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  • Writer's pictureBen West

A Brief History of Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) in Amsterdam

What is Nieuwe Kerk?

Nieuwe Kerk, or New Church in English, is a gem from the Middle Ages in Amsterdam that hosts important events and exhibitions and is one of the country’s most famous churches.

Nieuwe Kerk interior

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Nieuwe Kerk History

Although the name Nieuwe Kerk (or New Church) is misleading considering that this imposing structure dates back to the Middle Ages, it’s still a mere baby compared to its neighbour, the Oude Kerk (or Old Church), which was consecrated just over a century earlier. The Nieuwe Kerk was founded in the 14th century when the growing population of Amsterdam required a second central place of worship. Located adjacent to the Royal Palace on Dam Square right at the heart of the city, the church is one of Amsterdam’s most impressive historical monuments as well as one of the most important churches in the Netherlands, hosting royal ceremonies such as weddings and investitures, and other official gatherings.

Stained glass over the main entrance to the church references Queen Wilhelmina, who ascended to the Dutch throne in 1898, aged just 18. The investitures of Queen Juliana and Queen Beatrix also took place here. In more recent times, the wedding and investiture of the current King of the Netherlands, King Willem-Alexander, took place in this church. However, its main function today is to host cultural events and it acts as one of the country’s most popular exhibition venues for art and photography, as well as holding organ recitals and other musical events.

Nieuwe Kerk exterior

The Nieuwe Kerk was formerly a Dutch Reformed Church before being dedicated to the Protestant Church in the Netherlands. It was damaged in the city fires of 1421 and 1452 and almost destroyed in a fire in the mid-17th century. Subsequently rebuilt in the Gothic style, the church you see today essentially dates from then, with some 19th- and 20th-century renovations, mainly in the neo-Gothic style.

Although the church has a rather plain interior, it has some impressive features, such as the elaborately decorated main organ, which dates from around 1650. There’s a majestic oak chancel (the space near the altar, reserved for the clergy), superb stained-glass windows and a large bronze choir screen. The floor is made up of many grave slabs – indeed there are around 10,000 people interred below the church. These include writers Joost van den Vondel and Pieter Corneliszoon Hooft, despite the former being Roman Catholic. And there’s a tomb for distinguished 17th-century admiral Michiel de Ruyter as well as other Dutch naval heroes, such as Commodore Jan van Galen and Jan van Speyk.

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