Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Civil Orphanage

In the busy Kalverstraat, tucked away in an narrow alley is the entrance to the Civil Orphanage. St. Lucien Convent was located there on an island just next to the Begijnhof, with the Begijnsloot separating them. In 1414 several properties and two houses were received as a donation for a convent. 

In 1579, shortly after the Reformation, the St Lucien convent, which had at the time fifteen nuns in residence, was re-allocated as an orphanage.  With the contents of the convent donated to the orphanage, suitable housing was found for the displaced nuns and an alimony was paid by the regents of the orphanage.

A year later in 1580, two hundred orphans moved into their new accommodations. The number of orphans grew rapidly with the now increasing population of Amsterdam. During the plague epidemic of 1663 to 1664 there were thousand of children left orphaned. Over the centuries numbers slowly declined, and when the orphanage closed in 1960, only ten remained.

The orphans were easily visible as they were forced to wear a uniform of half red half blue as depicted in the gable stone. The gable stone also depicts freedom through the Holy Spirit, hard work and learning.

The orphaned boys were taught a trade or occupation and were made to be self sufficient as carpenters, decorators, smiths or office boys. These middle class occupations reflect the origins of their parents. Since 1762 the east side of the courtyard has been lined with 120 orphans lockers in which the boys kept their trade tools.

The girls were taught the skills of housekeeping and were sought after by the upper and middle class. The orphanage relied on charity and the Civil Orphanage became a popular benefaction among the wealthy in the thriving city of Amsterdam.

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