Sorry to disappoint if you think this is going to be about the famous ‘red light district’ of Amsterdam. It’s not. I’m just back from a weekend celebration with my wife, Deborah who had an ‘important birthday’ on Saturday.

It was a great visit, the highlight meeting up with 10 friends and relations in a cosy but wonderful restaurant complete with birthday cake and fireworks! I wasn’t expecting either the time or opportunity to take some serious photographs while there, but I was pleasantly surprised, so I’ll share a few of the better ones (taken on my phone camera) over the next week or two.

Saturday morning in the city was sunny so we managed a delightful wander through the canal – ringed old city and came across a wonderful little oasis called the ‘Begijnhof’. ‘Beguines’ were pious single catholic women who wanted to do good works, like nuns, but did not want to live in a convent and therefore had not taken all of the nun’s vows. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say:

‘The Begijnhof is the only inner court in Amsterdam which was founded during the Middle Ages, and therefore lies within the Singel — the innermost canal of Amsterdam’s circular canal system. The Begijnhof is at medieval street level, which means a meter below the rest of the old city center.

It is unclear when exactly the Begijnhof (Beguines’ court) was founded. In 1346, the beguines still lived in a house (a document of that time mentioned one beghynhuys). A courtyard was only first mentioned in 1389, probably after the religious status of the city rose due to the Amsterdam Eucharistic Miracle of 1345.

Originally the Begijnhof was entirely encircled by water …. The back facades were therefore water-locked….The Begijnhof differs from the usual Amsterdam patricians’ court in that this old people’s home was not founded by private persons. It bore closer resemblance to a convent, although the beguines enjoyed greater freedom than nuns in a convent. While beguines took a vow of chastity, and while they considered themselves obliged to attend Holy Mass every day and pray various official prayers, they were free to leave the court at any time in order to get married….

The most famous beguine in the Begijnhof’s history is sister Cornelia Arens, who died on 14 October 1654…. Rather than be laid to rest in the Chapel, which she considered “desecrated” by Presbyterians, she chose to be buried in the gutter of the court. Legend has it that contrary to her wish, she was in fact buried in the Chapel, but her coffin was found in the adjoining gutter the following day. This happened two more times, until she was at last laid to rest in the gutter. Another version of the legend is that her soul found no peace and roamed the court at night until she was buried in the gutter…..

On 23 May 1971, the last beguine died at the age of 84. “Sister Antonia” ……………… She was buried in the Sisters’ Grave in the St. Barbara’s Roman Catholic Cemetery in Amsterdam on 26 May of the same year…

Until its renovation in 1979, the court had 140 dwellings — some 110 of them consisting of a single room, and about 25 comprising two. The occupants likewise numbered 140. The renovations enlarged the houses to two or three rooms. Since that time, the number of female inhabitants has been an unvaried 105.’

Here is my take on the Begijnhof, where a combination of small domestic gardens, splendid architecture and a unifying lozenge – shaped green created a real Autumn Jewel on our visit to this beautiful city.

Old School Gardener