Amsterdam, the capital, and second residential city of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, lies, in a semicircle, on the Ij (Wye), the southwestern part of the Zuidersee, at the mouth of the Amstel, and is joined to the North Sea by the Nordseck Canal, constructed between 1865 and 1879. An estimate in 1899 gave the population as 510,853, with 120,701 Catholics and 59,060 Jews; that of 1906 gives a total of 548,000, with over 122,000 Catholics.
The origin of the city dates from the year 1204, when Gijsbrecht II, Lord of the Amstel, built a fortress on this spot. A considerable settlement soon grew up around it, which, in 1296, came into the possession of the Count of Holland. In 1301, it was raised to the rank of a city, and grew prosperous through the influx of large numbers of merchants from Brabant and Flanders. The Church life, also, of the city developed on a large scale; at the end of the fifteenth century there were more than twenty monasteries in it, only one of which, however, the Beguinage, has survived the storm of the Reformation in its original form, Of the churches and chapels, the so-called “Holy Room” is the most famous, as the scene of a great sacramental miracle, the “Miracle of Amsterdam”. It was a place resorted to by countless pilgrims, among others by the Emperor Maximilian, and the street which led to it is still known as the “Holy Way”.
The Reformation found an early entrance into Amsterdam. In 1535 occurred the bloody rising of the Anabaptists, and in 1566 the destruction of holy images. The city long remained true, however, to the Catholic cause, despite the lapse of the Netherlands into apostasy. It was only in 1578 that the Calvinists gained the upper hand, drove out the officials who were loyal to the Spanish Government, and, in 1579, joined the Utrecht Union, which stipulated in its fourteenth article that no other public exercise of religion except the reformed should be allowed. The city authorities of Amsterdam, however, were, in the interests of their trade with Catholic nations, more tolerant in the enforcement of this regulation than most of the cities of the Netherlands. Certain orders, such as the Franciscans and the Jesuits, were able, in consequence of the prevailing toleration, to remain there for a long time, practically unmolested, and even, in the plague which raged in the latter half of the seventeenth century, openly to administer the consolations of religion to the Catholic faithful. Amsterdam, indeed, was at this period rising to the position of the first trading city of the world, a rise due to the fall of Antwerp in 1585, the blockade of the mouths of the Scheldt, and a series of glorious battles with England. The city became, on the contrary, less tolerant under the influence of the Jansenists. In 1660 the public exercise of the Catholic religion was forbidden, on which account the churches dating from that period have the outward appearance of private houses. The religious houses which still existed in 1708 were done away with, and their churches closed.
It was not until the end of the eighteenth century that Catholics gained any considerable measure of religious liberty, which was chiefly due to the founding by Napoleon of the Kingdom of Holland, of which Amsterdam became the capital, 1808-10. The fall of the Napoleonic dynasty and the accession of William I meant the practical cessation of this liberty, and Catholics were debarred from all the offices of State. Negotiations were, indeed, opened at Rome for the conclusion of a Concordat, and Amsterdam was to have been made a bishopric, but the Calvinistic-Orangist party were able to prevent the execution of the Concordat. The situation, however, improved under William II. The new Constitution of 1848 brought the Catholics complete liberty, and equality with the Protestants, while the year 1853 witnessed the restoration of the Catholic hierarchy, by which Amsterdam became a deanery subject to the Diocese of Haarlem. Catholic progress has kept pace since then with that of the city, which has once more risen to be the chief mercantile city of the Netherlands and one of the most important in Europe. The Catholics, who, in 1817, were 44.000, had risen, in 1865, to over 68,000.
Amsterdam has eighteen Catholic parishes; the most important churches being: the Romanesque Byzantine church of St. Nicholas, with its three towers; the Gothic churches of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus and of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception; the church of St. Willibrord, with its seven towers, the largest in the country; and the Jesuit Church of St. Francis Xavier, on the Krijtberg. The following orders of men have houses in Amsterdam: the Jesuits, who also conduct a classical college; the Franciscans, Dominicans, Redemptorists, Augustinians, and Brothers of Mercy; of women, among others, the Beguines, whose convent dates from the fourteenth century; the Franciscan Sisters, Sisters of Our Lady of Tilburg, Dominican Sisters, Sisters of St. Charles Borromeo, Daughters of Mary and Joseph, and others. The most noted Catholic benevolent institutions are the orphanage for boys and girls, the St. Bernard’s almshouse for old men and women; that of St. Nicholas, for girls; of St. Aloysius, for abandoned orphans, “Our Dear Lady’s Hospice” (hospital and polyclinic); a second hospital, the Catholic Juniorate for the Diocese of Haarlem, St. James’s almshouse for old people, etc. The following Catholic societies should also be mentioned: the Netherlands Catholic People’s Union, St. Joseph‘s Journeymen’s Union, the Saint Vincent’s Society, the Catholic Guild (for master-workmen), the “Faith and Science” Union, which possesses a library of over 4,000 volumes; the St. Hubert’s Society, which supports a home for girls, the St. Willibrord’s Society, for the distribution of good books, etc. Amsterdam has three Catholic daily papers, and, among her famous Catholic citizens, we may name Holland‘s greatest poet, Vondel; in later times, Father Roothan, General of the Society of Jesus from 1829 to 1853; the poet and historian Alberdingk Thijm, and the architect Cuypers.