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Amsterdam history: The Alteration

Until 1578 Amsterdam was largely Catholic, with two large parish churches — the Oude Kerk (Old Church) and the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) — as well as six chapels along with numerous monasteries and convents.

One small alley downtown is called ‘Gebed Zonder End’ (Prayer Without End) in reference to the many monasteries that used to form the neighborhood.

Protestant reformers were sharply opposed to what they considered the idolatry of the Host. On May 26, 1578 a bloodless revolution turned Amsterdam from a Catholic city into a Protestant one. The Catholic town council was expelled, and from then on Catholics were no longer allowed to worship in public.

Civic authorities also dissolved the convents and monesteries, and their properties — along with all Catholic churches — were confiscated.

But while the Protestant clergy were fanatical in their denouncements of what they referred to as ‘Popish idolatry,’ Amsterdam’s authorities were more restrained and allowed Catholics to continue worshiping in their homes.

Though the term ‘hidden churches’ was not used untill much later, the city even approved building plans for Catholic churches — as long as they could not be recognized as such from the outside.

The revolt of the (Calvinist) Northern Netherlands against the (Catholic) Spanish Habsburgs began in 1568, but Amsterdam did not decide where its loyalties lay until 1578, when the city joined William of Orange in a peaceful revolution known as the Alteration.

Calvinists seized power and Amsterdam became the Protestant capital of an infant Dutch republic.

Catholics were no longer allowed to worship in public, but Dutch tolerance ensured that they were able to continue in private.
– Source: DK Eyewitness Travel Top 10 Amsterdam, page 21 (2007 edition).

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