Eight NIGHT of the CHURCHES
Saturday, August 10, 2019
A sneak preview
Churches are an integral part of our culture. They form a beacon in the Flemish landscape and in the history of neighbourhoods, villages and cities. Their centuries-long history bears witness to the dozens of generations of believers who have given shape to their places of worship, each with their own tastes and accents.
Due to the changing experience of faith, more often than not certain objects fall into disuse and end up as proverbial treasures in the attic. Even the modern, faithful believer is often no longer familiar with them.
There are also many utensils that only come out of the cupboard for specific festive occasions. But since the festivities in the churches have become much quieter, many a church cupboard needs a real clean-up.
The twenty churches participating in this eighth edition of the Night of the Churches in Antwerp are therefore unearthing ‘Hidden Treasures’. But don’t be too quick to think that you will discover the same kind of treasures in every church. That is guaranteed by their great mutual difference. They differ in age and style, in construction history and layout.
The imagery is not self-evident either, not even for the believer. There is something to be discovered or rediscovered everywhere. In this sense, the hidden treasures do not have to come out of the proverbial closet or be taken from the attic. On the contrary.
So now you see the church building with its towers (mostly) in its completed state, but don’t think that its construction was always easy. Sometimes the patience of the builders was tested for decades, sometimes more than a hundred years. And who has any idea of the lost churches that preceded the present ones? Yes, centuries of history that have been hidden from view forever and therefore remain hidden from the general public. And do you know the significance of the tower? What was once obvious now seems unheard of … and unloved.
And although you stand in awe of the splendour of colourful stained-glass windows, their symbolism often eludes you.
You enjoy church singing, the poetic Marian songs or the time-honoured Gregorian chant, but how much does the true meaning of text and music remain hidden?
The works of art reveal something of that spiritual treasure, think for example of the contents of the tabernacle. So, during this Night of the Churches, it is time to let yourself be enchanted by the religious artefacts used in worship: the ciboria and monstrances that are often safely stored away. It is also time to immerse yourself in old music or to learn about the history of one church or another. Time also to discover forms of religious practice, lost customs and rites. Time, finally, to come into contact with the cultural treasures of the liturgy and spirituality that you cannot experience as an ordinary tourist.
The rooms behind the scenes, with their secrets large and small, are also often worth seeing. The presbytery, the church master’s room, the sacristy, are often furnished with beautiful oak furniture, huge cupboards where liturgical textiles or utensils are stored. And let’s not forget the old baptisteries, which, since the Vatican Council in the 1960s, have all too often been turned into ordinary storage rooms, but are still recognisable thanks to a ‘forgotten’ painting or a hidden stained-glass window.
But a church is more than a repository. First and foremost, it is a sacred space that transmits the Gospel message. Perhaps the most hidden treasure in our churches during tourist opening hours is the encounter with God that the Church is all about. That is why this Night wants to focus on the people who have been carrying out this faith since time immemorial, those who have shaped the Church on the spot: the parishes with their colourful array of groups such as the infirmary, brotherhoods, guilds, monastic communities or other Christian faith communities who also use the church.
The Night of the Churches in Antwerp is also an excellent opportunity to bear witness to what motivates us as Christians, as told in the parable of the hidden treasure (Mt 13:44-46): “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field”. And whoever finds it, will make everything possible to buy that field.
The faithful also need to be reminded of this regularly, for example in the sermons of priests and fathers. They may be outdated, but they are certainly memorable for the elders among us. In St George’s Church, they also take up this challenge tonight.
The Cathedral is a treasure trove of hidden gems that even regular visitors will pass by. When building the church, our ancestors often spared no expense to add fine decorations to vaults and pillars. Since the latest restoration, many beautiful keystones and corbels in the ambulatory and the chapels are more visible thanks to fine lighting. We take you on a tour of the church to discover some of them together.
Due to drastic neo-Gothic additions, part of this building changed its appearance in the 19th century. Thus, grand draught lobbies were built in, so that the extreme bay of each transept is now behind the screens. On the other hand, the choir gained a phenomenal seat during that time. Here you can spend hours enjoying the sculpted life story of Mary, the Our Father or the Beatitudes. And almost unnoticed among all the saints and angels are numerous small surprising decorations. Worth discovering.
The Brotherhood of the Most Blessed Sacrament will exceptionally open its premises. Apart from the tabards and chasubles that are kept there, the unique ‘Golden Book’ of the Brotherhood, kept since 1631, will also be exhibited. A unique event.
The cathedral also takes the church’s oldest painting from the reserve, ‘The Election of Joseph and the Marriage of Joseph and Mary’, a 15th-century masterpiece painted by a ‘follower of Rogier van der Weyden’. This work can only be admired during the guided tours in the rooms of the Venerable Chapel.
