Amsterdam, Netherlands
Begijnhof, Amsterdam

One of the oldest housing complexes in Amsterdam.

Since the Middle Ages, hofjes, or charity housing for women (especially elderly religious women), have been commonplace in the Netherlands. Begijnenhofjes, or beguinages, were specifically set up by elderly Catholic women for communal living. Though this idea was the first of its kind in the nation, it caught on and more general hofjes were set up by private individuals and groups for charitable causes. In fact, there are still hopfes in use in the Netherlands today.

The Begijnhof or Beguines' court was founded in the 14th century. Rich in history, the Begijnhof was started by religious Catholic women, who were more liberal than nuns at a typical convent. While they still took vows of chastity and attended Holy Masses every day, they were free to leave and get married if they chose to. In that sense, it differs from other hopfes or patricians’ courts in that it was founded and originally maintained by the women themselves, and not by a charitable organisation.

After the Protestant Alteration of Amsterdam in 1578, the Begijnhof was the only Roman Catholic place allowed to stand, though their church was converted into a Protestant Church (and the most famous beguine in the history of the establishment, Cornelia Arens, chose to be buried in the adjoining gutters rather than in a Protestant place!) and they even had a clandestine church in the late 1671 as city officials demanded that the church not be publicised! Even though the last beguine died in 1971, the court was renovated in 1979, and still houses women to this day.

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Tips Before You Go
There are two churches within the Begijnhof, and the Catholic Church holds mass twice daily and is available for confession and even weddings! After the 10 am Mass on Sundays, people gather over coffee in the Houten Huys (the wooden house of the Catholic Church), making it the best time to visit and experience life in the Begijnhof.
Begijnhof, 1012 Amsterdam, Netherlands