Home vacation 2011: Churches of Amsterdam

This year my mom came to visit, her first trip to Europe. We tried to find those you're not in Kansas anymore things that she would enjoy. One thing we have in Europe is old churches, so on her last day here we saw a few of them.

St Nicholaaskerk

The Sint Nicholaaskerk (Church of Saint Nicholas) sits directly across from Amsterdam Central Station, calling the attention of arriving visitors. We stopped by on Easter Monday (yes, we have two days of Easter here). This Catholic church is relatively new, built in 1884-7. Note the large round stained glass window in the front. The church is not symmetrical, but instead is built to follow the line of the street.

St Nicholaaskerk rose window

The rose window from the inside.

St Nicholaaskerk celing

Looking up into the dome of the St Nicholaaskerk.

pipe organ

The church's pipe organ, with the church entrance below and the rose window above. Note the model ship over the entrance. Sint Nicholaas is, among other things, the patron saint of sailors.

sint olafskapel

Sint Olafskapel (Chapel of Saint Olaf). Parts of the building date to the 1400's, and was originally built by Norse sailors. In the 1600's it was converted to a Protestant church and inscribed with the words, Spes Altera Vitae - Hope For a Better Life. This cheery sentiment persisted until 1917, when it fell out of use as a church. In 1966 the interior was destroyed in a fire, and rebuilt in 1992.


My favorite gevelsteen in Amsterdam. These stones were once used as house numbers and road signs, before the uniform name and number system we use was in place.

onze lieve heer onder constructie

In its wars with Spain in the 16th century, Dutch protestants were persecuted by the Spanish Catholics. This led to a strong anti-Catholic sentiment, which manifested as a ban on the practice of the Catholic religion. However, the country contained a lot of Catholics, and the ever-pragmatic Dutch simply decided that the public practice of the Catholic religion was illegal - what you did in private was your own concern. Thus arose Onze Lieve Heer Op Het Zolder - Our Good Lord in the Attic. It began around 1640, and expanded to include the attics of three ajoining houses. Major reconstruction on houses built in a swamp and supported by wooden poles sunk into the marshy ground is no mean feat, and the building is currently undergoing reconstruction to shore up the structure and preserve its interior. The church was in active use through the mid-1800's.

moral art

Most of the artwork is out of the building while it's being renovated, but a chest of drawers was there, sporting this pair of paintings when the doors were opened. I'm sure there's supposed to be some moral lesson here, but the guys in the left painting sure seem to be having a good time.

Oude Kerk

The Oude Kerk, or old church. It is the oldest church in Amsterdam, with pieces of it dating to 1306. It is also in the heart of the Red Light district, with houses (some of ill repute) crowded up close to it, so it's difficult to get a photo which shows very much of it.

oude kerk with Belle

The small bronze statue in front of the Oude Kerk is Belle, a statue honoring sex workers in the Red Light and around the world.

bronze breast

Another piece of unusual statuary at the Oude Kerk. This is embedded among the cobblestones at the base of the church. It was installed by an unknown artist responsible for many bronzes around the city. Many suspect the artist was part of the government or royal family, as quietly depositing large bronze sculptures in the dark of night is neither cheap nor easy.

mom @ waag

Mom at the Waag. An inscription on the Waag reads, On the 28th of April 1488 the first stone of this port was laid. This isn't a casle; the building was originally the city gate, and after 1618 served as the weighing hall (waag) for goods coming through the port city of Amsterdam. The upstairs served as a lecture room for, amongst others, fameous Dutch anatomists. Dissection upon humans was forbidden in most of Europe, due to the belief that the body would be needed for Jesus to call up on Judgment Day. But the relatively progressive Dutch decided it would be probably be all right if they were pretty sure that Jesus was not interested in this person - thus recently executed hardened criminals provided the specimens for the lesson. Many fameous people attended these dissections, including Peter the Great, tzar of Russia.

Erotic Museum

The Erotic Museum, somewhat humorously housed in a historic building bearing a gevelsteen with the inscription, God is mijn burgh, which means God is my fortress.

itchy the gull

A seagull on top of one of the old gevels across from the Oude Kerk.

red light, oude kerk

The Oude Kerk *really is* right in the middle of the Red Light - if you look carefully you can see the red lights for the windows in the bottom of this photo of the clocktower on the Oude Kerk.

red light, oude kerk

The light with the white box below it is a police call light. Every room is equipped with a panic button which a lady can use to the police if a client is being unfriendly. We happened to be standing on the street when one went off. The doors to all the nearby buildings opened, and the neighbors stood at the doorways. Within one minute the police arrived on their bicycles (yes, bicycles, it's how we do things here, and by far the fastest way to get through the city). We decided to get out of the narrow street and out of the way rather than hang around to see what happened next, but it was very reassuring to see that getting hurt is one thing a lady in this line of work in Amsterdam doesn't have to worry about.


Zusje grooming Wort.


Wort grooming Zusje. No one does contentment quite like a cat.

hatching ladies

This year's ladybugs hatching. Yes, that's a giant mass of aphids behind them. There was plenty of work for them to do. The ladies and the aphids are each about 1mm long.

baby lady

A baby ladybug with its first meal.

Back to index Want to use these photos? Click here for legal stuff and contact info.