The oldest church, and quite possibly the oldest building, in Amsterdam is the aptly named Oude Kerk (Old Church). The church, situated in the heart of the colorful, and often gritty, Red Light District, stands on the site of a 13th century wooden chapel dedicated to Nicholas of Myra, patron saint of Amsterdam and of sailors. Historically a meeting place for locals and a center for trade, it was here that master painter Rembrandt van Rijn announced his marriage to Saskia van Uylenburgh and where she, along with thousands of other Amsterdam residents, was buried.
Built originally as a Catholic Church with numerous side chapels and up to 39 altars, Oude Kerk was taken over by the Dutch Reformed Church during the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century and is currently administered by the Protestant Church of Amsterdam. As a result of the Reformation and the ensuing Iconoclasm, the vast majority of the original decorations were removed or destroyed. The interior of the church today is simple and somewhat modest, though there remain several noteworthy features. These include:
Wooden Ceiling – the vaulted ceiling reminiscent of a ship’s hull, features paintings from the 15th century revealed during renovations in the 1950s.
Pipe Organs – the most prominent of Oude Kerk’s pipe organs are the 18th century Great Organ (above the main entrance)
decorated with statues and carvings of putti,
and the 17th century Choir Organ (north transept) with decorative panels by Dutch painter Cornelis Brizé.
The 15th-century Choir – enclosed by wooden walls and gilded screens, the interior contains hinged wooden seats, also known as misericords, the undersides of which feature intricate carvings.
Stained Glass Windows – originally 33 medieval windows in all, much of the colored glass has been removed or replaced. The panels you’ll see include the Burgomasters window of the Overseas Mariners Chapel (to the right of the choir) depicting the heraldic emblems of past city officials, and the 16th century windows of the Maria Chapel (to the left of the choir) commissioned by burgomaster Jan Claesz van Hoppen (he and his family are pictured in the window panels).
Grave Markers – wall-to-wall stone slabs mark the many burial plots (about 2,500 in all) representing over 10,000 people buried in Oude Kerk. Though the human remains have been removed, the tombstones remain; some simply engraved with a number, letter, and/or name,
such as that of Rembrandt’s wife Saskia, others feature more ornate carvings like the 18th-century markers of brewer and mayor Joachim Rendorp, Willem van den Bergh and Cornelia Zeeuw, and Vice Admiral of Holland and West Friesland Gillis Schey and his daughter Elisabeth, and the 17th-century marker of Iacob de Bruinnen, Anna Jans, and Agata de Bruynne. More information on the individuals and families buried in Oude Kerk is available on the searchable website Graven op Internet.
Memorial Plaques – several decorative plaques memorializing significant individuals can be seen throughout the church.
Look for memorials to Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck, 16th century organist and inspiration to Johan Sebastian Bach;
Carel van Mander, poet and painter; Nicolaas Simon van Winter;
Willem Vander Zaan, Admiral in the Royal Navy; Jacob van Heemskerk, admiral and explorer (a model of his ship hangs above his memorial); and Kiliaen van Rensselaer, diamond trader, co-founder of the Dutch West India Company, and early settler of the colony of New Netherland which included several Mid-Atlantic States from New York to Delaware.
Baptistry (De Graeff Family Tomb) – the former church baptistry purchased by Amsterdam mayor Cornelis de Graeff in the 17th century to house his family tomb. The former chapel no longer has its stained glass windows, but the carved marble façade and a memorial board in remembrance of Aeltje de Graeff, niece of Cornelis, remain.
Period Rooms – these side chambers furnished in period style include the 17th-century Wardens or Trustees Room, featuring 17th and 18th century décor and a panel of family crests representing the Church Wardens from the 16th to 19th centuries; the College Room, built in the 16th century and simply furnished with a 19th century cabinet, a table, and chairs; the Cassock Room; and Mirror Room.
Oude Kerk sits smack dab in the middle of the Red Light District, an area famous for its sex workers. In acknowledgement of this, there are several bronze sculptures in the square at the front of the church.
These include ‘Belle’, a statue of a sex worker, created by Dutch artist Els Rijerse,
and a relief, imbedded in the stone near the church entrance, of a hand caressing a bare breast.
Oude Kerk is located at Oudekerkplein 23, about 10 minute’s walk from Central Station.