A Brief History of Our Lord in the Attic Museum in Amsterdam
What is Our Lord in the Attic Museum?
Our Lord in the Attic Museum, or Museum Ons' Lieve Heer op Solder in Dutch, is a 17th-century canal house that hides a secret Catholic church and is now a museum in the centre of Amsterdam.
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Our Lord in the Attic Museum
Until the 16th century, Amsterdam had been overwhelmingly Roman Catholic, but that changed as the Protestant Reformation swept across Europe. On the 26th of May 1578, a group of Calvinists overturned the city’s Catholic government in a bloodless coup known as the Alteration, and seized control of all churches, chapels and monasteries – effectively banning Catholics from worshipping in public.
And so they had to find a way to practise their religion in secret. Hidden churches began springing up in private homes across the city, and the only remaining example is this one: concealed behind a rather ordinary-looking canal house in what is now the Red Light District. In the 1660s, a wealthy Catholic merchant named Jan Hartman purchased the gabled townhouse and two others behind it, converting all three contiguous attics into a single chapel, hence its name: Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder (or Our Lord in the Attic).
Worshippers entered discreetly from a side street and climbed a narrow, three-storey staircase to reach the clandestine church, which could accommodate about 150 people. The chapel, which has been remodelled over the centuries, is spread over multiple levels, with two upper galleries and a double-height ceiling decorated with a stuccoed image of God the Father and the Holy Spirit, portrayed as a dove.
The ornate, Baroque-style altar is flanked by devotional statues and gilt-topped wooden columns cleverly painted to resemble marble. Above the altar hangs a large oil painting, The Baptism of Christ by Jacob de Wit, completed in 1716 and added some 50 years after the chapel was originally built. Opposite the altar is an organ constructed specifically for the church in 1794 by Hendrik Meyer. Mass continues to be held here on the first Sunday of each month, from October to May, with services conducted in Dutch.
While the hidden church is the chief reason to visit, Our Lord in the Attic also reveals how a successful 17th-century merchant lived and worked. Living and dining areas, bedrooms and two kitchens, have been beautifully restored with Delft tiles and period furnishings, while other rooms hold a variety of religious objects dating from the Golden Age to the 19th century.
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