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The Begijnhof, Amsterdam


Behind this nondescript door is an enclave in the center of Amsterdam. This was once the home of the Beguines, single women whose mission was to care for the sick. The first recorded document of the Begijnhof dates back to 1346 when a certain Cope van der Laene gave the Beguines the Beghijnhuis (house of Beguines).

Courtyard of the Begijnhof

The door from the Spui leads into a courtyard surrounded by traditional 17th-18th century houses which were completely renovated between 1984-1987. It's a different world as you cross the threshold. But for the noise created by the visitors, it feels as if Amsterdam is miles away. Though just outside the door, depending on the day of the week, there are outdoor cafés and musicians playing to the crowd. Or if it's the weekend, there might be a book or art fair on the Spui. 

Het Houten Huys, 1528

One of the oldest houses in Amsterdam, the Houten Huys (black façade) dates back to 1528. Many of the earlier buildings in the Begijnhof were made of wood. Two big fires in 1421 and 1452 razed buildings on the property. The Beguines rebuilt the houses using brick. 


Behind the Houten house is a wall with colorful plaques of biblical themes from 16th century. The topmost plaque is Christ the Savior, and below are Jacob's Dream, Elijah, Flight to Egypt, the Sacrifice of Abraham, the Golden Oven (from Nebuchanezzar's time), in Emmaus, and one inscribed 'TGELOOF. These plaques have beautiful stories to tell.   

The Chapel of the Beguinage

The Chapel which is dedicated to St. John the Evangelist and St.Ursula is another hidden church in Amsterdam. The exterior of the chapel gives no clue that there is a Catholic church within. This was the result of the Alteration when Protestants wrested power from the Catholics and forbade them to attend mass. The Beguines started construction of their new chapel in 1665 after their own church within the property was confiscated and given to the English. The sign above the door says English Reformed Church which is across from the chapel. But this is now a Scottish Presbyterian church. Two houses were bought and joined to form the chapel. It was completed in 1682.  There were 150 Beguines during that year. The last Beguine, Sister Antonia, died in 1971. Nowadays, the Begijnhof is home to single women (who are not Beguines).

There is a mass in French at 11:15 am every Sunday. It's a small community and the service is both intimate and tranquil. It's perhaps my favorite place to worship in Amsterdam.

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Images by TravelswithCharie

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