The Bethany Convent is situated in Barndesteeg in the city’s Wallen district. It was established here in 1450 and is one of the few remaining relics of the complex of medieval monasteries and convents in the Oudezijde area.
The numerous monasteries and convents were situated directly behind the city wall and covered the entire area between Bloedstraat, Oudezijds Achterburgwal, Oude Hoogstraat and Kloveniersburgwal. A single complex comprised four wings around an inner garden courtyard.
Bethaniënstraat and Koestraat
The convent was dedicated to St. Mary Magdalen of Bethany and was thus inhabited by ‘repentant sisters’. In 1462, some 220 women lived in the convent. One of their duties was to fatten the cows for the city’s militia – hence the name of the street, Koestraat (‘cow street’).
The convent fell into decline in the early sixteenth century. The city’s governors urgently needed land to house Amsterdam’s growing population and the Bethany Convent was in need of money. In 1506, Bethaniënstraat and Koestraat were built, thereby fragmenting the site.
After the Alteration
After the Alteration of 1578, whereby the city switched from being Roman Catholic to Protestant, the convent site was expropriated. In 1585 the order was disbanded and the site was subdivided. In 1594, the Latin School was established in the nave of the convent chapel. Houses were built on the site and an inn was opened. In the eighteenth century one of the buildings was converted into a clandestine church. Remnants of the walls on Gedempte Huidenvetterssloot, and thus the north wing in Barndesteeg, are all that remain of the convent today. The building acquired national listed status in 1970.
The building was restored at the end of last century on the initiative of Geurt Brinkgreve (1916-2005). Rooms for music students were created at the top of the complex, while the basement, with its fifteenth-century groined vaults, was largely restored to its original state. The former refectory is used for meetings, lectures and weddings – but primarily for concerts, including jazz, piano and chamber music. Bethany’s Jazz Club is now an institution.
(photograph: Jan de Wit, text: Arcam/ Maaike Behm)