The Secret of Begijnhof

Photo Credit: Gabriele Tudico via Compfight cc

With the prominence of the Red Light District, there is no denying that Amsterdam has a salacious history. Lest we forget the historical landmarks, beautiful canals, and the history of courageous people who made Amsterdam what it is today. A mecca of culture and enlightenment.

A place that encompasses all of the qualities that make Amsterdam great is the Begijnhof. Dating back to the 12th century, Begijnhof is an enclosed tranquil courtyard centered in the city’s metropolis. Almshouses were built, as well as a Roman Catholic church. Beguines, a group of unmarried or widowed Catholic women, who wished to live the lifestyle of a nun without taking vows were the inhabitants of the Begijnhof. Their duty was to take care of the sick, and educate the poor in exchange for free room and board. Since the Beguines were not officially nuns, they could leave at any time and be married. However, adult men were forbidden to stay in the almshouses and were classified as forbidden fruit. When touring the grounds, you can still see the original sign noting all forbidden fruits hanging from the gate corridor.

The grounds of Begijnhof has seen its fair share of ups and downs. Many fires throughout the years have caused buildings to be rebuilt, and over time many of existing buildings have been restored. Having been established in the 12th century, the Begijnhof was lucky enough to reside within the Singel, which is the innermost canal of Amsterdam’s famed circular canal system. Over the years, Begijnhof expanded their grounds, having almshouses built up against the canal giving the courtyard an even more serene atmosphere.

One of the reasons that I love the history of the Begijnhof is because of Cornelia Arens. Originally, when the Begijnhof church opened it practiced Roman Catholic faith. However, after the Protestant takeover of 1578, it became a Protestant place of worship. At the time, it was common for Beguines who passed away to be buried within the church. However, Cornelia had different plans for herself. She did not believe in the Protestant takeover and wished to be buried in the gutter of the court. Despite her wishes, she was buried in the church upon her death. However, her body was later moved up against the church wall, which at one point required repair, and moved again to her final resting area which is located on the edge of the bleaching field. Who knew so much sass could be packed into a Beguine?

Now, the Begijnhof is the home of single women looking for a fresh start in life. The Begijnhof chapel is still open daily as a place of worship, and offers a tranquil environment for those who seek serenity while walking the gardens. The grounds are private and considered home to many, so silence is requested while near the grounds. The traveler in me is itching to experience the Begijnhof up close because it exemplifies everything that Amsterdam is. Strong, a little audacious, and bursting with character.

jessicaJessica Evans is a freelance writer who suffers from an extreme case of wanderlust. When she’s not writing, you’ll find her dreaming about visiting Van Gogh’s museum or wishing she were sitting at a quaint café sipping an espresso in Paris. You can find her at