From 1345 until 1578 Rokin 78-82 was the destination of unbridled Catholic religious tourism from all over Europe. It’s hard to imagine these days, as the rather inappropriate Amsterdam Dungeon is now located inside the Protestant church from 1908, which replaced the original Catholic chapel. The church, officially called Nieuwezijds Kapel (New Side Chapel), lies hidden behind a wall of shops on Rokin and Kalverstraat. Only the spire behind the façade of the shops and the old side gates on Enge Kapelsteeg and Wijde Kapelsteeg give it away.
This was once the location of the Heilige Stede (Holy Stead), a chapel built between 1346 and 1347, created to celebrate the so-called Miracle of Amsterdam. The chapel, destroyed in city fires in 1421 and 1452 and rebuilt bigger each time, became a Protestant church in 1578. The Protestant owners demolished the then derelict Catholic chapel in 1908 and built a smaller church on the same spot in 1912, surrounded by shops. Since 2006 the former church houses the Amsterdam Dungeon, a horror theater theme park, pretending to interactively show some Amsterdam history.
The 1345 Miracle of Amsterdam
The Miracle of Amsterdam tells how on May 15, 1345, fisherman Ysbrant Domme was a very sick man in his home on Kalverstraat. Fearing death, he called for a priest from the Oude Kerk and received a host with the sacrament. Because the sick man vomited, the host was thrown into the fire. The next morning the maid found the host unscathed in the fireplace and alerted the priest, who took it with him to the church. But the host miraculously returned to its original location.
After this had happened three times in a row, the Count of Holland and the Amsterdam mayor asked for the affair to be investigated. Auxiliary bishop of Utrecht Nythardus recognized it as an official miracle and in 1378 Pope Clemens IV declared the spot holy and the worship legitimate. The miracle became famous all over Europe. Every year a big Sacramental Procession was held, from Kalverstraat to the Oude Kerk.
Holy Stead Chapel
The news quickly spread around town and the location — Kalverstraat 97, corner Wijde Kapelsteeg — soon attracted the first pilgrims to a chapel built here in 1347 around the fireplace. It was named Heilige Stede (Holy Stead) from then on. Indulgences were offered to those who visited the miracle site or contributed to the chapel. But six months after the miracle, this indistructable host had already started to decay. One of the Utrecht bishops described the host in November 1346 as quite eroded.
The parish however obtained the right to regularly consecrate a new host (kept in a silver monstrance), to ensure the continued worship and enthusiasm. Both church and city benefited greatly from the increased pilgrimage, selling relics (like ashes from the fireplace) and related paraphernalia. The last version of the host must have been lost when the chapel was destroyed during the 1566 iconoclasm.
In deeply religious medieval Europe many of these sacrament miracles were reported, attracting pilgrims looking for cures or doing penance for some sin. Miraculous cures were soon attributed to the Holy Stead host and there was a growing number of visitors. But 14th century Amsterdam was just a very small town, not ready for crowds of this size. To control the flow, the main route was transformed into a proper road, from the village of Sloten, along Heiligeweg (Holy Road, then called Overtoomse Vaart, current Overtoom) towards the city wall and on to the Holy Stead. Inns and taverns sprung up along the way. The Heiligeweg between Koningsplein and Kalverstraat is a remnant of this old pilgrim path.
The host became even more famous when in 1421 and 1452 the entire Holy Stead Chapel burned down, but the host was again said to have been spared. A big yearly sacrament procession and market celebrated the Miracle of Amsterdam. Among the pilgrims were famous visitors like Habsburg Emperor Maximilian I of Austria (Keizersgracht is named after him). He visited the Holy Stead in 1484 after surviving an illness, his recovery attributed to the sacred host. His grandson, Habsburg Emperor Charles V, visited in 1515. In 1884 Habsburg Empress Sisi visited the shrine in the Begijnhof Chapel.
Iconoclasm & Protestant Alteration
During the 1566 iconoclasm a group of women tried to protect the Holy Stead Chapel from the looters, but almost the entire content of the church was destroyed (including the original miracle fireplace) — the host and monstrance were lost. On May 26, 1578, Amsterdam removed the Catholic city council and officiallly became a Protestant town (back then there was no division at all between church and state). All Catholic posessions (like convents, churches and other real estate) were handed over to the Protestants. All public Catholic religious expressions, miracle worship and processions were forbidden.
