You are welcome to visit Westerkerk from Monday tot Friday from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m.
You are also very welcome to join us for our church service on Sunday at 10.30 am! (Service is in Dutch.)
Hendrick de Keyser (1565-1621) was the architect of Westerkerk. Commissioned by the Amsterdam City Council, the church was built between 1620 and 1631.
Westerkerk was not the first Protestant church built in Amsterdam, but it was the first biggest in the world for sure. Noorderkerk and Zuiderkerk were built for the Protestant service ealier, whereas Nieuwe Kerk and Oude Kerk were meant for the Roman Catholic mass.Westerkerk was built in the Dutch Renaissance style and in the form of a patriarchal cross. The monument has a rectangular shape, is 48 metres long, 28 metres wide and 27.5 metres high to the wooden barrel vaulting in the nave. Eye-catching is the bright, undimmed sunlight pouring in from every angle via the 36 large windows (the light is not obstructed by any adjacent buildings). This 'light effect' is further enforced by the whitewashed inner walls.
Apart from the large windows, the church is also characterised by grey-white painted ornaments made of natural stone between the white plasterings. Pillars, arcs, joists, pilasters and the main frame of the lower floor are made of Bentheim sandstone painted dark grey. Since the Westerkerk was commissioned by the Amsterdam City Council at the time, the city arms are a recurring theme in the church. Both the nave and the two high side aisle bays are covered with wooden barrel vaults, forming groined vaults at their crossbeams. The remaining low side aisle bays have stone cross-ribbed vaults.
In 1578, the City of Amsterdam joined the Prince of Orange movement in ousting the Roman Catholic regents. As a result of this 'Alteration', seven Roman Catholic churches fell into the hands of the Reformed Church.
After the Alteration, the Amsterdam population grew dramatically from 30,000 to 200,000 in just one century. This was caused by, among other things, people migrating from rural to urban areas and the influx of refugees and other foreigners (from France, Germany and Belgium), mainly craftsmen. A suburb called the "Jordaan" was established to accommodate the growing number of workers. The Amsterdam municipal authorities built the Noorderkerk for people living in the Jordaan. At the other end of the Prinsengracht, the Westerkerk was built for the wealthy “ring of canals” area.
In 1620, a churchyard was constructed on the Westermarkt, situated on the north and the east side of the church. Coming from the Keizersgracht, the entrance to the Westerkerk churchyard was through a beautiful gate, which no longer exists. Just like the church itself and the tower, the gate was designed by Hendrick de Keyser.
Fortunately, a second gate, with access to the churchyard from the Prinsengracht, has been preserved for later generations. Today, this gate gives access to the Prinsenhuis next to the church. This building is often used for church events and social activities organised by the Westerkerk. The churchyard has not been in use for very long. Until 1865, people were also buried inside the church. The tombstones inside the Westerkerk are clear evidence of this practice.
The Westertoren has often been the subject of Amsterdam croon songs and is even mentioned in Anne Frank's famous diary. During summer, the tower is open to the public up to the first level.
Standing 85 metres tall, the famous 'Ouwe Wester' is Amsterdam's highest church tower. The steeple with its imperial crown was built in 1638. Until 2006, the imperial crown had a golden yellow colour. When restoration works were carried out in 2006 and 2007, the tower was given a historically more appropriate colour scheme. The most striking element is the bright, blue-coloured crown. In 1906, celebrating Rembrandt's year of birth 300 years earlier, the colour of the crown was changed from blue to golden yellow. In the "Rembrandt year" 2006, exactly one hundred years later, the colour was restored to its original blue.
The Westertoren carillon can be heard several times a day. It can be played by hand and the bells were made by François Hemony. Boudewijn Zwart is the regular performing artist playing the carillon.
Leading up to a service in the Westerkerk you will hear the bells ringing. Have a thought for the bell-ringers, a group of volunteers from the Westerkerk congregation, who are ringing the bells by hand.
Church and tower separated
When in 1795 the French legislature introduced the separation of church and state, the Westerkerk became the property of what was then the Dutch Reformed Church. But the Westertoren remained in the hands of the Amsterdam municipal authorities. Fancy climbing the tower? Go to the Westertoren web site for further information.
