In an odd quirk, Amsterdam’s Oude Kerk, or old church, stands right in the middle of one of the world’s most famous red light districts.
Beginning in 1213 as a Catholic church, then expanded a century later into the huge stone building it is today, making it not only the city’s oldest church, but the oldest building of any kind.
Originally the church was dedicated to St. Nicolas, the patron saint of sailors, so perhaps that explains the proximity of the prostitution… shore leave and all.
No matter how it happened, it was strange to see sex workers in windows right across from a church.
After the Reformation in 1566, Holland became predominantly Protestant, and the Oude Kerk followed suite.
The interior was nearly destroyed by angry mobs in a melee that broke out when the people revolted against the excesses of the Catholic Church.
Luckily some of the stained glass windows survived, as well as the amazing wooden roof, the largest medieval wooden vault left in Europe.
Another quirk that struck us as odd was that the entire floor is covered with graves.
The church was built over a cemetery, and the practice of burying people continued inside the building.
Twenty-five-hundred graves, containing around ten thousand souls, were laid here before the practice stopped in 1865.
Around the outside of the main hall there are several smaller rooms available for private functions, often weddings.
Our favorite of these, the mirror room, was originally used as the office of Marriage Commissioners, but now has found life as popular place for smaller ceremonies.
This was the church Rembrandt attended, had all his children christened in and, in 1634, signed his marriage registry in the Mirror Room.
In 1642, his wife, Saskia van Uylenburgh, was laid to rest in one of the tombs on the floor but, by the time Rembrandt passed away in 1669, he was completely bankrupt and couldn’t afford to join her.
He was instead buried in a multiple grave at Westerkerk near the Anne Frank House.
As we walked out of the Oude Kerk we got one last odd surprise, a brass hand fondling a woman’s breast embedded in the cobblestones of the walkway next to the church.
The story is that an anonymous artist placed it in honor of the local profession in the middle of a February night back in 1993.
David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com
See where we stayed in Amsterdam – hint – it’s a houseboat!
Find out how it feels to visit Anne Frank House
Experience the must-do cruise of Amsterdam’s canals
Follow us into the oldest building in Amsterdam – Oude Kerk (Old Church)