Our Lord in the Attic: Check Out Amsterdam’s Hidden Church

In the upper floors of a baroque canal house in Amsterdam’s red-light district, a mere stone’s throw from the Oude Kerk, stands Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder (Our Lord in the Attic), a hidden Catholic church. Apart from a modern-day museum sign, there is nothing along the street to mark its presence – no rose windows, no steeples, not even a crucifix. Thousands – including Rembrandt – would’ve passed the house on their way to the

Thousands – including Rembrandt, no less – would’ve passed the house on their way to the Oude Kerk without knowing what lay behind its walls. The hidden church blends with the surrounding buildings, ensuring only the curious and those in the know discover its beautiful Baroque interior.

Amsterdam Oude Kerk
By day, the area looks pretty free from sleaze

At the time of the building of the church, the Dutch Reformed Church was the only religion permitted in the Dutch Republic. While other religions and Christian denominations were banned, the state didn’t banish these wealthy adherents (and risk losing a source of taxes). They were permitted to conduct worship in private buildings, so long as they were not marked as churches or synagogues. Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder is one the last remaining reminders of those days of religious persecution.

Inside the House

The life of Jan Hartman, the owner of the house on Oudezijds Voorburgwal 40, was a classic rags-to-riches-and-back-to-rags story. He started out as a baker’s apprentice before working his way up to become a wealthy trader. No prizes for guessing when in his life he bought this dwelling, once you’ve looked around the rooms that his family lived in.

Our Lord in the Attic hidden church

The furnishings reflect his station in life and include his own coat of arms (he was not a nobleman). More opulent places exist, but one would have to go to palaces and castles to see them. On the second floor, the steep narrow staircase (typical of the Netherlands) leads to the hidden church.

Our Lord in the Attic hidden church

The Hidden Church

The church spans three floors of the house. After Hartman’s untimely death, his widow had to sell his property to service the debts he left behind. Thankfully, the later owners retained the church and even made it more ornate.

Our Lord in the Attic hidden church

The current appearance dates from the middle of the 19th Century, including the brownish-pink paint (but not the fire safety features). Obviously, it doesn’t have the space for ornate side chapels or cenotaphs, but the stylistic influences from other baroque churches are ever present.

Our Lord in the Attic hidden church

Despite the small footprint of the house, most of the features of larger post-Trentian churches are present. There is even a pulley system for replacing the altarpieces.

Our Lord in the Attic hidden church
Pentecost and Easter altarpieces await their turn

You’d think that they would keep the volume of the sung Mass down, but no, there’s an organ with a good set of pipes at the back.

Our Lord in the Attic hidden church
The organ
Our Lord in the Attic hidden church
The confessional takes the form of a couple of a room, not unlike modern churches, rather than an elaborate stall
Our Lord in the Attic hidden church
The Lady Chapel is but a modest altar
Our Lord in the Attic hidden church
The sacristy housing the liturgical garments

The view out of the window today takes in the towers of the Basilica of St Nicholas. Worship in the hidden church ceased when the Basilica opened in 1887 and the congregation finally had a dedicated sanctuary to worship in. The following year, the house became a museum.

Our Lord in the Attic hidden church

Masses still take place on the first Sunday of the months outside summer. However, moderate your expectations: it’s in the Ordinary Rite, so it won’t take you back in time.

Details

Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder
Oudezijds Voorburgwal 40
Amsterdam
10am to 5pm every day except Sundays (1pm to 5pm) and 27 April (closed)
Admission is 8 Euro for adults

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