On the edge of the Red Light District, on the corner of the Oudezijds Voorburgwal 40 and the Heintje Hoeksteeg, there is a church hidden in the attic of a canal house from the Dutch Golden Age. This Catholic hidden church is dedicated to Saint Nicholas (Amsterdam’s patron saint), but was at the time known as Het Haentje (the Cockerel) or Het Hert (the Deer). The name Our Lord In The Attic dates from the 19th century. The hidden church was active for more than two centuries, until in 1887 the new Saint Nicholas church across from the Central Station was ready. In 1888 the house became a museum (then called Museum Amstelkring).
On May 26th in 1578 the then Catholic city council was deposed of in favor of a Protestant one. Trade interests played an important role in this so-called Alteration. A new city council was formed, consisting of 30 Calvinists and 10 Catholics. Soon after plans were presented to expand the city and the harbor to the east (the Lastage) and to construct new defensive fortifications (the Oudeschans).
As a result of the Alteration, the parish churches and chapels were handed over to the Protestants and renamed. The large number of monasteries of the city came under the control of the new city council and were given new, non-religious purposes, such as orphanages or prisons. The valuable books were collected in the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church).
Catholics were no longer allowed to publicly profess their faith. For almost the entire 17th century, public Catholic experience was forbidden in Amsterdam, but the Catholics in Amsterdam (some 20 percent of the population) attended the masses in hidden churches, of which Our Lord In The Attic is one of the few remaining. These Catholic secret churches were tolerated by the Protestant city council. The clandestine churches were important in the late 19th century, as they marked the beginning of religious tolerance.
Oudezijds Voorburgwal 40 looks like an ordinary canal house — nothing on the outside shows that it’s a church. The building dates from 1630 and was given a different gable in the 18th century. On the Heintje Hoeksteeg you can see how deep the house actually is. Jan Hartman, a salesman in stockings, bought it in 1661 and had the house restructured with a church in the attic, the church entrance was on the Heintje Hoeksteeg. The neighboring house at number 38 was restructured and renovated from 2013 until 2015, with an underground passage below the alley to the house at number 40. The building is a Dutch National Monument since 1970 and is one of the oldest museums in Amsterdam.
Subsidies and impending closure
On August 5th, 2020 the news came that the existence of Our Lord In The Attic was in danger. The AFK (Amsterdam Arts Fund) will not be able to honor the applied for four-year subsidy of € 695,344 per year. Ticket sales have also declined sixty percent as a result of the COVID-19 measures. On January 1st of 2021 the AFK subsidies will end; one can only hope that this unique museum will somehow be saved before that time.
Update August 25, 2020
Good news today: the Amsterdam City Council decided to add Our Lord In The Attic to the so-called “Amsterdam Basis Infrastructure” (Amsterdam BIS), which means the museum will continue to receive subsidy for at least the coming four years.
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