The article below was published in Pinnable’s newsletter in .

Our Lord in the Attic

Religious Tolerance in Amsterdam

Amsterdam joined the Dutch Revolt against Spain rather late, in February 1578. The treaty between the States of Holland and the city, the Satisfaction of Amsterdam, stipulated that Amsterdam was allowed to remain Catholic, in spite of the ban on Catholicism that had been confirmed fifteen months earlier in the Pacification of Ghent. After the Alteration of May 1578, when Protestants took over the city council, Catholics were no longer permitted to worship in public, and had to go into hiding. In the course of the 17th century conditions improved a little: as long as it wasn’t too obvious that a congregation was celebrating mass, the authorities would tolerate the parishioners doing so, effectively granting freedom of religion, even when it didn’t exist officially. Since that time, tolerance has been an important element of Dutch culture.

The attic church at Museum Our Lord in the Attic
The church of Our Lord in the Attic

After paying a recognition fee, Catholics were allowed to convene in so-called ‘hidden churches’: houses that didn’t look church-like, at least not from the outside. One of them is now a museum: Our Lord in the Attic, built between 1661 and 1663 by a thriving linen merchant who had the upper floors of his canal house converted into a hidden church, which appears today as it did in 1862. In August 1796, the National Assembly of the Batavian Republic finally declared freedom of religion, which was incorporated in the first Dutch constitution in 1798. Being free is of course more desirable than being tolerated, but we have to keep in mind that the latter was already significantly better than being executed, which used to be the common fate of heretics during the reign of our beloved Spanish King Filipe II. The Museum of Our Lord in the Attic tells the history of religious tolerance in Amsterdam and this attic church, and how that tolerance is relevant to our day & age. Audio tours are available in several languages, including English.

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Pope Pius IX restored the episcopal hierarchy in the Netherlands in 1853, and new Catholic churches started to pop up everywhere. In 1887, the congregation of ’t Haentje (which was the name of the attic church at the time) moved to the newly opened St Nicholas’ Church. A year later, the attic church became a museum. The city archivist who had donated ƒ 10 for its foundation was not invited to the museum’s official opening because he was a Protestant.


According to Statistics Netherlands, today the Roman Catholic Church is by far the largest denomination in the country. Half of the Dutch population is religiously unaffiliated (enjoying freedom from religion), which is, the Pew Research Center reports, a higher proportion than in any other country in Western Europe.