In 1607 English-speaking worshippers in Amsterdam petitioned for a place in which to worship and the Town Council decided to give them use of the redundant building in the Begijnhof. Since the 18th century the congregation established strong ties with Scotland.
Our congregation was set up as a Reformed English speaking congregation for Amsterdam in 1607. It is one of the two English language congregations in the Netherlands Reformed Church (the other is in Rotterdam).
Since then the ERC has become home to many people who wish to worship in English. As well as Presbyterians from Scotland, the Netherlands, Canada, the USA, Asia and Africa, many denominations are represented in Church on a Sunday. Depending on the weather and the weekend 200 to 300 worshippers join our sunday service. Our congregation live up to 100 kilometers away.
Our congregation has flourished over the years, keeping English worship in the heart of Amsterdam, except for a short period during the Second World War. Now we are an international church with just over three hundred members and offer worship in English to members and visitors from many countries and backgrounds. We provide fellowship for visitors and support for short term residents of the Netherlands.
Since the Begijnhof was not founded as a retirement-provision by a private person it is not a normal courtyard. It was more like a sort of convent although the beguines were more free than nuns in a convent. The Beguines had to make a vow of chastity, but they were allowed to leave the courtyard to get married.
At the time of the Reformation in Amsterdam in 1578 all the religious establishments, including the Convent next door to the Begijnhof were closed and the priests and nuns sent out of the city. The inhabitants of the Begijnhof were allowed to remain in their homes because they were not, strictly speaking, part of a religious order. They were also able to continue worshipping in the church because it was hidden from view, even though all the other churches in the city were closed or used by protestant worshippers. This was in the spirit of the Amsterdam principle of ignoring practises which do not cause public order problems. However in 1607 the Amsterdam Burgomasters gave the 'disused' church to the English-speaking Presbyterians for their use. The first congregation was composed of English and Scottish merchants and religious exiles. Two hundred years later, in the Napoleonic period, the building was formally handed over to the congregation by the city council.
The church became known as the Engelse Kerk (the English Church), and this is still the name by which it is known in Dutch. The English title is now the English Reformed Church, perhaps to distinguish it from the Anglican congregation which was founded late in the 17th century and now found in the Groenburgwal.
The building itself dates from the end of the 14th century. There had been a chapel in the Begijnhof in 1397 on the north side of the courtyard. An extra piece of land to the south was purchased in 1417 and in the same year the building of a new church began on the site of the present building. Disastrous fires during the 15th century, in 1421 and 1452 heavily damaged the church building. Originally the chapel consisted of one nave with six bays and a slender tower with a broad porch on the ground level. The existence of a gallery, which no longer exists, can be seen in the double row of windows in the north wall. All convent chapels had such a gallery.
The present building was finished in 1492 and it is possible that the tower, which appears to be older than the main building, dates from when the church begun in 1417. The church was enlarged with a southern aisle in the 1670's to accommodate the growing congregation and major restorations took place in 1912 and 1976. The oldest fittings in the church consist of a 17th century pulpit, on which is found a brass lectern donated to the congregation in 1689 by King William and Queen Mary Stuart, and an organ casing in rococo style from 1753.
The Stained glass main window in the church commemorates the Pilgrim Fathers who settled first in Amsterdam before leaving for America.
In 1752 Christian Müller was commissioned to build an organ. In 1874 Müller's organ was replaced by a Flaes organ, which in turn was replaced by a Scottish Ingram organ in 1907. Now, 93 years and three organs later, we are celebrating the return of a Müller Organ.