Beyerskameren: Charity Begins with a Home

Every time I start to research some buildings or history for a blog post, I end up with more and more questions and what seems like a million tabs open in my browser. Not wanting to give incomplete or incorrect information — and usually finding more and more that I want to research and write about — I often end up sitting on a blog post for weeks or even months until I decide to just jump in and start writing and hope for the best. This is one of those posts. I haven’t found all of my answers, but I’ve found enough to create multiple posts. Maybe along the way I can find some more information.

One of the fascinating things about Utrecht is the number of godskameren (lit. god rooms) that can be found throughout the city. Godskameren were homes built for the poor. They could live there rent-free and also received additional items such as food, fuel, or money. One of the reasons there are so many of these homes in Utrecht is that between 1375 and the 19th century, wealthy Utrecht Catholics and Protestants believed that it was God’s will (om God’s wil) that they should build these structures for the city’s poor.

The building of such accommodations didn’t end in the 19th century, though. They continued into the 20th century, and are often known as hofjes. A hofje is typically a courtyard, and these later structures were often built around a central courtyard. They were built by individual church groups, businesses, social groups, etc., and these hofjes weren’t just for the poor. They were also used for the elderly, particularly women, and were also used to house workers and their families.

Whether godskameren or hofjes, many of them still exist in Utrecht, particularly around the Museum Quarter section of the city center. The first ones I’ll cover are the Beyerskameren, located on Lange Nieuwstraat. They were built in 1597, by Adriaen Beyer and his wife Alet Jansdogter. The homes are still in use, although like almost all structures of this sort, they have been turned into individual apartment homes over the years. One of the questions I had was what one of these kinds of homes costs now, but I didn’t have any luck finding out. They’re classed as rijksmonumenten (national monuments), so I assume they’re not cheap, despite their small size.

As I said, they’re quite small and were originally designed to be just one room with a loft space overhead. There were 12 of these individual rooms built into one long building. You can see the floorplan in this image (Beyerskameren are the one running horizontally. The vertical ones are another post.)

At the center of the row is a decorated gate entrance that accessed the regent’s rooms. I’m assuming, at this point, that the regent essentially oversaw the property and the people living there, making sure they had food, fuel, etc., and, most likely, also made sure they behaved.

Above this entrance is a plaque that says that Beyer and his wife founded these homes for the faithful poor in 1597. If anyone can explain the D.O.M., that’s another piece I’m drawing a blank on at the moment.
In my next post, the godskameren around the corner from the Beyerskameren. And if you’re keeping count, I started this blog post with one tab open for research and have finished with four open for upcoming research purposes. Like the Hydra of mythology, you close one and many more open in its place.

13 thoughts on “Beyerskameren: Charity Begins with a Home

  1. Well, we seem to share not only an interest in historic buildings but also in the many questions that we come up with after researching them. You probably remember that I posted photos of these houses a few weeks ago and wondered then whether you knew anything about them. I managed to find the name of the place by going online while I was walking down the Lange Nieuwestraat and I also took some detail photos of the plaques in order to read what they said and learn more about the houses when I got home. My husband and I got stuck at the D.O.M. as well. “Dom” comes from the Latin word, “domus” which means “house” and my first guess was that it meant that, but then I can’t explain the dots between the letters. I hope someone reading this post will be able to answer this question!

    • It’s wonderful that such simple buildings can still inspire so much curiosity, isn’t it! I did wonder about domus/domicile, among various possibilities. Fortunately, it seems that Leslie came up with a solid answer for us. ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Fun post! That’s right around the corner from me. My understanding is that “D.O.M.” in this context means Deo optimo maximo (“To God, most good, most great”). You find it on buildings as well as gravestones. Perhaps the modern-day version would be something along the lines of “praise be to God” or “in His name.” I’m guessing Adje & his wife were giving props to God lest their taking credit for the kamertjes come across as vain or something similarly ungodly ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • Thank you! I was wavering between the D standing for domicile and deus (in some form or another). I like the idea of it being a bit of a humility check … just in case. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  3. Nice post, Alison. Where we were living (off Twijnstraat) is very close to these houses and I walked down that street section all the time. A Dutch friend had given me a tour of the whole lower section of the museum quarter our first summer there. Thanks for filling in the history and for the memories!

  4. This is a great post, I’m looking forward to the rest coming up. I think it’s fascinating that so many godskameren were built – have you come across the requirements for being allowed to live in these homes (i.e. under a certain income, childless widows/spinsters)?

    • Glad you enjoyed it! I haven’t found specifics on requirements yet, although it does seem that for the godskameren, it was to prevent people from being homeless, so maybe a bit broader in scope. The later hofjes seemed to have had various criteria, perhaps depending a bit more on the specific ideas of the donor.

  5. Intersting post, I love those little homes (and their wooden shutters). I’ve been inside one years ago, just asked to elderly lady that was sitting on her “stoepje” if I could take a peek. It was incredibly small, even to Dutch standards and hard to believe whole families (with often lots of children) managed to live there. I don’t know about any requierments to buy/rent such a home, the only thing I knwo it to be able to buy/rent one of the similar little homes situated between Oudegracht en Catherijnesingel you have to be born in Utrecht (or perhaps prove that you have lived there for a certain period of time, not sure). It seems they are reserved for real born and bred Utrechters, probably to retain the “popular” (volks-) character of these little working class neighbourhoods and not let them be taken over rich yuppies. I was told this by a young couple living there, I just chatted to them for a bit when I passed their home but I’m guessing they should know.

  6. Compliments for your nice post about the Beyerskameren. You ask in the post how much it would cost to live in one. I’m not certain, but I belief that they are still owned by the foundation that was set up after Adriaen Beyer dyed. If that is true, my guess is that the rent would be quit low.

    • Thank you for your comment. I wasn’t sure if they were still owned by the foundation or if they’d moved onto the regular market. It’s nice to think that they’re sill a source of affordable housing.

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