The monument


The monument

Our Lord in the Attic Museum is a wonderful place, in the heart of Amsterdam’s city centre, hidden in a centuries-old canal house with a complete church in the attic. This carefully well preserved building tells the the stories of merchants and priests, and it reveals how they live, work and practise their religion in the 17th century and in the centuries thereafter.

Freedom of conscience

The church in the attic has a unique history. The owner at that time of the house is a Catholic: Jan Hartman. He builds the church in his attic when any form of public Catholic worship is forbidden. Catholic mass has been banned from public churches since Protestants wrest control of Amsterdam from the Catholics in 1578; since then, all the cities churches are Protestant. Yet Catholics continue to celebrate mass in hidden home churches. While the Protestant city fathers are aware that private churches exist, they accept and tolerate them. The Dutch Republic is founded on principles of freedom of religion and freedom of conscience. Behind the front door everyone is allowed to think and believe whatever they want. The hidden church at Our Lord in the Attic Museum shows how the city enabled different denominations to coexist in the 17th century. The church is a result of Willem van Oranje’s declaration that everyone in the Netherlands is free to think what they think and believe what they believe. Freedom of religion and freedom of conscience are still present in Our Lord in the Attic Museum.

Jan Hartman

Jan Hartman (1619-1668), a well-to-do Catholic merchant, buys the house on the Oudezijds Voorburgwal on 10 May 1661, together with the two adjacent houses in the alley behind. The transaction costs him 16,000 guilders. Originally from Germany, Hartman takes up residence with his wife Elisabeth and their children.


Soon after the purchase, Hartman begins a major rebuilding project incorporating all three houses. On the canal front he plans a day room. This room, on the first floor, with its fine view of the Oudezijds Voorburgwal, is the Hartman family’s livingroom during the day. At night, it serves as a bedroom, with an inbuilt bedstead.

The grand salon, or Sael, is the proud centrepiece of the house. Here the Hartmans receive their guests, who are doubtless impressed by their hosts lavish wealth; the chimney breast with its twisted columns, the burlwood cupboard, the white marble tiling, alternating with black flagstones from Belgium. At least that is Hartman’s intention.
He comes from the city of Coesfeld in Germany, and has risen from baker’s apprentice to entrepreneur in Amsterdam. Wealth and success are what he wants to exude. To emphasize his status Hartman and his wife decorate the mantlepiece with their heraldic crest. Not that they have an aristocratic pedigree. The design combines a resting deer and a compass. The deer refers to Hartman’s name, and the compass refers to his wife, whose father was a compass maker.

Hartman remodels the top floors of the houses and connects the attics with eachother. to open up a space for a home church. The church is named after the man who built it: Het Hart.


Jan Hartman does not have a long time to enjoy his new house and his attic church. He dies in April 1668, and is buried in the Oude Kerk (the Old Church), on 25 April. His wife Elisabeth has the church bells ringing for three hours. Hartman leaves considerable debts. A few years later, the financial situation is so poorly that the Hartmans are forced to sell the house.

The attic church

Jan Hartman’s church occupies the attics of the house on the canal and the two adjacent houses in the alley behind. Combining these three attics creates an enormous space. The attic church can accommodate no less than a hundred and fifty people. The Catholic church goers enter through a doorway in the alley: Heintje Hoekssteeg. From there they climb the stairs to the church in the attic. Before reaching the church, a basin with holy water is placed in the wall for congregants to dip their fingers and make the sign of the cross before they enter the church.

The altar

The Baroque altar is the jewel of the attic church. It is flanked by two marbled columns adorned with playful putti, each holding a lily. The 18th century wooden carvings are actually candleholders. To save space, the pedestal of the left altar column serves a dual purpose: it folds out to reveal a mahogany pulpit.

Above the altar is an altarpiece by Jacob de Wit (1695-1754). The Amsterdam painter completes his ‘Baptism of Christ in the Jordan’ in 1716. The painting can be exchanged for other scenes according to the liturgical celebrations of the season of the year.

Petrus Parmentier

Jan Hartman rents the church and one of the alley houses to Petrus Parmentier. Parmentier (1601-1681) comes from the Augustinian monastery of Saint Stephan’s in Ghent, which he enters at the age of twenty-one. A few years later he is ordained as a priest. In April 1636, he arrives in Protestant Amsterdam. His instructions are to gather as many converts as possible to the Catholic faith.

Spiritual daughters

Upon arriving in Amsterdam, Parmentier rents a room on the Zeedijk. He soon starts celebrating mass in various homes of Catholic people. Parmentier is supported by a group of women known as spiritual daughters. They are among the over five thousand unmarried women in the Dutch Republic who dedicate their energy to the Church, and live a life of prayer, chastity and good works. Maria van Eck (1608-1702) is one of the first spiritual daughters who joins Parmentier. She actually lives at his place on the Zeedijk. Her successor is Margaretha van Loon (1632-1664). It is through her father Jacob van Loon, a wealthy cloth merchant, that Parmentier meets the Hartman family. In 1662 Parmentier and his spiritual daughters move into the house on Heintje Hoekssteeg.


In 1664, Johannes van den Eeckhout is appointed to assist Parmentier. Under their guidance the community flourishes. In 1667, seventy children are baptized in one year, and fourteen weddings are held in the attic church. In 1670, times change. With the Hartman family in financial trouble, Parmentier has to leave his residence and the attic church. The Van Loon family offers him assistance and asks him to become priest in their house church De Ster.

When Parmentier dies in 1681, all of Catholic Amsterdam mourns his passing. Parmentier is buried in the Nieuwe Kerk, in a grave owned by the Van Loon family.

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