When we visit cities across Europe, we usually stop in to see the old churches, not because we’re religious, but rather because historically, the churches of Europe were the recipients of the funds allotted for the commissioning of art and architecture. And, in our travels we’ve had the opportunity to visit a number of historically significant churches including the Duomo di Firenze and the Duomo di Siena in Italy. But, on a recent trip to Amsterdam, we stumbled upon a somewhat unusual and very unique church, a secret church in an attic, which is now the Museum Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder, or the Museum of Our Lord in the Attic.
In the Netherlands, the secret churches or ‘schuilkerken’ came about as a result of political and religious change within the Low Countries. First there was the Protestant Reformation when Christian attitudes and beliefs began to shift. Then there was the Eighty Years’ War, when the Netherlands won their independence from Catholic Spain. Following the Reformation, Catholic churches were converted to Protestant churches, and following the war in the newly independent Protestant-influenced Republic of the United Netherlands, Catholics were forbidden to worship in public or in a church that looked like a church.
The resulting clandestine churches, including Our Lord in the Attic, were hidden from view behind the facades of private residences and canal houses. By the 19th century, Amsterdam was again a more open and tolerant society allowing people of differing faiths to worship freely.
Formerly known as Het Hart, Our Lord in the Attic was built in the 17th century home of wealthy merchant Jan Hartman and remained in use as a parish church for over 200 years.
In 1888, the hidden church was officially opened to the public as a museum and is credited with being the second oldest museum in Amsterdam (Het Rijksmuseum is the oldest).