The Oude Kerk (“old church”) is Amsterdam’s oldest parish church, consecrated in 1306 by the bishop of Utrecht. It stands in De Wallen, now Amsterdam’s main red-light district. The square surrounding the church is the Oudekerksplein. The bust of famous organist and composer Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck celebrates the lifetime he spent playing here. His early career began at the age of fifteen when he succeeded his deceased father Pieter Swybertszoon as the Oude Kerk’s organist. He went on to compose music for all 150 psalms and secure an international reputation as a leading Dutch composer. His music would also be played over the city from the church’s bell tower. He is buried in the church.
The church covers an area of some 3,300 square meters. The foundations were set on an artificial mound, thought to be the most solid ground of the settlement in this marshy province. The roof of the Oude Kerk is the largest medieval wooden vault in Europe. The Estonian planks date back to 1390 and boast some of the best acoustics in Europe. Rembrandt was a frequent visitor to the Oude Kerk and his children were all christened here. It is the only building in Amsterdam that remains in its original state since Rembrandt walked its halls. In the Holy Sepulchre is a small Rembrandt exhibition, a shrine to his wife “Saskia” van Uylenburgh who was buried here in 1782.
In mid-March each year, Catholics arrive at the Oude Kerk to celebrate the “Miracle of Amsterdam” that occurred in 1345. After taking communion, a dying man vomited the Host. When his vomit was thrown on the fire, the Host did not burn and was proclaimed a miracle. A new chapel was built on the place the miracle occurred and continued to be a place for miraculous cures. Today the Oude Kerk is a centre for both religious and cultural activities and can be rented for presentations, receptions and dinner parties. Among the events hosted is the prestigious annual World Press Photo awards ceremony. Part of the Oudekerksplein, the square surrounding the church, is used by prostitutes who offer their services from behind windows. The street also features a bronze relief of a hand caressing a breast that was set in the cobblestone at night by an anonymous artist. In March 2007 a bronze statue named Belle honoring the prostitutes of the world was also installed there.