Sint Olofskapel, Amsterdam

Sint Olofskapel

The Sint Olofs­kapel (Saint Olof’s Chapel) at Zee­dijk 2A, near the Sint Olofs­poort alley, is one of the oldest chapels in Amsterdam. It was built between 1440 and 1450 right next to the former Sint Olofs­poort (Saint Olof’s Gate) from 1370, which was demolished in 1618. In 1644 the chapel was enlarged to its current proportions, inspired by Gothic architec­tural styles. The entrance gate on Zee­dijk (Sea Dike) is from 1644, the two entrance gates on the Nieuwe­brug­steeg (New Bridge Alley) are from 1620 and 1671.

Sint Olofskapel on Zeedijk, Amsterdam

Sint Olofs­kapel on Zee­dijk, seen towards Sint Olofs­poort and Prins Hendrik­kade (August 2021).

The chapel was a Catholic prayer house from the 15th century on. Unused for a while after the Amsterdam Alteration of 1578, merchants used the chapel as an exchange from 1586 on. After 1602 Protestant services were held here and the chapel became known as the Oude­zijds Kapel (Old Side Chapel) — church services were held here until 1912. The Nieuwe­zijds Kapel (New Side Chapel) was the former Heilige Stede (Holy Stead) on Rokin, which was demolished in 1908.

Entrance of the Sint Olofskapel on Zeedijk, Amsterdam, seen in southern direction

Entrance of the Sint Olofs­kapel on Zee­dijk, seen in southern direction (August 2021).

Much of the chapel was lost in a number of fires. After the last big fire in 1966 it laid in ruins for decades, until the city bought the chapel in 1991 and had it restored. These days the Olofs­kapel is an events location belonging to the Barbizon Palace hotel around the corner at Prins Hendrik­kade, connected with an under­ground corridor.

Michiel de Ruyter

Famous Dutch admiral Michiel de Ruyter (1607–1676) lived on Prins Hendrik­kade 131 and was a regular churchgoer. The church bench which was reserved for him in the Olofs­kapel has been preserved and is still there to be seen.

Detail of a portrait by Ferdinand Bol from 1767 of admiral Michiel de Ruyter

Detail of a portrait of Dutch admiral Michiel de Ruyter, by painter Ferdinand Bol from 1767.

Jerusalem Chapel

A devastating fire in 1966 only left the 17th century front of the Olofs­kapel standing. Archaeo­logical investi­gations in 1991 showed that there had been another small chapel inside the the Saint Olof’s Chapel walls, the Jerusalem Chapel from 1490. Jerusalem chapels were found throughout Europe in those days, many in the Netherlands — they held a copy of the Holy Grave in Jerusalem. Christian pilgrims who had been to Jerusalem — a special status, much like Muslims who had visited Mecca — would meet up there.

Drawing of the Jerusalem Chapel, Amsterdam, in 1644

Drawing of the Jerusalem Chapel in 1644, attributed to Roelant Roghman (Amsterdam City Archives).

This brother­hood of those who had been to the Holy Grave in Jerusalem (knighted there as Knight in the Order of the Holy Grave and given the right to carry a palm branch), held a procession through the city each year on Palm Sunday, with a wooden Christ on a wooden donkey on wheels, to celebrate Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. In the 17th century the brother­hood left Amsterdam, and the derelict chapel was demolished in 1644 to accommo­date the expanding (now Protestant) Saint Olof’s Chapel. The city of Gouda now has the only remaining intact Jerusalem Chapel in the Netherlands.

14th Century Amsterdam

Amsterdam was a very small town in the 14th century, with only 2,500 inhabitants, enclosed on each side by the Oude­zijds Voor­burg­wal and the Nieuwe­zijds Voor­burg­wal. The Singel canal had not been dug, the future canal belt was still empty meadows. Pallisades protected the young city and only three entrance gates provided access: the (first) Haarlemmer­poort in the West, the Bind­wijker­poort in the South (near Spui) and the Sint Olofs­poort from 1370 in the North. The city gates were heavily guarded, they opened each morning and closed at night. When the city expanded in 1425, the Sint Olofs­poort lost its gate function and became a prison for the next 200 years, until 1618.

Sint Olofskapel, Amsterdam, with the Sint Olofspoort still intact in 1544

Sint Olofs­kapel, with the Sint Olofs­poort (Saint Olof’s Gate) still intact in 1544.

The Zeedijk Chapel Entrance Gate

The entrance gate to the chapel on Zee­dijk, a skeleton with the words in Latin “Hope of a life beyond”, was created in 1620 by Hendrick de Keyser. It had originally been created to adorn the grave­yard of the Wester­kerk (Western Church) on Wester­markt, but was moved in 1655 to the Sint Olofs­kapel. The Sint Olofs­kapel was, as was custom in Amsterdam, not just a church but also a grave­yard for many important Amsterdam citizens from 1600 until 1850.

Entrance gate of the Sint Olofskapel on Zeedijk, Amsterdam

Entrance gate of the Sint Olofs­kapel on Zee­dijk (August 2021). The Latin text means “Hope of a life beyond”.
The gable stone with the sun on the right was put there to commemorate the architect Boudewijn de Court Onderwater, who had overseen the entire rebuild and restoration of the chapel and died just before it was finished in 1992.

Sint Olofskapel on Zeedijk, seen towards Prins Hendrikkade

Sint Olofs­kapel on Zee­dijk, seen towards Prins Hendrik­kade (August 2021).

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