The Burning Bush at Westerkerk is a very special 'prayer chapel' for prayer and quiet reflection and for lighting a candle.
The idea for this Burning Bush was created by Reverend Fokkelien Oosterwijk, vicar of Westerkerk, and it was designed by sculptor Hans 't Mannetje. It was opened in December 2007.
In a time when religious and social differences can have a major impact on society, the Burning Bush stands for all the things that Christian, Jewish and Islamic traditions have in common. The Burning Bush in the Westerkerk is in response to a universal human desire: to experience the unmentionable and to bring the unreachable closer.
According to the Bible story, God manifests Himself to Moses as a flaming bush. He calls on him to lead the Israelites from slavery out of Egypt and into Canaan, promising him His help. As Moses asked God what His name is, He answers: "I am that I am." God's name as a promise for eternal closeness.
You are warmly invited to light a candle. Near the Burning Bush you will also find a book where you can write down your personal thoughts or prayer.
The large organ rises high above the entrance of the Westerkerk. The organ's overwhelming music, the painted panels and the staggering pipes leave an indelible impression.
There was no organ when the Westerkerk was first put into use on Whit Sunday in 1631. Playing instrumental music inside the church was still considered 'popish' in those days. It took many years of consultation until an organ was finally allowed. At first there was still talk of moving the organ used in the Oude Kerk or the Zuiderkerk, but in 1681 the Westerkerk decided on commissioning organ builder Roelof Barentszn. Duyschot for the construction of a new organ. The organ was named after its builder.
On Christmas Day in 1686, Jurriaan Bouff from Leiden was the first person to play the organ during a church service. He used to play three times on every Sunday (in those days, as many as four church services were held on a Sunday). He would also play on Thursdays and Fridays, as well as on days of thanksgiving and prayer.
The organ panels - beautifully painted - were made by Gerard de Lairesse. De Lairesse was born in Liège in 1640 and he moved to the Netherlands in 1664. In the second half of the 17th Century, he was one of the most popular painters in the Netherlands.
As well as the large organ, the Westerkerk has another organ of a much later date: the Reverend H.A. Visser organ.
From 1949 until 1977, Rev. H.A. Visser (1911-2006) was a minister of religion in the Westerkerk, where he introduced cantata services. For these cantatas, a smaller choir organ was needed. It was built by D.A. Flentrop in 1963.
The Westerkerk is located at the corner of the Prinsengracht and the Rozengracht, next to the well-known Westermarkt.
The church entrance is at no. 279 on the Prinsengracht. The sexton's house is right next-door, at no. 281. On the little square in front of the sexton's house is the statue of Anne Frank, a popular photo object among tourists. That makes the sexton's house one of the most photographed houses in Amsterdam. A little further down, at no. 263 Prinsengracht, is the Anne Frank House. Combine a visit to the Anne Frank House with a visit to Westerkerk!
At no. 277b, Prinsengracht is the entrance to the Prinsenhuis. Behind the beautifully decorated gate, once serving as the entrance to the Westerkerk churchyard, is the Westerkerk secretariat, among other things.
The so called 'pothouses', built against the outside wall of the church, used to serve as distribution points for foot warmers and peat pots for visitors to Westerkerk in the seventeenth and eighteenth century, but they have now been turned into souvenir shops.
Lord Mayor's gate
The Lord Mayor's gate is still visible on the Westermarkt side of the church. Former mayors of the city used this entrance as a shortcut to their private stalls (the Lord Mayor's stall) inside the church directly opposite the pulpit.
As well as the Anne Frank House and Westerkerk, the Homo monument is also a popular tourist attraction. It is located immediately behind the church, at the corner of the Westermarkt and the Keizersgracht.
Immediately on your right after entering the church, you will find the gift shop.The counter is staffed by professional volunteers associated with Westerkerk. They will be happy to give you advice on gifts, souvenirs and books.
Information on the church and its history is given by various digital screens placed in the church. To operate this audioivisual presentation, cards are for sale at the service counter.