibrant part of the capital.
As a historical monument it programmes exhibitions of modern artists who combine past and present to create new perspectives.
To this day, the Oude Kerk is more than just a place of religion. It plays a constant role in urban life. Since 1955, the monument has been managed by foundation De Oude Kerk and it has been a museum since 2016.
Where the Amstel River ends in the IJ inlet, the river used to create levees of clay: De Wallen. This is where the first residents built a small chapel in the thirteenth century, on a mound that also served as a cemetery. In the following centuries, this small chapel grew into one of the most imposing monuments of Amsterdam.
sint nicolaas becomes oude kerk
On 17 September 1306, the Bishop of Utrecht devoted the church to Sint Nicolaas (Saint Nicolas). With that, it gained the name of the holy protector of seamen. About a hundred years later a new church arose on the Dam to serve the growing number of citizens: De Nieuwe Kerk (the New Church). This caused the residents of the city to call the Sint-Nicolaas church the Oude Kerk (the Old Church).
from catholic to protestant
The interior of the Oude Kerk reflects the far-reaching and revolutionary turn of a Catholic to a Protestant church, making the Oude Kerk one of the most important monuments of the Netherlands and Europe. During the Beeldenstorm (Iconoclasm) and later the Alteration, sculptures were destroyed, altars removed, murals painted over and the ceremonial silver stolen or melted down. From that moment, Catholics practiced their religion in house churches. The choir screen bears witness to this historical event with the following inscription: ‘Het misbruik, in godes kerk allengskens ingebracht, is hier weer afgedaan in het jaar zeventig en acht.’ (The abuse, gradually introduced into God’s church, was here undone in the year seventy-eight .) Preaching became the norm, reading Mass a thing of the past. To this day, the Oude Kerk is in use as God’s house on Sunday mornings.
Slavery in the Dutch colonial period took place from 1528 to 1873 and forms an inseparable part of our history. It was a period in which people were owned as property by the WIC (West India Company) and the VOC (East India Company). The rule affected people from Africa, South America and Asia then and for many generations to come. During this period of repression, the Oude Kerk was expanded, beautified, maintained, also with benefits from colonial trade. People who were directly or indirectly part of colonial rule and slave trade were married, baptized and buried here, often with honour; despite the fact that they have actively participated in the violation of the most basic human rights. Among the 22,000 Amsterdammers buried here, we have so far counted one enslaved man; Jacob Beeldsnyder. In the stained glass windows, on the gravestones and on painted panels you will still find the names and coats of arms of families who, in several cases, were also connected to slavery and exploitation. The question we are currently asking ourselves is: how do we deal with this part of Oude Kerk’s past, that is so inextricably linked to slavery and colonialism? The oldest building in Amsterdam can and will, because of the existence of this tense history, contribute to making the painful sides of this past topic of research and thoughtful conversation.
place of remembrance and devotion
The Oude Kerk has around 12,000 graves under its approximately 2,200 gravestones. One well-known grave belongs to Saskia van Uylenburgh (1612-1642), whose earthly remains lie in grave no. 29. In addition, multiple grave monuments in the Oude Kerk commemorate national heroes. Jacob van Heemskerck, for example, the admiral who lost his life in a battle at sea with the Spanish fleet in 1607. Even though Heemskerck died, his ships were victorious. These kinds of grave monuments attracted tourists even in the seventeenth century. Another example of commemoration is the stained-glass window displaying the Peace of Munster, the treaty that officially declared the Netherlands an independent state in 1648.
more than just a church
The Oude Kerk was never just a church, but has always played a role in urban life. Fishermen repaired their nets and sails here. The church was a lively meeting place for the citizens of Amsterdam, where they practiced their religion, exchanged thoughts, traded goods and enjoyed organ concerts. All of these different functions resulted in the church’s nickname: ‘Amsterdam’s living room.’
Read here about the programme of the Oude Kerk.
building & collection
Although the building seems humble from the outside due to the many chapels, entrances and the lack of overview, nothing is less true. Inside, the enormous spaciousness and the constantly changing light that make the building so special can be experienced. The Oude Kerk was at its most perfect form as a complete hall church, a type of church originating from the Flemish coastal areas. The construction of that church started in the middle of the fifteenth century and was finished at the start of the sixteenth century. Later extensions made the church less and less harmonious. Nevertheless, the Oude Kerk remains one of the most intriguing and fascinating buildings in Amsterdam to this day.
In 1951, the Oude Kerk was given to foundation De Oude Kerk by the Protestant Church. The building and collection became the property of the foundation, which aims to sustainably preserve the entire heritage and make it accessible to a wide audience.
The basis of the Oude Kerk collection is obviously the building itself. The interior consists of elements from the Middle Ages, such as the choir screen with choir stalls, the shaft statues, the circular vault bosses and the vault paintings. Those from the Protestant period: the gospel church with pulpit, pillar stalls and blocks of pews. The gravestones, grave monuments and stained-glass windows are also included.
The collection is on display every day, objects and paintings will be presented in the various style rooms of the church from September 2018.
The collection will be available online soon.