Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Amsterdam's Attic Church

“We’re off to Amsterdam”, we announced to our son, Mac. “Whatever you do, do not take Eloise into the Red Light District”, was his only reaction. And so, of course, we did. This was after we saw the line for the Anne Frank House, our original destination. With a line winding well around the corner, our Plan B was to head for a small museum on the border of the city’s notorious sex district, where we found the wonderful “Our Lord in the Attic”, a seventeenth-century town house museum with a clandestine church in the loft.

The Amstelkring Museum is one of the oldest canal houses open to visitors in all of Amsterdam. The atmosphere is straight out of “A Girl with a Pearl Earring”, the light, colour and furnishings are pure Vermeer. On that basis alone, this house is worth a visit but the “money shot” can be found in the church on the top floor which has an exuberant Baroque alter, seating for 150 and a substantial 18th century organ. The church is still used today for special masses, weddings and concerts.

The need to construct a clandestine church arose during the 16th century when celebrating the Catholic mass in public was forbidden. Ingenious solutions such as “Our Lord in the Attic” sprang up all over town. The Amstelkring Museum houses one of the finest examples of a hidden church to have survived virtually in its original state.

You can find the entrance to the Museum on the Oudezijds Voorburgwal. When we arrived in the late morning, there were a smattering of visitors, no lines, no tours and no hassles. Touring the house gives an excellent insight into the domestic arrangements of a wealthy merchant family during Holland’s Golden Age. In addition to the church, highlights of the house include an archetypal Golden-Age parlour with centuries old plaster work and a kitchen of similar vintage with hundreds of beautiful and charming 17th century tiles. Many of the rooms house Catholic artefacts. Don’t miss the completely weird collection of “crucifixions in a bottle”, like ships only in this iteration it is Christ on the cross.

Between the winding stairs, the Hollywood ending of a church in the attic and the tiny gift shop, Eloise enjoyed her visit. Anyone who has trouble navigating stairs would find it less fun. There is a useful, to-the-point guide in English and you should budget about an hour to guide yourself through the house.

I loved this museum and once again our visit reinforced how valuable it is to skip anything that draws too many crowds, no matter how worthy. I have heard that getting to the Anne Frank House first thing in the morning solves the problem. Never mind, when Eloise is older, she can meet Anne Frank through the pages of her diary but for now, we were completely charmed by this small museum on the borders of the Red Light District with the surprising secret church in the attic.

Museum Amstelkring
Oudezijds Voorburgwal 40
1012 GE Amsterdam
The Netherlands
Tel: 31 (0)20 646604

A 7 minute walk from Amsterdam Central Station and Dam Square

Opening hours:Monday - Saturday 10.00 -17.00Sunday and holidays 13.00 - 17.00closed on January 1 and April 30

Adults € 7.00
Children € 1.00
Students € 5.00

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