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Amsterdam – Fact Check

The secret church hidden in plain sight

Photo by Kieran Meeke

Amsterdam – Fact Check The secret church hidden in plain sight

In a canalside street, a short distance away from one of Amsterdam’s central Red Light areas, lies one of the city’s most remarkable secrets. What looks like an ordinary 17th century canal house hides an even more extraordinary tribute to Dutch tolerance.

Kieran Meeke
Kieran Meeke Travel Writer

As I turn the last corner onto the Oudezijds Voorburgwal within Amsterdam's Canal Ring and make my way to number 40, a sign reading “Museum Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder” is the only clue to where I am going. The normal Amsterdam steps to the door and the rather plain entrance hall give little away either.

It is only after I climb the flights of narrow steps into the attic, that I find myself amid one of the city’s hidden wonders. Up here is a beautiful church, long but narrow, hidden under the roof of this unassuming house in the liveliest part of town. Lit by (electric) candles, and dominated by carved cherubs and an organ, it takes up two floors with its box pews and gallery.

Centuries of prayer – this one was in use from 1663 to 1887 – gives any place of worship a special air but this one is even more remarkable for its tiny dimensions and history. A declaration in 1581 officially prohibited the open practice of the Catholic religion in Calvinist Netherlands. Hideaways such as this were the solution for those who kept the faith.

Looking out the window, however, I find it hard to imagine the neighbors – so close I can almost touch them – did not know what was going on, or did not hear services taking place. There is even an organ. This hidden church on Amsterdam's Canal Ring is a tangible tribute to Dutch tolerance.

When regular worship stopped here it was turned into a museum, now the second oldest in Amsterdam after the Rijksmuseum. You can still find some services, including the annual St Nicholas (the church’s patron saint) festival on December 5. You might know him better as Santa Claus.

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