The convent of the sisters of St Agnes
The convent of the sisters of St Agnes was founded in 1447. The sisters lived there in poverty without any income and they abided by the rules of the Third Order of St. Francis. These rules were the convent vows of: voluntary poverty, eternal chastity and total obedience. The nuns also vowed to live a virtuous Christian life. Later the nuns of the Saint Agnes convent joined up with the Augustinian Order. This made it a nunnery where life was strictly regulated.
In the last quarter of the 15th century, the convent went through a prosperous period. This was mainly because of the number and variety of donations received. Some of these donations were parcels of land which the nuns were able to let. The convent also built houses on the land, which were let as well. During this prosperous period, the population of the convent rose to about 80 people.
After 1506 the population of the convent slowly decreased. Just before it closed down, in 1572, there were only 24 nuns left. They were moved out of the convent and were looked after by the secular authorities. Around 1612, the last nun of the Saint Agnes convent died.
The convent estate
In the early years, the convent had only a few small houses on the West side of the Torenstraat. Later, the centre of the convent moved to Westeinde. By the time the convent closed, there were several buildings on the convent estate. Besides a church, the main building and several houses, there was a priests’ house, a brewery and a hospital.
The first report of a church, belonging to the Saint Agnes convent, in Westeinde dates back to 1466. At the time of the Reformation all convent churches in The Hague were torn down. When work was carried out on the forecourt in 1861 and 1862, a large part of the church’s nave was found. The total length of the church is unknown, as its choir, facing East, could not be examined because it is underneath an adjacent property.
Most nuns, other convent estate inhabitants and possibly the sick who had been treated in the small convent hospital were probably buried outside the church. During an excavation in 1997, a small part of a cemetery was discovered. This small part, eleven by five meters, was located North West from the chapel, at the same spot where, much later, the courtyard of the orphanage would be. Towards the South there are possibly more parts of the cemetery underneath the 18th century expansion of the orphanage.
At the beginning of the 16th century, the Reformation was gaining strength. This had a negative influence on the popularity of convent life. Because of this the population of the St Agnes convent slowly decreased from 64 in 1511 to 24 in 1572. The buildings and the surrounding estate were donated to the secular orphanage in 1576. The convent chapel along with other buildings were torn down and the rubble was partly sold and partly used for the orphanage.