The Gothic Nieuwe Kerk (New Church), next to the Royal Palace on Dam square, was the second Catholic church in Amsterdam, its history started in 1380 (the church opened in 1409). As second parish church for the growing population in the second half of the 14th century, it was called New Church to distinguish it from the Oude Kerk (Old Church) from 1306, east of the Damrak. Built in several stages, it has had many additions and changes over time, the last main part (northern side aisle) was finished in 1540.
The last regular church service here was in 1955. Since 1980 the church, now owned by a foundation, has been a venue for various cultural exhibitions (like the yearly World Press Photo) and regular organ recitals. Since 1841 this is also the site where Dutch royal investitures and weddings are celebrated. Remembrance Day (Nationale Dodenherdenking) on May 4th starts here before continuing near the National Monument on Dam square.
Hard to imagine now, but around 1380 there was an orchard next to this spot. Willem Eggert (1340-1417), Lord of Purmerend and Ilpendam, donated the lot next to his orchard to the church and also financed and supervised the build. The church opened in November 1409 for service. Willem Eggert was buried in 1417 in the Eggert chapel inside the church, built in his honor by his son Jan. The wooden gate shows the date he died, a stone with his seal is on a column. The Eggertstraat near the church is named after him.
Surrounding Streets & Constructions
The main entrance is on Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal, on the right the Mozes & Aäronstraat, to the left the Gravenstraat, which bends to the right (near the Drie Fleschjes) towards Dam square through the curved Eggertstraat. The deaconry on Gravenstraat is from 1642. The church is surrounded by small annexes (shops) which sprung up around it over time. Some shops at the corner of Gravenstraat and Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal are from the 17th century.
Next to the southern entrance a consistory was built in 1860, demolished in 1961 and replaced by the lower annexes (now the restaurant). On the Dam side were shops as well, which were removed during the renovations between 1959 and 1980. In 1999 two small shops were built against the church, on both sides of the base of the never-constructed tower.
Short History of the Nieuwe Kerk
The build started somewhere around 1380, but permission from the Bishop of Utrecht was obtained only in 1408. At first the church was dedicated to Our Lady, in 1409 also to St. Catherine of Alexandria (a princess and scholar, martyred in the 4th century). It was built in several stages between 1414 and 1470 (because of lack of funding), damaged several times by city fires in 1421 and 1452.
The oldest parts of the church are the choir and the transept. The nave was added around 1435. Between 1450 and 1500 the side aisles were added. The church survived the 1566 iconoclasm undamaged, but when it became Protestant in 1578 much of the original Catholic interior was destroyed. It was almost completely destroyed during a fire in 1645 (plumbers had left a fire pot on the roof) — only the choir and the chapels remained. The church was then restored from the ground up and it reopened in 1648. The small houses and alleys between church and Dam square were demolished, putting the church directly on the square.
Over time the church has undergone many restorations and changes. Between 1892 and 1912 Neo-Gothic elements were added by architect C.B. Posthumus Meyjes, to restore the original looks after the damage from the 1645 fire. Between 1959 and 1980 a restoration by C. Wegener Sleeswijk adapted the church to more modern standards (better light, lowered annexes, new foundations, floor heating). Two restored rooms on the Dam side were opened to the public in 2020.
The foundation subsidence is actively monitored. During the last century 133 column foundations were reinforced with concrete. In 2006 the foundations of the tomb and of the columns surrounding the choir were renewed. The 8 remaining columns on the west side will get new foundation in 2024, archeologists will do research before that. The church will be restored by 2025, when Amsterdam celebrates the 750th birthday of its city rights.
A Church Without Tower
A 115 m (377 ft) high church tower was planned in 1565 and 6,363 foundation poles for it were placed in 1647, but the tower never came to be. After the 1578 Protestant Alteration construction stopped. Building of the tower resumed after the 1645 fire and subsequent reconstruction, but stopped again in 1653 when funds dried up because of the First Anglo-Dutch War. Later the town was busy constructing the opulent new City Hall on Dam square and definitely did not want a much higher church tower to overshadow it.
