The Oudezijds Voorburgwal is a canal in the Old Town of Amsterdam – the area known as the Red Light District. Despite the presence of the “coffee shops” and some seedy premises, it’s lined with historic buildings. One of them, a typical merchant’s canal house built in 1630 contains a surprise. There’s a church up in the loft.
Amsterdam is a Protestant city and in the 17th Century Catholic worship was forbidden. Catholics had to celebrate their rituals in secret, behind closed doors. In some cases they arranged for the creation of hidden places of worship and this was one of them. It was constructed in the loft of the house owned by a merchant, Jan Hartman, who had moved to Amsterdam from Germany to make his fortune. In fact, it extends over the adjacent two houses. It served as a Parish Church from 1663 until 1887, when the nearby St. Nicolaaskerk was built.
Today the house is the Museum Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder (Museum Our Lord in the Attic), and it’s the oldest musuem in Amsterdam after the Rijksmuseum (It opened to the public in 1888).
The bottom part of the house has been preserved as a typical 17th Century Amsterdam merchant’s house. On the first floor there’s a grand hall, a reception room fitted out to display the owner’s wealth and status to visitors.
The room at the front of the house recreated typical living quarters, with table
chair and stove
and box bed in the alcove
Ascending the stairs up to the next floor and we were in a church large enough for 150 worshippers
with an organ
and confession box
There were good views over the old town from the top floor
The building is being renovated and a new entrance being constructed via a tunnel from the building across the alley. We were able to watch English craftsmen installing new rush matting
Returning to the ground floor, we were able to see the Priest’s living quarters
and the kitchen
It isn’t credible that a church with a congregation of 150 right in the centre of the old town (they couldn’t all sneak in without anyone noticing) fitted out with an organ (not exactly a quiet instrument!) was really secret. In practice, the Protestant authorities tended to be tolerant of private Catholic worship as long as it was kept hidden from public view. And that was certainly the case with “Our Lord in the Attic”.
An interesting visit that gave us a glimpse of how people lived in the 17th Century and an insight into religious life and also the way the Dutch can turn a blind eye to activities that are ostensibly illegal – something still evident in the streets close by the Museum.