The Catholic chapel became Protestant property — it was desecrated, used to stall horses and goods for a while, then renamed to Nieuwezijds Kapel, used for Protestant services. The Begijnhof instead was private property, so that remained Catholic — although their chapel was given to the English Reformed Church. The function of Sacrament Miracle shrine was taken over by a hidden Catholic chapel, initially in two of the houses on Begijnhof.
Holy Stead Chapel Demolished in 1908
Since the church belonged to the town and was therefore a public place, Catholics kept visiting the (newly named and now Protestant) Nieuwezijds Kapel and continued to pray and worship there, much to the chagrin of the Protestant owners. They had even continued the old miracle procession, which attracted a growing number of participants. By the end of the 18th century a separation came about between church and state and gradually freedom of religion was instated. A Catholic revival started and many new Catholic churches were built in the 19th century.
In 1890 the original Holy Stead Chapel was closed because it had become too derelict. The Catholics and Protestants were still very much at odds — the Catholics wanted to buy back the Nieuwezijds Kapel to restore their treasured Holy Stead, the Protestants wanted to demolish the old church to stop the Catholic revival (their motto was “rubble rather than papist”). Amsterdam’s City Council lost a six year long legal battle (1900-1906), in which they tried to prevent the demolition — but at that time there was no legal monument protection.
Although all church buildings had been municipal property for centuries and were maintained at the city’s expense, during the French period (1794-1814) this real estate had been handed over to the various church authorities (except for the towers). Thus in 1908, despite much cultural and religious protest, the Nieuwezijds Kapel (the former Holy Stead) was demolished anyway. Parts of the demolished church were stored by the city and eventually used in the Miracle Column. The roof spire was put on the roof of hidden church De Papegaai on Kalverstraat.
The New New-Side Chapel
Next a completely new block was built here in 1908-1912, between Rokin and Kalverstraat, consisting of a new (smaller) Protestant church surrounded by shops, designed by architect C.B. Posthumus Meyjes in Eclectic style. The complex has been national monument since 2001. The houses on Rokin 74 and 76 were incorporated, but are not part of the complex. Above the entrance on Rokin is a text from Proverbs: Justus Ut Leo Confidit (the righteous are bold as a lion).
Art dealer E.J. van Wisselingh was in 1912 one of the first in the new building, until they closed in 1983 and moved to Haarlem — their name is still on the front. The part on Kalverstraat was used by fashion store Gerzon until 1973.
The Dutch Reformed Church used the church until the early 1970s. It then became a Turkish mosque from 1977 until 1982 and a party center from 1982-1990. In 2005 it was transformed into horror theme park The Amsterdam Dungeon, exploited by the British Merlin company.
Just before the transformation into the Amsterdam Dungeon, the city’s archeology department investigated and charted the floor with hundreds of tombstones, some dating from the end of the 16th century, many from the 17th and 19th century. The Dutch Reformed church sold the complex in 2007 to a private monument foundation.
Stille Omgang (Silent Procession)
Around mid March (Saturday night after March 12) many Dutch Catholics walk a silent nightly prayer route of about one hour through Amsterdam, called Stille Omgang (Silent Procession). Up to 10,0000 paricipants walk the route to commemorate the Miracle of Amsterdam. The route is from the Sacramental Procession, which started when the host from the miracle was brought to the Oude Kerk by the priest in 1345 — from Spui along Kalverstraat, Nieuwendijk, Prins Hendrikkade, Warmoesstraat, Nes and Langebrugsteeg back to Spui again.
The official Catholic Sacramental Procession was prohibited after 1578. In 1853 the Catholic hierarchy was again allowed in the Netherlands, but public religious expessions like processions were forbidden until 1983 in all public spaces. To cirumvent this, the procession was restored without song, word, attributes or special attire, a Silent Procession, started in 1881 as a private initiative. They had found an old document from 1651 which described the original route from the Middle Ages, wanted to restore Catholic presence and eventually even buy back the original Holy Stead site. Which may have triggered the Protestant owners to demolish the church and build a new (natively Protestant) one here.
In 1988 a Miracle Column, 8 m (26 ft) high, was placed on Rokin near Wijde Kapelsteeg, constructed by sculptor Hans ‘t Mannetje from saved fragments of the demolished Holy Stead Chapel. The column was removed from 2001 until 2018 because of the construction of the subway. A block at the bottom has an explanatory inscription and the column rests on 13 m (42 ft) long foundation poles.
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