Oude Kerk, Amsterdam

Oude Kerk

Located on the Oude­kerks­plein in the Red Light District, the Oude Kerk (Old Church) is the city’s oldest surviving building. Around 1213 there was a small wooden chapel here, later replaced with a brick version, consecrated in 1306. The Oude Kerk was spared during the big city fires of 1421 and 1452. The church was enlarged in the 14th, 15th and 16th century, restored from 1951 to 1975 and again from 1994 to 1998. The building is a national monument.

Oude Kerk, Amsterdam, seen from the Oudezijds Voorburgwal

Oude Kerk seen from the Oude­zijds Voor­burg­wal (June 2020).

Until the Protestant Alteration (1578) it was a Roman Catholic church, dedicated to Saint Nicholas of Myra (patron saint of Amsterdam). The historic style chambers and church collection have been open to the public since 2008. Since 2016 the church is also used as an exposition space for modern art about three to four times a year.

Foundation Issues & Restorations

The construction of the Oude Kerk is light, the ceiling is the largest medieval wooden vault in Europe, consisting of Estonian oak from 1390. Even so, its thin short foundation piles have little bearing power, because foundation techniques were still primitive back then. Problems with the foundation led to the church being closed in 1951 because it was in danger of collapsing. A 24 year restoration effort followed until 1975, again from 1994 to 1998.

Oude Kerk, Amsterdam, seen from the Oudekerksplein

Oude Kerk seen from the Oude­kerks­plein (June 2021).

Church Floor Cemetery

The floor consists of grave­stones, as the church was built on a cemetery. Local citizens continued to be buried on the site within the confines of the church until 1865. There are 2,500 graves in the Oude Kerk, many of famous Amsterdam citizens, among them Saskia van Uylen­burgh (Rembrandt’s wife) and Frans Banninck Cocq (mayor of Amsterdam, central figure in Rembrandt’s Night Watch). From 2008 until 2013 the tomb floor underwent extensive restoration.

Part of the tombstone floor of the Oude Kerk, Amsterdam


The Iconoclastic Fury (Beelden­storm in Dutch) was the destruction of religious images in the 16th century, during which Catholic art was destroyed by Calvinist Protestant mobs. In the Netherlands these attacks happened mostly in the summer of 1566 and included looting from clergy houses and monasteries. In the Oude Kerk in Amsterdam an altar and many statues were lost, except for some fortunate enough to be attached higher up. The iconoclasm was in part fueled by resistance to the Catholic Spanish regime in the Nether­lands and of course led to Spanish counter­measures.

Detail of the Oude Kerk, Amsterdam, with stained glass windows and oak ceiling

Spanish Inquisition Regime

Spanish King Philip II send the Duke of Alba to Holland with 10,000 troops to punish the Protestant revolters and firmly reinstate Catholicism. Alva, known as the Iron Duke because of his ruthlessness, started a fierce and bloody five year long inquisition regime, in which a great number of so-called heretics were tortured and publicly executed. This was, together with the hated taxes which the Spanish introduced, the main cause for the Dutch revolt against Spain, resulting in the Eighty Year War (1568-1648). In 1578 all Spanish-minded regents were expelled from the city, which marked the start of the Republic of the Seven Dutch Provinces.

Oil painting with allegory of the tyranny of the Duke of Alba in the Netherlands

Allegory of the tyranny of the Duke of Alba in the Nether­lands, based on an image by Willem Delff from 1622 (Rijks­museum).

After the Protestant Alteration

After 1578 the Oude Kerk was remodeled to conduct Protestant services. Then, in 1584, merchants were allowed to use the church as an exchange — this lasted until 1611, when the Koopmans­beurs (Merchant’s Exchange) on the Rokin was opened. From 1632 on the meetings of the Church Board were held alter­nating between the Oude Kerk and the Nieuwe Kerk. When the new city hall on Dam square (the current Royal Palace) was built, the Oude Kerk gradually lost part of its importance and was no longer Amsterdam’s main church.

Oude Kerk Photo Gallery (May & June 2021)

Iron Chapel & Charter Cabinet

The IJzeren Kapel (Iron Chapel) room, built in 1516, its door high up on a wall in the Oude Kerk, was the first city archive: this was were the most important charters and patents which Amsterdam had were stored. A good 4 m (13.1 ft) above the church floor, originally with no stairs leading to it, it was closed off by two heavy doors (one iron and one thick oak) with four locks, the keys were kept by three different persons.

Drawing from 1818 by Gerrit Lamberts, with door to Iron Chapel, Oude Kerk, Amsterdam

Oude Kerk with the Saint Sebastian Chapel (or Handbow­men’s Chapel) with the space for religious education. Above it the door to the Iron Chapel. Fragment of a drawing from 1818 by Gerrit Lamberts (1776–1850) (Stads­archief Amsterdam).

After a few devastating city fires in 1421 and in 1452, which destroyed two-thirds of the town, the City Council decided to have a charter cabinet built to keep the city’s important documents safe. The oak charter cabinet — built before at least 1468 — had 45 drawers and another three locks and is therefore 50 years older than the Iron Chapel in which it stood. The cabinet is on display now in the City Archives on the Vijzel­straat.

Oude Kerk in May 2021 (video)

Website Oude Kerk: https://oudekerk.nl/en/

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