We almost always see the front of the triptychs. We close some triptychs for you. The backs of some panels are not only of great iconographic interest, but are sometimes also the key to ‘unlock’ the painter’s intention.
The chapter that sang its daily prayers in the choir during the Ancien Régime also had its own meeting room. When the chapter was reinstalled after the founding of the diocese of Antwerp in 1959, the old chapter house on the south side of the choir was refurnished. In addition to fine stained-glass windows, it houses some of the oldest tombstones from the former church. And if you want to know where the clapper hangs …. it lies here – broken – on the cupboard.
In the inner courtyard, you get a breathtaking view of the choir and the third tower of the cathedral – yes, the cathedral has three towers. Why not only the people of Antwerp call this celebration tower ‘onion’ is a story in itself.
The ‘cathedral of the left bank‘ has an eventful history. The previous neo-Gothic church almost literally drowned in the Scheldt water and was therefore popularly called ‘St Anne in the well’.
Already in the Middle Ages, there was a Saint Anne’s chapel here, known as a place of pilgrimage. During the Counter Reformation in the 17th century, devotion to St. Anne, the mother of Mary, really flourished. The beautiful statue that is still kept in the present church bears witness to this. Married girls started calling on Saint Anne to find a good match. Their plea ‘Saint Anne, give me a husband’ was – wisely? – completed with ‘one I can go anywhere with’.
The parish combines three former parishes into ‘Sint-Anna-ten-Drieën’, a very appropriate name referring to the traditional representation of Anna carrying her daughter Mary and her grandson Jesus on her arm.
The present modernist church that still houses beautiful works of art from its neo-Gothic predecessor, now presents itself not only as a ‘bicycle church’ but also as an ECO church. Every year, it also organises numerous concerts and an exhibition during the summer months.
Since the Counter Reformation (17th century), the Jesuits have endeavoured to promote the Catholic faith through education and preaching. To this end, they not only use the written or spoken word, but also the visual word: painting and sculpture. The first thing that still catches the eye today when entering a Baroque Jesuit church is the gigantic high altar with an altar painting of just 5.35m by 4m!
To keep the attention of the faithful on the liturgical time of year, the Jesuits changed this enormous painting at least four times a year. And inventive as they were, they devised a unique pulley system whereby the paintings on canvas could be pulled up and down into a spare tray behind the altar.
Of the original four works, two are still present, namely The Raising of the Cross by Gerard Zegers and The Coronation of Mary by Cornelis Schut. Two works by Rubens: St. Ignatius and St. Francis Xavier, were moved to Vienna after the dissolution of the order in 1773, where they can now be admired in the Kunsthistorisches Museum. In the middle of the 19th century, a third work was added: Our Lady of Carmel by Gustaaf Wappers.
Nu worden de schilderijen nog drie keer per jaar gewisseld. Op Aswoensdag komt De Kruisoprichting tevoorschijn, op Paasmaandag O.-L.-Vrouw van de Karmel. En vanaf midden augustus wordt De kroning van Maria getoond. Deze laatste wissel gebeurt dit jaar op 10 augustus ter gelegenheid van de 8ste ‘Nacht van de Antwerpse kerken’.
Voor en tijdens de schilderijenwissel vertellen we alles over dit unieke gebeuren. Nadien laten TOPA-gidsen je kennis maken met de barokkunstwerken die de kerk in ruime mate bezit en kan je exclusief een bezoek brengen aan de grootse sacristie en de crypte. Op de gaanderijen tonen we ook mooie stukken kantwerk: heel aparte verborgen pareltjes uit de vermaarde kantkamer van de kerk.
That this Gothic Dominican Church dedicated to St Paul the Apostle harbours a wealth of works of art by our greatest Baroque painters and sculptors is well known. Tonight, we will also tell the stories behind these works of art, such as the special bond that Pieter Paul Rubens had with the Dominicans. We will introduce you to the works of art that he made for the church: The Scourging of Christ, The Adoration of the Shepherds, and The Ecclesiastical Concourse on the Blessed Sacrament on the Altar of the Sweet Name Jesus. And you will learn all about the great work Rubens made for the high altar: The Vision of Saint Dominic, and …. why this ‘hidden treasure’ can no longer be admired in Saint Paul’s Church.
Take time to admire the magnificent carvings of the eleven confessionals and their incredible wealth of symbolism, images and decorations, masterpieces by the artists Peter I Verbruggen and Willem I Kerrickx.
