Amsterdam’s iconic church of St. Nicholas – a striking landmark for anyone exiting the capital’s central train station – will be especially honoured tomorrow. Some news was accidentally announced earlier this afternoon via the parish’s Twitter account, but soon retracted, as it was not intended to be released until tomorrow, when an official announcement will be made. More details will follow at that time, then.
The Dutch capital, Amsterdam, is a bit of an oddball among European capitals. Unlike most of the others, it is not the see of a bishop. Its only compatriot in this is Bern in Switzerland, which is in the Diocese of Basel and whose bishop resides at Solothurn.
In the case of Amsterdam, the diocese is Haarlem-Amsterdam and the bishop lives in Haarlem. The reason for this is firmly entrenched in the Protestant history of these shores: when the Catholic hierarchy was re-established in 1853, the city fathers of Amsterdam vetoed a bishop coming to live among them. That is why Bishop Franciscus van Vree, the first bishop of the new diocese of Haarlem, which at that time extended from the island of Texel all the way to the islands of South Holland, settled for Haarlem, no doubt with the firm idea of one day moving to Amsterdam (perhaps as archbishop, had the pedigree of Utrecht not trumped the cards of Haarlem). That never happened.
In recent years, under the episcopate of Bishop Jos Punt, Amsterdam is again slowly but surely presented as an important Catholic centre in the Netherlands (it is helped in this by the fact that it was the location of a medieval Eucharistic miracle which is still the centre of an annual night-time procession). In 2008, the diocese changed its name from Haarlem to Haarlem-Amsterdam and it is rumoured that Bishop Punt would not mind elevating the St. Nicholas church in Amsterdam as co-cathedral of his diocese.
This past weekend, the value of Amsterdam was underlined once again, when St. Nicholas priest Father Joop Stam celebrated his last Mass before enjoying his retirement. Both Bishop Punt and Auxiliary Bishop Jan van Burgsteden attended this Mass, and it is the latter who is now made administrator of the parish that Fr. Stam is leaving. He will be the de facto head of the parish until another priest is named to succeed Fr. Stam. It is therefore not a permanent position, but the fact that a bishop was appointed to the function speaks volumes.
Amsterdam is the centre of much that goes on in the Netherlands, and the local Church not only wants to reflect that, but have her presence similarly visible there.