highlights oude kerk


In the monumental building you can discover seven centuries of (urban) history and look at the world around us through the eyes of artists from the past and present. Below are some architectural highlights and special works of art from our collection. Visit the Oude Kerk and open the doors of the side rooms, and learn more about the rich history of the Oude Kerk with the free audio tour. 

the two organs
The Oude Kerk has a long organ tradition. As early as the 15th century, an organ was hanging against the west wall of the nave (the tower wall) on which the famous Dutch composer Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck played for many years. Now the Oude Kerk has two monumental organs and a small Italian organ (and a chest organ), all of which can be heard during concerts and church services. On the west side, the Vater-Müller-organ (1726/1742) occupies a prominent place; on the north side of the church is the Transept-organ, built by the Ahrend firm (1965), which is in mean-tone temperament. Come and admire the organs during a visit to the church or listen to them in one of the upcoming editions of the music programme ‘Silence’, ‘Monuments’ or ‘Playing the Cathedral.’

emanuel de witte in the church warden’s office
This special painting of the interior of the Oude Kerk was made by the famous Dutch painter Emanuel de Witte (Alkmaar 1617 – Amsterdam 1692) in the period 1650-1675. The painting shows the nave of the church as seen from the west side. De Witte specialised in painting church interiors, and he knew better than anyone how to play with the sunlight entering through high church windows and reflecting on pillars and walls. He painted the Oude Kerk many times, and not always truthfully. He freely interpreted the interior if, in his opinion, that produced a more beautiful image. This painting can be seen in the Church warden’s office, one of the side rooms of the Oude Kerk.

stained glass windows
Although the iconoclasm of 1566 almost completely disfigured the Oude Kerk, much stained glass has been preserved, for example this stained glass window depicting the Peace of Munster, commemorating the end of the war with Spain in 1648. Staining is a form of glass art. In the Middle Ages, the windows of churches were fully or partially fitted with stained glass, which was held together in lead strips. This allowed the light to enter the church space in all kinds of sparkling colours. The Oude Kerk had a total of 33 stained glass windows, the majority from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, four from the seventeenth century, and one from the eighteenth century. The windows in the Lady Chapel are the oldest, albeit in a modified and greatly restored form. On a sunny day, the stained-glass windows are especially beautiful to come and admire!

choir stalls and misericords
In the high choir of the Oude Kerk there are special wooden choir stalls in the late Gothic style, estimated to have been made around 1500. The bench on the north side consists of fifteen seats, the bench on the south side of twenty-one. The seats are separated by partitions and railings. At the bottom of the folding seats there are misericords, figures carved in wood. The misericords offered support to people who had to stand for long periods of time and all depict humorous scenes. There is, for example, the misericord of two men with baskets, one of whom hits the other with his basket; the double head with a common mouth and a common eye; and the cut-out of the man who defecates coins.

mirror room (in restoration)
The Mirror Room has had various functions throughout time. Before the sixteenth century, it was part of the sacristy and later it was the place where the marriage commissioners held their office. In that period, Rembrandt van Rijn and Saskia van Uylenburgh, among others, went there to get married. Like the church space, the room is a mixture of elements from different eras that never existed simultaneously. The Mirror Room is currently being restored, but the moment when it can be admired again is undoubtedly something to look forward to.

the tomb of saskia and sweelinck
The essence of the Oude Kerk is of course the building itself, as well as the interior and the collection of paintings, objects and furniture. The many graves and funeral monuments are also part of the interior. One grave known to many is that of Saskia van Uylenburgh (1612-1642), buried in grave no. 29. Where Saskia is now buried is also the place where she gave her vows on 22 June 1634 to one of the country’s most famous painters, Rembrandt van Rijn.

In the autumn of 2021, the Oude Kerk celebrated the 400th anniversary of the death of another important figure buried here in the church: Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck (1562-1621), one of the greatest composers the Netherlands has known. Sweelinck is also buried in the Oude Kerk, in grave no. 99. During his lifetime, Sweelinck was organist in the Oude Kerk and the hub of Amsterdam’s musical life. Young organists from all over Europe came to Amsterdam to take lessons from him, and he exerted a great influence on the music of contemporaries and composers after him. Sweelinck played the organ of the Oude Kerk almost every day. In the sixteenth century, he thus stood at the cradle of the first concerts open to the public. Today, his music can still be heard in some of the concerts in the Oude Kerk, during ‘Monuments’ or ‘playing the cathedral’, for example.

anastasis: the red window in the chapel of the holy sepulchre
In 2018, the work Anastasis by Giorgio Andreotta Calò was installed in the Chapel of the Holy Sepulchre. The installation consists of a mouth-blown red stained glass window that replaces a 1959 window. Calò’s work reflects on the Catholic origins of the Oude Kerk. By placing a red window in the Chapel of the Holy Sepulchre, Andreotta Calò offers a new insight into this history. With the red light, Calò brings Roman Catholic imagery back into the building and reflects on the 1566 iconoclasm and the revolution in religious thought. The chapel was built in 1515 as ‘prope sepulchrum domini’ (the tomb of Christ), modelled on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. There too, red lights are burning; a vigil is taking place at Christ’s tomb.

mischa de ridder in the church wardens’ room
Artist Misha de Ridder (1971) was given the key to the Oude Kerk: for a year, he had access day and night to photograph there. He photographed details of the church where the light has free reign: pillars, walls, niches. The photos are so incredibly sharp that the most miniscule details are visible. You can see the hairs of painters’ brushes, the flaked-off irregularities and dust particles in the stucco. Some images are almost abstract: they have been zoomed in so far that it is difficult to place the detail back in its context. One such image can be admired in the Church Wardens’ Room in the Oude Kerk. Can you find out where in the church this picture was taken?

iswanto hartono
As part of Europalia Indonesia, artist Iswanto Hartono created an exhibition for the Oude Kerk in 2017. In it, he made the connection between the history of the Oude Kerk and Indonesia’s colonial past, from an anthropological and archaeological perspective. One of the works is now part of the permanent collection of the Oude Kerk. The work depicts a candle in the shape of a white ruler. A candle slowly melts when you light it. The intention was that this work, like the others in the exhibition, would completely decay, just as certain cultures and traditions in Indonesia have disappeared due to Dutch colonisation. The fact that only the head and not the body of the figure has been melted down makes the idea behind Iswanto Hartono’s exhibition clear. The work can be seen today in the baptistery.