The Oude Kerk ('old church') is Amsterdam’s oldest building, founded ca. 1213. Over time, this structure was replaced by a stone church that was consecrated in 1306 by the bishop of Utrecht with Saint Nicolas as its patron saint. The church stood for only a half-century before the first alterations were made; the aisles were lengthened and wrapped around the choir in a half circle to support the structure. Not long after the turn of the 15th century, north and south transepts were added to the church creating a cross formation. Work on these renovations was completed in 1460, though it is likely that progress was largely interrupted by the great fires that besieged the city in 1421 and 1452.

Throughout the 16th-century battles, the church was looted and defaced on numerous occasions, first in the Beeldenstorm of 1566, when a mob destroyed most of the church art and fittings, including an altarpiece with a central panel by Jan van Scorel and side panels painted on both sides by Maarten van Heemskerck. Only the paintings on the ceiling, which were unreachable, were spared.

Locals would gather in the church to gossip, peddlers sold their goods, and beggars sought shelter. This was not tolerated by the Calvinists, however, and the homeless were expelled. In 1681, the choir was closed-off with screen of oak. Above the screen is the text, The prolonged misuse of God's church, were here undone again in the year seventy-eight, referring to the Reformation of 1578. After that it became a Calvinist church, which it remains today.

In that same year, the Oude Kerk became home to the registry of marriages. It was also used as the city archives; the most important documents were locked in a chest covered with iron plates and painted with the city’s coat of arms. The chest was kept safe in the iron chapel.

The bust of famous organist and composer Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck (1562-1621) celebrates the lifetime he spent playing in the church. His early career began at the age of fifteen when he succeeded his deceased father Pieter Swybertszoon as the Oude Kerk’s organist. He went on to compose music for all 150 Psalms and secured an international reputation as a leading Dutch composer. His music would also be played over the city from the church’s bell tower. He is buried in the church.

Rembrandt was a frequent visitor to the Oude Kerk and his children were all christened here. It is the only building in Amsterdam that remains in its original state since Rembrandt walked its halls. In the Holy Sepulchre is a small Rembrandt exhibition, a shrine to his wife Saskia van Uylenburgh who was buried here in 1642. Each year on 9 March, at 8:39 am, the early morning sun briefly illuminates her tomb.

The roof of the Oude Kerk is the largest medieval wooden vault in Europe. The Estonian planks date to 1390 and boast some of the best acoustics in Europe. The floor consists entirely of gravestones. The reason for this is that 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 2500 graves in the Oude Kerk, under which are buried 10,000 Amsterdam citizens. The Oude Kerk holds four pipe organs, the old church organ built in 1658 and the cabinet organ built in 1767. The third was built by the German Christian Vater in 1724 and is regarded as one of the finest Baroque organs in Europe. In mid-March each year, Catholics arrive at the Oude Kerk to celebrate the 'Miracle of Amsterdam' that occurred in 1345. After taking communion, a dying man vomited the Host. When his vomit was thrown on the fire, the Host did not burn and was proclaimed a miracle. The Host was put in a chest and installed at the Oude Kerk; however, it disappeared during the Reformation.

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Founded: 1213
Category: Religious sites in Netherlands

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4.4/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Qihua M (4 months ago)
The Old Church is currently under renovation. I chose to climb the tower with a guide and some fellow tourists. It was quite informative to learn a bit history of the church and its bell tower, our guide Lukas was quite knowledgeable. You could have a bird’s views of the entire city of Amsterdam from the 34-m platform. The entire city was built in a swamp, so not many high rise or high buildings in and near the city. It was well worth the guided tour! Cheers!
Michael Filion (5 months ago)
Beautiful old church, but I'm afraid there isn't a whole lot to see. Once you've stepped inside, you've seen pretty much everything there is to see. They had (a temporary) exhibit that was interesting, but also very limited. Not necessarily a must-see attraction, but might be worth it if you're nearby.
Joel Shapiro (6 months ago)
Very interesting church interior and they occasionally have art installations within. I wish that I had realized the interior tour and tower tour are completely separate! If I did it all over again I might skip this part and just do the tower, although by the time I was there, they were sold out for the tower climb due to limited capacity.
Daniela Muscat (8 months ago)
Beautiful church with a vast historical background. The stained glass windows are beautiful! There isn’t too much to do inside, so I would suggest visiting when there is an exhibition going on, to have more to see.
Jason Freeman (9 months ago)
This was great! A must see if you love history/art/architecture and are in Amsterdam. I also did the tower which was a great experience. The church itself has markings of family crests all over the floors and some curious artwork inside.
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