You will also have the opportunity to admire the enormous Nicolaes van Haeghen-Forceville organ, which has been in the church since 1650, from close up on the dock. It combines craftsmanship, scientific insight and artistic creativity in a resounding work of art. Erasmus Quellinus and Peeter Verbruggen built the grand organ case. And … the view from the rood screen is breathtaking: also a ‘hidden treasure’.
Although part of the church, the central nave and side aisles, are temporarily “hidden” due to the restoration work, we still get a special view of the work from the viewing box in the transept.
But tonight we will be looking for some places that are unknown to the visitors.
For the ladies who wanted to get to the church safely by carriage, a special entrance was provided in 1780, the ‘entrée des dames’, from St James’ market. The beautiful Ecce Homo statue that now adorns the corridor comes from the cleared cemetery on this north side. Truly hidden is the historic entrance gate to the church with its neoclassical barrel vault and stone candelabra columns. St James’ church bought this gate in the 16th century. It comes from the ‘Hof van Luik’ that was located near the current Arenbergstraat. It was a ‘pied-à-terre’ of the prince-bishop of Liège, Évrard de la Marck (1472-1538). After his death, it was demolished when Gilbert Van Schoonbeke built the rue Arenberg.
In the church, too, we go in search of unknown places and gems. The oak confessionals in the ambulatory are well known, but do you know where the “confessional for the deaf” is?
In the particularly rich carving of the choir stalls (1658-1670), the canons used to sing their prayers twice a day. The baroque abundance of this incredible work of art by Artus I and Artus II Quellinus conceals numerous playful details. Amidst angels’ heads, animals, masks, plants and flowers, more than fifty angels are depicted, including two … with buck feet: satyrs.
Next to the Chapel of the Venerable, a new “Wedding Choir” was built in 1665-1670, which also served as a burial chamber for a noble family. The tranquil chapel with its fashionable barrel vault and frames of doors in white and black marble is further richly decorated with murals. In 1775, the current tomb-shaped altar was installed and, as the icing on the cake, Jacob III Herreyns ‘broke through’ the barrel vault with a trompe-l’oeil, a view of heaven.
The church masters were bound by an oath which still hangs on the wall of the church masters’ room. The function of this room is illustrated by the specific official garment: the tabard.
This historical chapel in the Keizerstraat, popularly known as the ‘Emperor’s Chapel’, was built in 1512 as the craft chapel of the dry shearers and dedicated to their patron saint, Saint Anne. In the 17th century, the chapel really flourished when the parish of St. Willibrordus found a temporary home there. In this period, the gothic chapel was embellished with a baroque portal and baroque furniture, such as the altar, the pulpit (Peeter II Verbrugghen), the confessionals and the communion bench. Also the marble floor and the beautiful monstrance (Corbion, 1653) date from this period. After the closure during the French administration, the chapel was the first church in Antwerp to be reopened for Catholic worship.
At the end of the 19th century, pearls of stained-glass windows (L. Pluys and E. Steyaert) were added, depicting the life of the young Mary. For a long time, the church was used as a conventsial chapel by the Missionaries of Africa (the White Fathers), who had a base in the port city of Antwerp for their overseas missions.
The Mondt-Groenewoud organ from 1864 is beautifully positioned on the balustrade ´with its flames´, a singing gallery that is actually located outside the original chapel. In order to extend it for singing and music, the adjoining corridor that led to the dry shearers’ hospice behind the chapel was vaulted over for a superstructure that joined the chapel. A hidden gem.
Tonight, in the historic Beguinage Church, you can immerse yourself in the history of the church in the company of the great Baroque artists Rubens and Jordaens and enjoy intimate Baroque music. Once again, it will be a beautiful triptych.
The former church contained numerous works by Baroque painters such as Jan Boeckhorst, Adam Van Noort, Erasmus II Quellinus and Guido Reni, and among the beguines were the sisters of three well-known painters such as Antoon van Dyck, Frans Snijders and Jacques (Jacob) Jordaens.
This evening, exceptionally, we will open the choir so that you can admire the paintings The Pieta by Jordaens and St. Francis receives the stigmata from the school of Rubens.
The neo-Gothic works of art can also be seen in the choir: the Carrara marble low-reliefs on the high altar and the communion pews with scenes from the New Testament. True pearls of the sculptors de Boeck and van Wint from 1885 and 1888.
With its late-baroque tower, the Gothic St. Andrew’s Church has been the beacon of the St. Andrew’s Quarter for centuries. This is still the case today, even though high-rise buildings in the immediate vicinity are increasingly obscuring the view. And make no mistake, this is a trendy place, nicely tucked away in a hip fashion district.
