This is one of Amsterdam’s lesser known museums. It is usually visited after the large museums have been “done”. A pity, for it is a small, charming yet very impressive museum.
The facade of the 17th century building facing one of the Amsterdam canals, actually hides three period homes and a Catholic church. You will find the museum in the neighbourhood between Amsterdam’s Central Station, its “Schreiers Toren” and Amsterdam’s Old Church.
The “Schreiers” tower offered wives of sailors a last glimpse of VOC and other ships leaving Amsterdam harbour. Its name derives from the meanings of to cry: the women undoubtedly cried and also called out. For a journey was always hazardous and mortality rates on board VOC ships that did make it back, would usually proof to be around a third of the crew.
In this area with its small winding streets and canals, it is clear you are in a very old part of Amsterdam. After sauntering along the street called “zeedijk”, seawall, you follow the canal to the modern entrance of the museum “Ons Lieve Heer op Solder” or “Our dear Lord in the attic”.
The entrance is in the modern building, the house stand next. Slightly further down the street is Amsterdam’s Oude Kerk, Old Church. Like all the other churches in the Netherlands, it used to be a catholic one. Protestants confiscated it, as the Roman Catholic faith was suppressed during the 80-year-war which started in the 16th century and ended in the 17th.
After a few zealous years, the Dutch Republic and its many towns started to tolerate other religions – provided services were held out of sight. Some towns allowed synagogues to be built in back gardens and Roman Catholic churches within houses.
Such synagogues can still be found in towns like Middelburg and The Hague. One once stood near Rembrandt’s house, now a museum. Amsterdam also had about 20 hidden Catholic churches, among them what is now the museum “Our Lord in the Attic.
After entering the museum through the modern entrance, one can either visit the museum shop and the café first. The visit starts downstairs, at cellar level. As the old building consists of three houses which were built at different levels, a visit does include having to climb up and down rickety and winding stairs. This is not a museum for people with vertigo or who have a problem with balance or walking unaided.
In the cellar, one should opt for the audio tour which is included with the museum ticket. At various points, one can either just hear the “bare” story. However, it also regularly offers the choice of extra explanation. This concerns either paintings or other exhibits, or the many people who lived in this quaint building.
After the introductory film or audio story, one enters the front house. First thing to do here, is to put on a pair of free overshoes provided by the museum. These shoes prevent the original floors and rush matting from being damaged by visitors
One interesting room contains an unbelievable amount of table ware recovered from an old cesspool, under the house. Part of the house(s) was once used as a cheap restaurant for people who could barely afford a warm meal a day. A huge contrast with the fairly affluent life of the cloth trading family who once owned the house, or the German businessman responsible for the creation of the impressive church inside. This church covers the top three floors of the three houses.
Part of the two highest floors were simply cut away to create space. Then a church was created with two galleries. On one side is the organ, on the other one the altar. Rich Catholics had a seat, but the poor had to stand. Nevertheless: services could be held between the walls of what looked like ordinary homes and without Protestants complaining.
Telling you more about this delightful and quaint museum might spoil your discovery visit. All I can tell you is to please go and visit it! It is not the mock marble, the two old kitchens with walls decorated with original Delftware tiles, box beds and much more. What I liked was the lovely smell of the rush carpets.
At the end of your visit, do not forget to have a look at the small exhibition on the “Amsterdam Miracle” in the museum’s modern building. Each year, people still walk a procession through Amsterdam’s old town centre. A tradition which is centuries old.
“Our Lord in the Attic” is dedicated to Amsterdam’s patron Saint Nicolas. Services continue to be celebrated here occasionally. The museum website has information about ticket prices and opening hours. As stated above: when in doubt, do ask museum staff if all parts of the museum are accessible for you.