One of the best Amsterdam’s historical hidden gems, the Bejinhof is a closed courtyard cut off from all the noise and rushed life of the city. Although it’s located in the Spui – a very busy area of the city – the place has a sanctified atmosphere.
The Bejinhof (Béguinage) was built as a sanctuary and living place for Catholic sisters (Begijntjes or Beguines) who lived like nuns – although they never took oficial vows – and dates from the 14th century. They came to live in Amsterdam around 1150 to look after the sick, and had to be unmarried, to take vows of chastity and obedience to the parish priest. Since they were not oficially nuns, they could leave anytime they wanted. The Béguinage consists of houses, a small garden, a chapel and a church.
History tells that in a sunday of the year 1345, there was a sick man in the Kalverstraat (nowadays a shopping street that is right next to Spui square) that received the Sacred Host when a priest administered the Sacrament of the Sick to him.
The host left his body and was thrown up on a fire where people said they could see it float above flames. A local woman then grabbed the host with her own hands and put it in a case that was taken to a church. The host didn’t keep as a hostage (pun intended) and somehow broke out of the case and went to the sick man’s house. A priest was called and took the host back to the church in the case, only to find him back in the man’s house again the next day. People took this as a sign thinking that God wanted this miracle to be made public, and the following year the Bishop Jan van Arkel declared what happened to be a genuine miracle.
A church was built in the place where the miracle took place, and it’s now called the Ter Heylighen Stede. The whole story can be seen being portrayed in nine large panels by the painter Schenk, inside the chapel in the Bejinhof. The chapel also contains many reminders of the Catholic past, so don’t miss it.
The houses in the courtyard have gone under a lot of renovation since then, and some of them even got demolished and re-built. A big part of the yard and its chapel were destroyed by the great Amsterdam fires in the 1400’s due to the fact that many of these structures were built with wood, but the houses and the chapel were restored with bricks instead.
In the small yard you can admire the architecture of the beautiful houses that overlook a lovely green garden with a couple statues. You can also check out Amsterdam’s oldest surviving house, Het Houten Huis. In the south part of the yard is the English Church (Engelse Kerk) that still has it’s original medieval tower, so remember to look up to see it!
Although the last beguine – Sister Antonia – died in 1971, the place is still occupied by single women. You are expected to be respectful, very quiet and to not create any commotion while you are visiting the yard and the chapel. Also, mind the bars that say “for residents” in the yard. That means that area is restricted only to people who live there so no crossing, people. The yard is very small so you shouldn’t have a problem with transpassing if you just keep inside the limits.
If you want to remember your visit to the Begijnhof you can find a small selection of souvenirs in a shop inside the chapel.
In order to find the Begijnhof, you need to find the entrance door first! It’s located in the Spui square – the bookstore square of Amsterdam – right next to some white houses, so you should do a careful scan around the square. You will see a beautiful wooden door with a small sign on it that reads “Begijnhof” along with the opening times. Want my advice? Go during summer or spring! These pictures were taken during winter and don’t do justice!
The Begijnhof is open daily from 8:00am to 5:00pm.