The Old Church
History of the building
The organs and
Sweelinck , a famous organist
The Red Door and Saskia
Choir stalls with misericords
The Iron Chapel
stained glass windows
Gravestones on internet Also in French, German and Spanish
Organist of the Old Church
To rent the church
Opening times (please
Monday to Saturday from 11 am untill 5
pm; Sundays from 1 pm until 5 pm.
Closed for visitors:
Yearly on: Queens' Day,
December 25 and January 1
Full Price €
5,00; Students /
Youth Card/ SeniorCard
4,00; Museumcard/I Amsterdam
Children under 12 years of age free.
Groups over 10 persons €
entrance fees are possible during exhibitions and concerts.
Visiting the Tower
(in the weekend):
Price: € 5,00
per person. Every half hour between 1 - 5 a.m.
Tours for groups in the Tower : visiting by appointment only. For reservations contact Ms. Büscher
Phone. 020 - 6892565.
The tower is a property of the Amsterdam city council.
The organs and Sweelinck, a famous organist
The Old Church has a long tradition of having excellent organs and
organists. Even during the fifteenth century, an organ was hanging on the
west wall (tower wall) of the nave. In 1539, the church acquired a new
instrument that was played between 1577 and 1621 by a famous organist by
the name of Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck.
1st International Organ
Competition Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck
Foundation Amsterdam, October 26, 27 & 28, 2005.
In 2005 for the first
time an International competition devoted to the organ music of Jan
Pieterszoon Sweelinck, his contemporaries and his pupils, will be
organised. The competition will take place in the Amsterdam Oude Kerk,
the very site from where Sweelinck’s genius radiated over Europe. The
transept organ, restored to its seventeenth-century composition in 1965,
was recently regiven a mean tone temperament, making it one of the best
instruments imaginable, to perform the organ music of the Amsterdam
The great organ
In 1724, the church wardens of the Old Church commissioned Christian
Vater, the Hamburg organ builder, to build an entirely new organ to
replace the old one. Vater completed this organ in 1726 and the
churchwardens were very pleased: the instrument was “absolutely perfect in
every way”. In 1738, the tower began to subside. For restoration
activities, the organ had to be dismantled. Once the tower had been
restored, Caspar Müller was commissioned to re-install the organ. Not only
did Müller put it back, but he made major changes as well, his belief
being that after its renovation, the organ ‘should speak promptly and
forcefully and should be heard during the singing’. The Vater-Müller organ
would remain largely unchanged until 1869 when G.F.H. Witte updated it to
accommodate contemporary tastes requiring a sound that was less sharp and
more rounded. Although Witte changed the sound, hardly a piece of the
original material was lost. Since Witte’s renovation, the organ has
The Old Church Organ has always been admired. It was once mentioned in the
famous 18th-century travelogue written by Charles Burney. Even
today, it attracts organ enthusiasts – both listeners and players – from
all over the world.
The case for the organ was designed by Jurriaan Westerman. Above the organ
are the old city seal of Amsterdam with the cargo ship and the city’s coat
of arms with the three Andreas crosses.
The small (or transept) organ
This organ was built in 1658 by the famous organ maker Hans Wolff
Schonat. In building it, he used some of the pipes taken from another
organ at this location that had been built by Hendrik Niehoff. The
shutters for the new organ were painted by Cornelis Brizé. The instrument
was used for concerts commissioned by the city’s administration. During
the 18th century, it was used less and less frequently so that
when an organ had to be built for the Zuiderkerk in 1821, the pipes from
the small organ in the Old Church were used. The case, however, remained
behind. In 1964 and 1965, a new organ was built for the old organ case by
organ makers Ahrend & Brunzema from the East Friesian town of Loga near
Leer. Its disposition was taken from the famous collection of dispositions
of Joachim Hess, an organist from Gouda, and dates from 1774. It has
become a beautiful instrument with great artistic eloquence and was even
enlarged after being retuned in 2001 to a 17th-century
The cabinet organ
The cabinet organ was built in 1767 by Amsterdam organ maker Deetlef
Onderhorst, supposedly for a private client. In 1946, the organ was
repaired by organ builder A. Blik who also replaced its manual wind chest
with an electronic system. In 1977, the organ was completely restored by
Adema's Kerkorgelbouw. The restoration included having the cabinet
restored and completed and removing the white coat of paint that had been
added in 1953. After its most recent restoration, the organ was installed
in the choir of the Old Church.
Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck
The Old Church’s most famous organist was Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck (1562
- 1621). He was appointed organist at the age of fifteen to succeed his
father, Pieter Swybertszoon. Sweelinck remained the organist for the Old
Church until his death. At the time of Sweelinck’s appointment, the Old
Church was still a Catholic church. Shortly thereafter, in1578, the
Alteration occurred and the church became a Protestant church. Sweelinck
continued as organist but was then in the service of the city
administration. Thenceforward, he would no longer play during the church
services but before and after them. In addition, the city commissioned him
to play for an hour several times a week. We know that Vondel, the poet,
was one of his many listeners.
Sweelinck’s fame as an organist ensured that in 1606 he started
attracted students to Amsterdam from Poland, Scandinavia, the Netherlands,
and particularly Germany. Through these students, Sweelinck influenced a
whole generation of organists and became one of the most important
founders of the German school of organ playing. Without these students,
Sweelinck’s keyboard pieces would surely have been lost to us. After all,
it was these students took copies of the music they had studied in
Amsterdam home with them. Those copies found their way into libraries and
are now the only source of the works that Sweelinck wrote for the organ or
the harpsichord. In addition to work for keyboard instruments, Sweelinck
wrote many vocal pieces. These were published during his lifetime, usually
in Antwerp. Sweelinck died in 1621 and was buried in the ambulatory of the
Old Church under tombstone number 100.
The Red Door and Saskia
After 1578, the ‘commissioners of matrimonial affairs’ became responsible
for the registry of marriages. They met in the sacristy of the Old Church
where engaged couples would present themselves and their witnesses. After
the registration, the wedding could be announced by posting it on the
chancel in the church or on the façade of the city hall. Not until the
completion of the new city hall on the Dam, after 1648, did the
commissioners get their own place to meet in the centre of government.
Since the door of the sacristy of the Old Church was red, when people in
Amsterdam spoke of ‘going through the red door’, they meant ‘taking out a
marriage license’. Above the door was written ‘Marry in haste, repent at
On 10 June 1634, Rembrandt went through the red door. He reported to the
commissioners of matrimonial affairs along with Saskia’s cousin who lived
in Amsterdam. This cousin was the clergyman Jan Cornelis van Uylenburgh
who presented himself before the commissioners on Saskia’s behalf. Once
all the formalities were completed and the announcements in the churches
had taken place, permission was granted for the couple to marry in
Friesland. On 22 June 1634, Rembrandt married Saskia in the Friesian
village of Sint Annaparochie where Saskia’s father was the burgomaster.
Eight years later in 1642, the year in which Rembrandt painted ‘The Night
Watch’, Saskia fell ill and died on 14 July. She was buried in the Old
Church in the Weitkopers Chapel. Rembrandt died on 4 October 1669 and was
buried in the Westerkerk.
Choir stalls with misericords
Although the Old Church never had a chapter (a group of monks and priests
who sing the daily prayers), the church still has choir stalls. Exactly
who made the choir stalls is unknown, but it was probably a sculptor
living in Amsterdam. The clothes worn by the figures on the misericords
display the fashion of 1480, so we can also assume that this was when the
stalls were made. The iconoclasm that took place in the Old Church on 26
September 1566 did not affect the misericords. The typical traces of this
destruction – the mutilation of hands and faces – is missing here. Still
to be seen on the misericords is a wide array of subjects, some merely
decorative while others depicting everyday scenes. Very conspicuous are
the many proverbs that are illustrated: about a third of the original
misericords includes one.
Here, the excessive use of alcohol is denounced.
Money is useful but not worth anything in the face of death.
Sail when the wind allows; anything is easier when you have good help.
Two drunks under one roof: two people are in agreement about everything,
especially what’s wrong.
By forging, one becomes a smith: one learns by doing.
One attacks while the other soothes: ‘anger’, one of the cardinal sins,
and ‘self-control’ or ‘kind-heartedness’ are depicted here.
‘Don’t pull too hard on a weak rope’: don’t be in too much of a hurry to
get the job done.
‘Money doesn’t fall out of my arse’: money doesn’t grow on trees.
‘He’s sitting between two chairs’: he can’t choose so now he’s sitting on
‘Banging your head against a brick wall’: painful discovery that what
you’re trying so hard to do is simply impossible.
‘It’s like trying to out-yawn an oven door’: A person can’t yawn as
wide as an oven door, i.e. don’t try to accomplish the impossible.
