On my return trip from the Apple Shop in Amsterdam, I stopped at the Begijnhof, one of the oldest inner courts in the city of Amsterdam. I first visited it with my mother fifty years ago when it was still inhabited by Catholic nuns.
The court was founded during the Middle Ages and lies within the perimeters of the Singel, the old city's ring canal. Originally the Begijnhof was entirely encircled by water, an island on its own, with the only entrance by a bridge across the Begijnsloot, a small ditch. The Begijnhof is still at medieval street level and lies one meter below the rest of the the old city centre. This court yard was first mentioned in 1389.
The Begijnhof had a resemblance to a convent but the Beguine were not nuns, as they did not take vows. They could leave the court and return to the outside world and even marry. They did not renounce their worldly possessions, and if they could afford it, some had her own servants.
The houses in the courtyard are tall and close together giving privacy to the courtyard. There are forty seven houses, each one different from the other with new facades dating from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Most houses date much earlier and eighteen of the houses still have a gothic wooden frames.
The ancient restored Wooden House is one of Amsterdam's oldest wooden houses and dates from 1528. The Begijnhof has a great number of gables stones showing a strong Roman Catholic theme.
After the Protestant takeover of 1578, the Begijnhof was the only Roman Catholic institution in Amsterdam to be allowed to remain in existence. The houses were the beguines' private property and could not be confiscated. The Chapel was closed and lay empty for thirty years before being ceded to the English Presbyterian Church. In 1671, two dwellings opposite the Chapel were converted to the Church of the Saints John and Ursula, the patron saints of the beguines. The church was not allowed to look like a church.
The most famous beguine of the Begijnhof was sister Cornelia Arens, who died on 14 October 1654.
Rather than be laid to rest in the Chapel, which she considered being desecrated by Presbyterians, she chose to be buried in the gutter next to the church where her grave can still be seen.
On 23 May 1971, Sister Antonia, the last beguine passed away and was buried in the Sister's Grave in St. Barbara's Roman Catholic Cemetery in Amsterdam.
The Begijnhof was in desperate need for renovations and restorations. The houses were very small, 110 of them consisted of a single room and 25 had two rooms. A 1979 the renovation enlarged the houses to two or three rooms and since then, the female inhabitants has been set at 105.