In the heart of Amsterdam is a well kept secret of beautiful music. Hidden away under a cloak of religion is a weekly concert of fine Gregorian music that is well worth checking out.
St Nicolaaskerk is in the centre of Amsterdam. Right next to Centraal Station, it is unceremoniously crammed in between hotels, shops and tram tracks. It seems to be a lonely reminder of the past, standing tall as traffic speeds by oblivious. Inside the church is a magnificent haven of space and peace, a welcome contrast to the densely populated tourist district surrounding it. Art is on every wall, behind the main altar are golden mosaics depicting angels and above them, soaring to the ceiling and catching the sunlight, are richly coloured stained glass windows. For this alone, I would recommend visiting the church.
However, the church has more to offer. There are various services and choral performances that take place at St Nicolaaskerk each week, but for me, the most striking is the Sunday evensong. Every Sunday at 17:00, from October to December and again from mid-January until June, the Schola Cantorum Amsterdam (SCA), an independent choir founded in 1959, sing Gregorian vespers. Some weeks it is a choir of all men, on others it is all women and sometimes it is mixed. They wear white robes and file solemnly down the aisle, forming two lines at the front of the church.
As someone of no-fixed-religion, I appreciate this mass for the music alone. From the moment that the first tone of the tuning fork rings out soft and clear, to the final ‘Amen’, half an hour later, I find myself captivated. The single melody, carried by many voices, follows a path that never repeats, never reaches a climax and never truly comes to rest. The acoustics of the church are magnificent and the echoes of the prayers ring clear. Combined with the scent of incense, the effect is calming and meditative. Every time I leave an evensong mass at St Nicolaaskerk, I come out walking slower and breathing deeper than I did going in.
This service is one of Amsterdam’s secrets, held in one of its many quiet corners. Music of this style and calibre is hard to come by and combined with the beautiful location, it is a rare pleasure indeed. Whether you’re religious or not, this service is a cathartic way to spend your Sunday afternoon, either in recovery from the weekend, or in preparation for the week ahead.
At the end of the service, you are encouraged to make a donation to the collection box. St Nicolaaskerk is open for visitors on Monday and Saturday between 12.00 and 15.00, and Tuesday to Friday between 11.00 and 16.00. You can also request a guided tour, for a modest fee. St Nicolaaskerk is located on Prins Hendrikkade 73, Amsterdam (opposite Central Station). For more information, visit:St Nicolaas Kerk
By guest writer: Sophie Chapman