The Iron Chapel
This is where a chest covered in iron plates and painted with the coat of
arms of Amsterdam was kept that held the city’s most important documents:
its trading privileges. The chest was placed in a niche that had been cut
into the wall. Anyone wishing to see these documents had to assemble a
large group of important persons. The iron door, located around 4 metres
above the ground, had three locks: two in a lock case and one padlock. The
two keys were kept by two ruling burgomasters and the town clerk. Before
the door could be opened, a mason would first have to hack away the mortar
around the door (that would then have to be replaced afterward). Behind
the iron door was another locked oak door. In 1892, the archive chest and
its contents were transferred to the municipal archive.
stained glass windows
Oude Kerk’s collection is actually the church itself—its interior and
exterior. There are countless interesting features, including the Vater-Müller
organ, which dates from 1724. For forty-four years the composer and
organist Sweelinck played the forerunner to this organ, and he is buried
in the church. The original Transept
organ, made by the renowned organ-builder Hans Wolff Schonat, dates from
1658. A new organ was installed in the old organ loft in 1964 and 1965. In
the spring of 2002 the organ was retuned to its original well-tempered
The tombstones set into the floor and the tombs of Dutch naval
heroes, including Jacob van Heemskerck, are particularly fine. Among the
graves in the church "more than 2500 in all" is that of
Rembrandt’s wife, Saskia van Uylenburgh. A memorial tablet commemorates
another celebrity who is buried in the church. He is Kiliaen van
Rensselaer, one of the Dutch founders of the city that is now New York.
The paintings on the ceiling and the wooden statues in the roof were added
in the second half of the fifteenth and the early sixteenth century. Three
stained glass windows in the
Lady Chapel date from 1555. The two large windows were made by Digman
Meynaert after a design by Lambert van Noort; the smaller window depicting
the Death of the Virgin is by Dirck Crabeth. In the choir stalls there are
still misericordes from Catholic times, decorated with scenes illustrating
proverbs and sayings. All that remains of the Holy Sepulchre is the fine
A stained glass window by Jan van Bronckhorst in the choir aisle
commemorates the Treaty of Münster (1648). The arms of the mayors of the
city between 1578 and 1800 appear in the two windows on either side of the
choir aisle. In 1681 the choir was closed off with a brass rood screen.
Above it is a text reading"‘t
misbruyk in Godes kerCk allengskens ingebracht, Is hier weer afgedaEn in
‘t IaEr zeventiCH acht (XVº)
false practices gradually introduced into God’s church, Were here undone
again in the year seventy eight (XV)"),
a reference to the Alteratie on 26 May 1578,
when the Roman Catholic town council, supportive of Spain, was replaced by
a Protestant Orangist council.
The Pulpit and Baptistry were both built in the seventeenth century. The
Chapterhouse of the Brothers of the Blessed Virgin Mary (1571) and the
Churchwardens’ Room (1612) "previously the meeting place of the
Board of Guardians, who administered the poor relief in the city" are
both open to visitors.
The Iron Chapel above the library served as the city archive, since it was
here that the important documents of the City of Amsterdam were kept.
Tombs on the internet
earliest days when the first 'anonymous' Amsterdam citizen was buried
there, around 1300, until 1865 over 10,000 people found their final
resting place inside the Dutch capital's oldest stone building.
Handwritten tomb registers used to be maintained recording details of the
tombs, these data having been entered in a database in more recent times.
You will find the data in
www.gravenopinternet.nl . Also in French, German and Spanish language.
However, the database is far from complete, which is why visitors are
invited to provide any information they may have on relatives who were
once buried in the Old Church. The database is linked to an overview of
the tombstone floor inside the church. Detailed illustrations of
tombstones are also available.
The web site features a virtual exhibition containing profiles of several
well-known Amsterdam citizens as well as offering historical routes
through the City of Amsterdam.
was born in Pietramontecorvino, a little town in the heel of
Italy. At nineteen, he had his first encounter with music, finished his
general education and started taking organ lessons with renowned organist
such as H.Vogel, M. Chapuis, M.Torrent and M. Radulescu.With Radulescu he
studied the organ music of J.S.Bach exclusively for two years.
Coached by Liuwe Tamminga, he also studied Italian organ repertoire from
the 15th and 16th centuries.
In 1997 Mr Imbruno successfuly passed the exam" Uitvoerend Musicus
Orgel " (concert organist), after his studied at the Conservatory of
Rotterdam with Bernard Winsemius, and at the Utrecht Conservatory with Jan
After this he continued his studies at the Musikhochschule in
Luebeck with Martin Haselboek. At the moment he is organist of this old
church in Amsterdam,where he also organises organ concerts. He gives
concerts in the Netherlands and abroad and has recorded several CD`s.
here for a slideshow