Visit this charming enclave of homes surrounding a peaceful garden right in the heart of Amsterdam.
BEGIJNHOF AMSTERDAM • PEEK INTO THE PAST
The delightful enclave of homes surrounding this quiet garden right off the busy Spui is known as the Begijnhof, or courtyard of the Beguines. The Beguines were unmarried Catholic women who took vows of chastity and attended daily Mass in the courtyard church. They were not nuns, however, as they were free to leave at any time to marry or pursue other interests.
The 47 townhomes in the Begijnhof look like typical Amsterdam houses, with façades dating from the 17th and 18th centuries, although some of the structures still have Gothic wooden frames. The oldest wooden house in Amsterdam is at number 34. Notice the lovely gables at the top of the buildings and the interesting carved and painted stones depicting religious topics near the entrance.
The original Begijnhof was founded in the mid 14th century. In the 15th century, two large fires swept through Amsterdam, destroying the Begijnhof and the church, but the Beguines rebuilt. The new Catholic church, dedicated to patron saints John and Ursula, was later closed during the Protestant revolt of 1578 and subsequently became a Protestant church known as the “English Church”. Two homes opposite the church were then transformed into a secret “hidden church” for Catholics.
Amsterdam was once one of the most popular Catholic pilgrimage sites in the world due to the Miracle of the Sacrament. This miracle occurred in 1345 when a very sick man was given the Sacrament by the local priest, but later vomited up the wafer representing the Host. It was thrown into the fire, but the unharmed Host floated above the flames. A woman grabbed it without getting burned and sent for the priest who took this miracle Host back to the church. The next day the woman found the Host again in the sick man’s house. The paintings in the “hidden church” refer to this story.
The last Beguine died in 1971, but 105 single women still live in the dwellings of the Begijnhof today. The courtyard is open every day from 9:00 – 17:00. Please respect the residents and remain quiet while visiting.
Begijnhof 30, Amsterdam