Westerkerk (21)

In the moving diary Anne Frank wrote from the roof of her house, several mentions are made of how the girl and her family saw the tower of the church and listened to the chiming of its clock. 

The Westerkerk was the first Protestant church built after the Reformation and, as such, bears the name not of a saint, but of its geographical setting in the city (the west in this case). The prestigious architect Hendrick de Keyser began building it in 1620 and the church was officially inaugurated on Whit Sunday in 1631. 

Although it was the first great church of the Protestant expansion, it cannot be said to have its own architectural aesthetics, different from the Catholic style, although it does feature some innovations such as a simple facade, an elegant design and an austere interior.

Built within the context of the Dutch Renaissance, the main feature of which is a combination of brick and natural stone, it still shows prevailing signs of Gothic influence. 

Unlike Catholic churches, the design of the main nave is based on the form of two Greek crosses. Because of the rather soft earth of the city of Amsterdam, the vaults could not be very heavy and thus the nave was covered with a wooden semi-circular vault. You will notice the characteristically Protestant renunciation of all ornamentation on the interior. 

Do not forget to take a look at the Westertoren, the church tower. This and the belfry that crowns it dominate the city of Amsterdam and for many people are a true symbol of the capital. 

The 85-metre high church tower, which rises above the houses of the Jordaan district where it is located, is Amsterdam’s tallest. Like the city’s coat of arms, the top the tower features the imperial crown of Maximilian I. This was a gift from the Emperor to the city in the fifteenth century in gratitude for the favourable treatment it had given him.

The church tower was not finished until 1638 and is located in the centre of the church’s western facade, in accordance with medieval tradition. The base is made of brick, above which there is a section made in wood and covered by natural stone. The upper galleries are also made in wood, although the finish is in lead. The bell that strikes the hour, which weighs over seven and a half tons, is the heaviest in Amsterdam and is the work of the famous François Hemony. 

The Westerkerk is very well-known in the city for its intense cultural life and particularly for its music. Bach cantatas, for which one of the church’s two organs is reserved, are performed once a month. Consult the concert programme as it is highly likely you will be able to attend one of the frequently held organ concerts. If you visit during Holy Week, do not miss a performance of the Westerkerk choir on Good Friday. 

The church is also appealing for devotees of another kind: art lovers. This is because Rembrandt was buried here in 1669, although the exact site is unknown. You might be interested in the note about the artist written in the church register: “He leaves two children. Expenses covered: twenty florins”. A tiny finale for one of history’s greatest painters. 

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