Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Amsterdam--"Our Lord in the Attic"

Amsterdam—July 24, cont.  Our Lord in the Attic

We returned from Haarlem and Corrie ten Boom’s house. The rest of the day was so interesting that I needed to make a separate post.

We decided to leave the train station and walk down the street that goes to the Old Church in Amsterdam. There are several stories here. First of all, the Old Church is the oldest of the city churches—perhaps that is self-evident. Furthermore, we had to walk through the Red Light District to get there—unavoidable: the church is in the middle of the District. Before that, however, we came to one of the newer churches in the city, St. Nicholas' Church. This one dominates the skyline as you step out of the central station.  So we start there with the story.

St. Nicholas’ church is a beautiful, solemn church. It opened in 1886. The Catholic Mass is celebrated in Monastic style, using both Dutch plainchant and polyphony. Choral Vespers is sung on Sunday in Gregorian chant. This church and the others that make up the city center parish are, according to a pamphlet in the foyer, dedicated to being “a source of inspiration for a living faith . . . (and) ensuring a broad scale of pastoral and diaconal work is maintained in the city centre . . . for the rich and poor, for faithful churchgoers and for the marginalized.” This is significant, a worthy goal, in light of where the churches are located.

We proceeded from St. Nicholas’ down into the Red Light District. The main street follows a canal—busy constantly with boatloads of revelers. The street is lined with bars and seedy shops. It is very crowded with not only young adults—students on holiday, 20-30-somethings who live in the area—but older couples, families with kids, all kinds of people. This area of town is a tourist attraction of the first order. I guess people see it circled on the city map and just have to come see what it is all about.

Anyway, we are making our way through the throng and almost by chance look up at a sign that is hanging over a door right on the street. It says, “Our Lord in the Attic.” We had to stop and find out what this was about. The most fascinating story was waiting.

In 1578, the Protestants took over the city. They not only stripped the Catholic churches of their icons and altars, they also outlawed Catholicism in the city. The Old Church (to which we are making our way) was Catholic up to that time but was converted to Protestant by what is called “The Great Alteration.”

Catholic churches were driven underground. By 1656, there were 62 underground Catholic churches in the city. (Actually, by the mid-17th century, the Protestants knew of their existence and tolerated these “papist meeting places” as long as they did not meet publicly, thereby reducing “the nuisance they caused.”)

In this particular instance, a Catholic businessman in 1663 bought three adjoining houses in this area and over the course of two years, built a church inside. He cut through the floors to create the vaulted ceiling of the church. He cut through the walls to make the chancel long enough to seat about 150 worshippers. This clandestine church met for 200 years. The priest lived in quarters inside the building, complete with kitchen facilities.

Freedom of religion came to The Netherlands in 1798. St. Nicholas’ church was built a hundred years later. The Church in the Attic became obsolete. The building was acquired and is being restored by a private group to its original structure and colors. We had to take the tour. I hope the photos do it justice.

Here is the fascinating thing: we were just in Haarlem, thinking about Corrie ten Boom and a story of faith and persistence, of non-violent resistance, of people who were willing to pay the price for their convictions. We have spent the better part of the past month exploring the stories and places of Anabaptists who were driven underground for their faith, who were persecuted by Catholics and Protestants alike but who were committed to live their faith, no matter what the price.

Now, we come to the flip side of persecution: the Protestants drove the Catholic Church underground! These were simple people of faith who wanted to worship according to their traditions and convictions. They were seeking the same thing the Anabaptists sought. They were willing to go to great lengths, to sacrifice safety and comfort. It wasn’t just the “radicals” who were persecuted. Even though in many places the Catholic Church was the persecutor and perpetrator of great suffering, here we find people of that faith who were suffering in the same manner. 

The issue is one of power. The group that is in control is the group from which we have most to fear, regardless of their “good” intentions. A power group always operates from a particular ideology, be it socialist, fascist, or other. These groups pose threats to personal freedom and responsibility. Equally dangerous is the power group that operates from a religious ideology and motivation. Now "God" is brought into the mix and the group justifies its actions as “God’s will”. This so easily leads to fanaticism and extremism--and every other group is seen as an adversary, a competitor, and possibly worthy of extermination.

We do not want to have any religious group, not even a “Christian” group, in charge of the civil government—not Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical, Islamic or anybody else.

We did not get to the Old Church today. We spent too much time in the Church in the Attic. We will come back tomorrow.

Set-back note:  I left my little notebook in which I have been taking notes somewhere. I think I left it with The Lord in the Attic. I did get distracted by my conversation with the guy who was at the desk while I was retrieving my backpack from the storage locker. I didn't realize it was gone until we were well down the street. Fighting the growing Red Light District crowd, I hurried back up the street to retrieve it. But too late--by the time I got there, the church was closed. Oh well, perhaps we will have time tomorrow to come back and check to see if it is there. If not, I will just have to recreate the stories from memory. That could be a problem.

St. Nicholas' Church across from the Central Station.

Stained glass windows installed after WWII.

The altar of St. Nicholas' Church.

The organ in St. Nicholas.

A closer shot of the altar . . . pretty fance, huh?

The sign on the street in the Red Light District that caught our attention.

This is a sign inside the "secret Catholic church."

So, the builders of this clandestine church tried to get everything in that would make it a traditional Catholic church in which the worshipers would feel comfortable and at home. This is the font for holy water you encounter when you come up the darkened stairs from the street.

This is the worship center and altar. Notice that it goes up three stories. We are standing on the bottom level. There are two levels of balconies above. Note also that this bottom level is already two levels up from street level.

This is the altar complete with crucifix, altar paintings, and a statue of God at the top. The pinkish purple is the original color of the sanctuary.

We have a sacristy and vestments.

We have a Mary chapel.

This is another holy water font going down the back stairs.

The confessional which is in a back part of the house, above the street but below the sanctuary.
Yep, about all you need for a functioning Catholic church in an attic.

1 comment:

  1. Did you recover your notebook?

    That Catholic church is fascinating! Talk about renovations! I find it interesting how important the form of worship is--that the Catholic businessman went to such great lengths to create a church that resembles as closely as possible the usual Catholic church.