Amsterdam‘s skyline is dominated by several ancient churches that tower above its winding streets and canals. Most of these buildings are over 500 years old and were built either before or during the Reformation. These beautiful churches are absolutely iconic and reflect Amsterdam’s fascinating religious heritage so check out our selection of the best 8 that are worth a visit!
As the oldest building in Amsterdam, it’s no surprise that Oude Kerk has an intriguing history. The church was consecrated in 1306 by the bishop of Utrecht and was originally used for Catholic services. During the Reformation, Dutch Protestants ransacked the Oude Kerk and stripped out any iconography that depicted God or his saints in order to convert it into a Calvinist cathedral. Fortunately, this new congregation kept the church in perfect order and today its glorious Medieval wooden roof is still intact.
When Calvinism hit the Netherlands and successfully converted the large majority of its Catholic population, Amsterdam’s municipality decided to build a completely new church just outside of Nieuwemarkt. The church was completed in 1611 and named Zuiderkerk (the Southern church). Unlike the Oude Kerk, this new building was specifically designed to accommodate Protestantism, meaning that its interior was left relatively bare to meet the faith’s modest sensibilities. Nonetheless, Zuiderkerk is astonishingly beautiful and is attached to a colossal bell tower that plays cheerful melodies throughout the day.
After the Reformation, the Dutch government outlawed Catholicism, forcing believers to practise their faith in secret. Fortunately, this decree was rarely enacted and the Dutch authorities usually turned a blind eye to the covert Catholic churches such as Op Solder that sprung up around the Netherlands. In Amsterdam, a congregation decided to build an unusual chapel inside the attic of a large townhouse in De Wallen. The tiny sanctuary somehow survived this turbulent period and at the end of the 19th century was converted into a wonderful museum that appears to be completely frozen in time.
This narrow church is tucked inside of Amsterdam’s bustling Kalverstraat and originally served the city’s suppressed Catholic community. Because of Calvinism’s dominance, this secret congregation deliberately built the church without the aesthetic flares associated with Catholic churches. This modest design successfully fooled the authorities and allowed parishioners to practise their faith in relative peace. Its entrance is marked by two statues: a life-sized sculpture of St. Joseph and a large parrot perched on top of a stand. The church was completed in 1672 and today welcomes members of the public.
When the Dutch government adopted Calvinism in 1578, Amsterdam’s municipality confiscated this small chapel, known as the ERC, from a Catholic convent living inside of an enclosed commune behind Spui. In 1607, the church was given to the city’s English speaking Protestants as a place of worship. Since then, its weekly rituals have continued almost without interruption and today the church continues to serve Amsterdam’s English speaking congregation. Queen Elizabeth II visited the church in 2007 to honour its 400th anniversary.
This huge Roman Catholic church was once completely hidden inside of a townhouse on the outskirts of Amsterdam’s Jewish quarter so that its original parishioners could worship in secret. As their numbers grew, the church expanded into other buildings and became a full sized cathedral. Spinoza is said to have grown up in one of these houses before it was purchased by the faith, and when the ban on Catholicism was lifted in the mid 19th century the clandestine church was demolished and then replaced with a glorious steepled building.
In 1408, the bishop of Utrecht allowed Amsterdam’s municipality to build a new church on Dam Square. Unfortunately, this building was seriously damaged in 1654 when a fire consumed large parts of central Amsterdam. Nieuwe Kerk was rebuilt a few years later and designed to resemble Southern, gothic architecture. Its proximity to the Royal Palace made it a perfect candidate for stately ceremonies and the church is still used for coronations. Today it contains a large exhibition space.
Westerkerk is the largest church in Amsterdam and is a rare example of Venetian-styled Dutch architecture. It was purposely built for the Protestant faith in 1631 and houses an enormous, ornate pipe-organ. Its steeple reaches 86 metres and contains 51 gigantic bells that can be heard playing throughout De Jordaan. Many important Dutch figures are buried inside Westerkerk, including Rembrandt.