Alkmaar numbered no less than six religious houses in the Middle Ages. The Oude Hof dates from 1394. Franciscans (1448) and Clarissen (1505). The mendicant friars were not really popular in town. Whoever wanted to live a less austere life than that of a monk or nun became a begijn. Many chose that option in town as four begijnconvents were created. An old map by Jacob van Deventer from 1562 shows where these convents were situated: near the Grote Kerk and along the Nieuwesloot. The Middelhof or St Salvator begijnconvent e.g. was approximately in the location of present-day Canadaplein. It also was home to the town’s hospital: St Elisabeth’s hospital or Vrouwengasthuis. The best-known hospital in medieval Alkmaar was the Heilige Geestgasthuis. From 1573 onwards it has been known as The Waag.
Devout Alkmaar life was awarded a proper miracle in the Middle Ages, the miracle of the Holy Blood, which drew many pilgrims. The frescoes in the St Laurenskerk on the Verdronkenoord bear witness to this blood miracle to the present day. A young priest in 1429, a former soldier, was reluctant to reveal that at his ordination. He later regretted this when he noticed that a few drops of spilled wine would not be removed from his chasuble. It proved even impossible to burn a piece of material that he’d cut out with the ‘drops of Jesus blood’, as was popularly believed. The fragment of material got lost. But years later it was found back by a Zeeuws skipper, who asked Mary for deliverance when in trouble. In exchange for his salvation he had to find back the drops of blood in Alkmaar. It gave Alkmaar its very ‘own’ miracle by order of the bishop of Utrecht. The recovered piece of material from then on was a holy relic.
The clerics came to a sticky end. On 24th June 1572 the Geuzen took over the town’s administration. Five Catholic clergymen were taken prisoner and taken to Enkhuizen, where the Geuzen leader Diederick van Sonoy was mayor. Their freedom would be restored if they would agree to become Protestants. They refused. They were hanged on 25th June 1572.