Our Lord in the Attic. The first time I heard the name of this tiny 17th Century Catholic church in Amsterdam, I loved it and knew I simply had to visit.
Although it was wicked cold on the day I chose, I bundled up against the bone-chilling wind and headed out to find Our Lord in the Attic (Ons Lieve Heer op Solder).
My camera had died a sudden and painful death, so I relied on my trusty phone to capture the day for me.
Armed only with a shoddy map whose creator seemed to have felt it unnecessary to be either detailed or accurate, I soon found myself very, very lost. But on such a glorious day I didn’t mind so much, for there were so many interesting things to see.
When the sun comes out in Amsterdam so do the people. Each square and cafe was filled to bursting with students and artists and tourists, soaking up every last precious ray.
As I wandered one canal after another wondering where on earth I was, I’d stumble upon marvelous sights, like the exquisitely detailed rooftops of this unknown church.
I joined complete strangers for a rest on an obliging bench, listening to them chatter in Dutch, comparing their sketches of monuments and buildings.
I wandered past workmen scaling scaffolding, Turkish men talking animatedly on the cobbled street, and a Dutch fellow working steadily on his houseboat.
I confess I was feeling a tad bit nervous as I discovered I had wandered straight into the middle of the Red Light District which, at that moment, was filled with the sort of leering, creepy chaps that scare the liver out of me. Yipes! But I wasn’t going to let a few brash fellows frighten me, so I lifted my chin, shouldered past them and pressed on.
I had nearly given up hope of ever finding Our Lord in the Attic when suddenly I looked up and there was the banner, flapping in the icy wind. Phew.
Apart from the banner, there is nothing to suggest that the building is anything more than a traditional canal house, and that’s just the way businessman Jan Hartman wanted it 350 years ago.
I climbed the steps and entered the museum, grateful to be out of the biting winds. I paid for my 8 Euro ticket (about $10.50 US or $10.22 AUD) and was given a handheld gadget that played recorded histories of the various rooms I would visit.
I was the only one there for much of my tour, an unheard of luxury in big city museums. I loved it.
The history of Our Lord in the Attic is absolutely fascinating to me.
During the Dutch Golden Age (16th-17th centuries) Protestant Amsterdam prevented Catholics from openly practicing their religion. After the transfer of power in Amsterdam to Protestants in 1578, an official prohibition on the celebration of the Catholic mass was issued.
Instead of abandoning their faith, Amsterdam’s Catholics went underground.
In 1661 wealthy merchant and Catholic Jan Hartman (1619-1668) bought the Velvet Burgwal, a prestigious property on Oudezijds Voorburgwal. With his son training for the priesthood, Hartman wanted a place where Catholics could worship in safety. The Velvet Burgwal provided the perfect place to build a secret church.
Comprised of three buildings, one in front and two behind, the Velvet Burgwal’s main floors functioned as a lavish reception room, shop, and storage area. The third floor of the front house formed a single extended attic with the top floors of the two back houses.
For over two hundred years Hartman’s attic served as the parish church for Amsterdam’s city center. While city father’s knew about the “secret” church, their policy of tolerance and Hartman’s wealth and influence secured him freedom of worship as long as he didn’t flaunt it.
Originally known as the Hart church (hart means stag), the space was renamed in the 19th century when the priest Ludovicus Reiniers bought the house. During his renovation, the stag that surmounted the facade disappeared, and the church became known as Our Lord in the Attic.
Climbing the steep, narrow staircases up into the heart of the Velvet Burgwal, I could imagine the tramp of many feet as Dutch Catholic parishioners darted in from the street and began the laborious climb into the attic.
I loved the cupboard bed in the corner and the old stove across the room. It’s so cold and damp in Amsterdam in winter that it must’ve been wonderful to crawl in bed at night and pull the curtains shut to seal in precious warmth.
I dipped my hand in the ancient font still affixed to the wall, wondering how many people had performed this ritual over the centuries.
I looked out the tiny windows to the homes across the canal, and pondered what the Golden Age residents thought of the goings on at the Velvet Burgwal.
After another few steep sets of creaky wooden steps I emerged into the sanctuary of Our Lord in the Attic.
Late afternoon sun streamed through the windows, light dancing off glossy wood surfaces and brass fixtures. I liked the old black and white photo of a church service in progress. It made the empty space come alive again.
Our Lord in the Attic is currently undergoing a massive renovation. Plans include restoring the neighboring building and providing an underground passage to Hartman’s historical house.
Because of this, most of the facility has been gutted, with all decorations and exhibits removed. While this could be disappointing, I found it quite wonderful. It felt so much more personal with only the walls, floors and windows as they were hundreds and hundreds of years ago. My imagination ran riot, thinking of what I would do in this place if it were mine.
Next time I’ll take you into the quiet rooms of the Velvet Burgwal, where soft light and simple lines created a place of peace and refuge in the 17th century.
What is the most interesting church you’ve ever visited?
Travel Information for Museum Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder (Our Lord in the Attic)
Oudezijds Voorburgwal 40
1012 GE Amsterdam
T +31(0)20 624 66 04
F +31(0)20 638 18 22
Monday to Saturday 10.00 – 17.00
Sundays and public holidays 13.00 – 17.00
The museum is closed on 1 January and 30 April
Adults: € 8,00
Children from 6 through 18 years: € 4,00
Children from 0 through 5 years: free
I amsterdam City Card: free