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The Gothic Nieuwe Kerk, which is located next to the Royal Palace in the Dam square, is the city’s other great church, besides the Oude Kerk. Although its position beside the great Royal Palace gives visitors the impression it is rather small, it is nonetheless a church with a lot of history.
In the fifteenth century, the population of Amsterdam began to grow considerably and the Oude Kerk, the city’s old and only church, started to become too small.
In 1408, the Bishop of Utrecht gave permission for this church to be built. The city was growing rich and construction immediately began on the church, which, as in most cases of medieval architecture, was completed and enlarged slowly over the years. The main nave was thus completed around 1435, although building work had been affected in 1421 by the fire in the city. The chapels were built later.
The new church did not have much luck because, as well as this first fire, it was also affected by fire in 1452 and, much more seriously, nearly reduced to cinders in 1645 because of an accidental fire in the roof of the building. This last fire left only the walls of the nave and the transepts in tact, although fortunately it was restored in Gothic architectural spirit and the shape of the original building was respected.
This process of construction-destruction-reconstruction was not limited to these dates and events. Before the terrible fire in 1578, the Nieuwe Kerk was subject to the iconoclastic fury of the Calvinists, who left practically none of its beautiful altar and statue decoration. They left only the portico standing.
The Nieuwe Kerk is a basilica with a late Gothic-style transept, remarkable for the contrast between the central nave, which has a wooden barrel vault, and side naves with stone groin vaults.
The slim Gothic profile of the Nieuwe Kerk rises above the Oude Kerk building. You will wonder, especially considering the style, why this church does not have a tower. Although the initial project featured one, the idea was gradually abandoned because of the dramatic changes of the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, which arose particularly because of the political climate.
The new Protestant administration decided to abandon the bell tower project as it was not very much in favour of the idea of a prestigious church eclipsing the glorious new City Hall, the symbol of civil authority, which was being built almost next door.
The bells that François Hemony had built therefore had to be hung in the small transept tower and not in the great belfry as originally planned.
Even without the tower, the location of the church, right in the Dam square, gave it considerable prestige and presence, which meant it surpassed the Oude Kerk. From the reign of King William I of Orange onwards, moreover, the monarchy established a special link with this church, to such a point that is has been considered the Westminster Abbey of Amsterdam.
The church interior as it is now is practically all from after the sixteenth century, when the disasters of the fires and iconoclasm had abated. Wooden carvings on the pulpit, a magnificent organ attributed to Jacob van Campen, and illustrated stained glass windows with scenes from the city’s history are some of the details you should look out for.
The New Church also features the tombs of some of the Netherlands’ most famous admirals and includes the mausoleums of Michiel Adriaansz de Ruyter and Jan van Galen.
The church is currently used solely for the exhibition of prestigious and assorted collections of art, which range from contemporary photography to displays of handicrafts by ancient civilisations. Organ recitals and other cultural activities are also held in the church.
What you will not be able to do, if you are a believer, is attend mass in the Nieuwe Kerk, because mass is only held here at coronations and royal weddings. The last royal wedding to be held here was between William of Holland and Máxima Zorreguieta. Their young heirs will not be getting married for many years so take the opportunity to visit the church now, with no ties!
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