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Begijnhof (Beguine Court) - The Red Light District Amsterdam Guide - discover the secrets!
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Begijnhof (Beguine Court)

Date: 3. jul 2017.
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The Begijnhof courtyard is a place that should not be bypassed during tour Amsterdam tour. It is a tranquil 14th-century garden courtyard hidden behind a busy shopping thoroughfare and is just a block away from the bustling Spui Square. It is one of the oldest inner courts in the city of Amsterdam. The original dwellings haven’t survived, but the Begijnhof which is cut off from Amsterdam’s traffic noise, still retains a sanctified atmosphere. It includes a several interesting religious buildings.

The Begijnhof is the only inner court in Amsterdam which was founded during the middle ages, and it lies within the Singel which is the innermost canal of Amsterdam’s circular canal system. It is located on the medieval street, a meter below the rest of the old city center. Originally, the Begijnhof was entirely encircled by water, with the sole entrance located at the Begijnensteeg. The back facades were water locked. The Spui entrance dates back from the 19th century.

The exact date when Begijnhof (Beguines court) was founded remains unknown. The document from 1346, mentions that the beguines lived on a property at the time. The courtyard was mentioned in 1389 for the first time, probably after the religious status of the city rose due to the Amsterdam Eucharistic Miracle of 1345.

What remains certain is that the Begijnhof was built in the 14th century as a residence for the Begijntes (Beguines) which was a Catholic sisterhood of unmarried or widowed woman who wished to live a pious life of service without becoming nuns. They were educating the poor and caring for the sick in return for free lodging at Begijnhof.

One of the resident Beguines named Cornelia Arens had a humble wish to be buried in the gutter of the court (she did not choose the Chapel because she considered it “desecrated” by Presbyterians). The legend says that in spite her wish, she was buried in a Chapel but then her coffin was found in the adjoining gutter the next day and the following two days until she was buried in the gutter according to her wishes. There is also another legend that says that her soul couldn’t find peace and that it roamed the court at night until she was buried according to her wishes.

The beautiful houses overlooking the well-kept garden include the Amsterdam’s oldest surviving house Het Houten Huis at No. 34, dating from the 15th century (one of the two remaining wooden houses in the city center).

Biblical Plaques are located on the left side of the oldest house, with scripture quotes and illustrations. The small English Church ( Englese Kerk) is located across the courtyard at No. 48 and it dates from the 1400 and possesses its original medieval tower. It was belonging to the Beguines until it was confiscated by the Protestants in 1578. Despite the name, it is a Scottish Presbyterian church.

In 1671, two dwellings opposite of the Chapel were converted into a church for Catholics, the Church of the Saints John and Ursula, named after the patron saints of Begijnhof. It was a secret church at that time and the city officials tolerated it but they demanded that it should not be recognized as the church from the outside. In 1908 it became Mirakel-Kapel (the Miracle Church) after the original Miracle Church had been deliberately destroyed by its Protestant Owners. It once contained the communion wafer from the Miracle of Amsterdam 1345), whose story is told in the stained-glass window.

Houses in Begijnhof are still occupied by residents, so please respect their privacy during your visit.