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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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