In 1783 the base of the tower was demolished and another construction was placed on top, demolished again by the end of the 19th century. Architect C.B. Posthumus Meyjes (who also designed the Nieuwezijds Kapel on Rokin) designed the restoration of the western side, based on old drawings of the situation from before 1645. Now there is only a small tower with three bells where the rooftops cross.
Church Exterior & Interior
Of note on the exterior is a marble sun dial high up on the south (Dam side), as well as a smaller sandstone one between the Dam side entrance and the Nieuwe Kafé. Next to the entrance on the Dam side (Mozes en Aaronstraat), the corbels are decorated with many funny sculptures, like trolls, fat monks, dogs, cats and so on — worth a closer look. The stained glass windows above the entrance on Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal were bricked up when the organ was installed.
In 1655 the city had a new organ placed, of course with the city seal prominently displayed. In 1682 the ornamental grave of Admiral Michiel de Ruyter was placed where once the main altar was. Some stained glass windows commemorate various Royal Family jubilees. The brass choir gate from around 1650 in Classicist style was designed by silversmith Johannes Lutma (1584-1669), also comissioned by the city council.
Of note inside the church:
- Main organ from 1645 above the main entrance, with sculptures by Artus Quellinus (he also did the Vierschaar sculptures and those of Cybele, Saturn and Mars in the city hall) and paintings by Jan Gerritz van Bronckhorst. Largest historical pipe organ in the Netherlands.
- Transept organ from the 16th century, near the southern side entrance.
- Tomb from 1653 of Jan van Galen (1604-1653), naval officer. Built by Artus Quellinus (1609-1668), Rombout Verhulst (1624-1698) and Willem de Keyser (1603-1674).
- Tomb of Michiel Adriaenszoon de Ruyter 1607-1676), admiral. Built in 1681 by Rombout Verhulst. Also the crypt with his grave.
- Epitaph from 1832 for Jan van Speyk (1802-1831), Dutch gunboat commander. Built by Jan de Greef.
- Monument from 1821 for Jan Hendrik van Kinsbergen (1735-1819), Dutch naval officer, designed by Paulus Joseph Gabriel.
- Monument for Joost van den Vondel (1587-1679), famous Dutch poet, from 1772. He was buried in this church, despite being a Catholic.
- Monument from 2002 for Pieter Cornelisz Hooft (1547-1626), mayor of Amsterdam, bailiff of Muiden, writer, poet and historian, founder of the literary society Muiderkring.
- Oak chancel from 1649 and 1664 by Albert Jansz Vinckenbrinck.
- Church benches for the well-to-do, from around 1645.
- Brass choir gate from around 1650, designed by Johannes Lutma.
- Several stained glass windows, including the modern The Garden from 2005 by Marc Mulders.
- Several memorial stones for Dutch authors.
- The 10 radial chapels, the oldest parts of the church, founded by guilds and wealthy families for their patron saints.
Church Graveyards & Burials
Once the Nieuwe Kerk had an estimated 10,000 graves inside the church (acquired for a handsome fee by important people), almost all removed during the restorations between 1959 and 1980. 19th century poet Isaäc da Costa was one of the last people to be buried here in 1860. After 1866 burials inside churches were not allowed anymore in Amsterdam.
During the 15th and 16th century there were two walled cemeteries around the Nieuwe Kerk. The larger one with consecrated ground (on the side of the Mozes en Aäronstraat) was reserved for those who could not afford to be buried inside the church. A smaller one with unconsecrated ground was called Ellendigenkerkhof (Wretched Cemetery), for criminals, suicides, vagabonds, heretics and people of unknown religion. The Eggertstraat was called Ellendigensteeg (Wretched Alley) until 1865. Mid 17th century both of these graveyards had been cleared because of the expansion of Dam square and the build of the new city hall.
Website Nieuwe Kerk: https://www.nieuwekerk.nl/en/
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