Numerous devotional treasures are now permanently displayed in the treasury, which can be visited daily. What a difference from the old days when they only came out once a year for the procession. For most people today, their significance escapes them. But don’t worry, we have brought them back to life in … a still procession.
Hidden treasures’ or ‘secret places’ are waiting to be found in and around the church. How about the former churchyard? Where once the dead were buried in the ground, you can now have a cosy party in an enchanting basement hall. Or do you know about the underground viaduct? Or the mysterious wells?
Towering over it is an irresistible panoramic view of the city. Unfortunately, it is hidden from view because of … unsafe stairs. But if Moses cannot go to the mountain, then some panoramic pictures come down from the tower into the meeting room ‘Why Waai’.
Or are you the curious type that rummages through cupboards of all kinds? Then don’t be surprised to see one of the most spectacular cupboards in Antwerp, almost dizzying, not to mention its contents. For the decorative hangings of the altar tables, the so-called antependia, there is a separate room with – yes – a kind of mini-range station. (This room is accessible for wheelchair users).
And what you don’t have to look for in the MAS, you will find in the SAM, the brand-new Sint-AndriesMuseum: pure Antwerp history about the people in the ‘parish of Misery’, the ‘red castle’. This is where the alleys of the Fourth Quarter come to life again. When Hendrik Conscience wrote an indictment of the poor living conditions in the alleys some 150 years ago, he also wondered whether our angels of women should hide in those dark alleys.
Especially for people in need, the light of Christian faith is a welcome source of inspiration and consolation. The fact that St Andrew’s Church can bathe in a playful light during the day did not escape Vincent Van Gogh’s attention. Did you know that he was fascinated by one of the colourful stained-glass windows in the church? And why this famous painter was so captivated by the bright red glow of the setting sun in a painting remained a well-hidden secret for a long time, until this painting was recently restored. We will unravel this for you on this 8th Night of the Churches.
After the French era, the new St. George’s Church was the first to be built in the then new neo-Gothic style. And yet the church conceals a wealth of Baroque artworks from the former church. Just think of paintings such as The Carrying of the Cross by Antoine Sallaert, The Deathbed of Mary by Theodore Van Thulden, The Works of Mercy by Frans II Francken (atelier), ‘Let the Children Come to Me’ by Frans I Francken or The Transfiguration on Mount Thabor by Michiel Coxcie.
In the cosy chapel master’s room, among other things, the famous cloaks of the statue of Mary are stored. Tonight, you can take an exclusive look. We also dig up an old lantern. Altar boys used to carry this lantern in the procession to accompany the priest who brought the last sacraments to the dying. A gem.
In the high choir, the large neo-Gothic brass candlesticks are on display anyway, but we are taking centuries-old liturgical ironwork out of the cupboard. From the reserve, we also unearthed a set of old choir stalls, all decorated with Old Testament symbolic images, and old neo-baroque chasubles and choir caps.
A real surprise is the rectory garden, which has been opened up especially for this evening. This ‘hortus conclusus’, private garden, is a special place of silence in the busy student district. Neighbourhood landscape architect Ronald Van der Hilst took care of the garden and planted flowers, plants, fruit trees, vegetables and several thousand tulip bulbs. Enjoy it for a while.
The connection between the old and the new St. George’s Church is expressed in the two commemorative stones embedded in the outer wall of the church in the vicarage garden. The stone at the top commemorates the last restoration carried out before the French era (1783), a few years before the church was demolished.
The inscription on the stone underneath reminds us of the start of new construction when the adjacent houses and the ruins of the old church were demolished: “DESTRUCTAE ECCLESIAE RUINIS / SUBDUCTUS LAPIS ANNO 1848” (stone taken from the ruins of the demolished church).
The construction of the Saint Michael and Saint Peter church in basilica form was certainly revolutionary at the end of the 19th century. After all, the then customary neo-Gothic style was abandoned in favour of something that did not yet exist in the whole of Belgium. It is clear that the triumphalism and opulence of the Romanesque style fitted perfectly with the triumphant church and with the regained wealth of Antwerp.
Especially for this Night of the Churches, the sacristy will be opened. Our guides will explain the exceptional liturgical objects that are kept there, such as chalices, monstrances, chasubles and other religious textiles. Some of the missals are exceptional, including one from 1652 printed on Plantin’s presses.
The guides also tell you about the parish past and present and about the successive parish priests. Each has made an enormous contribution to the flourishing of the church and parish. Just think of pastor Kintsschots who, in the late 19th century, was the driving force behind the building of the church, and of his successors who were at the basis of the expansion of parish life.
A special work of art in the church is the 17th-century statue of Saint Michael, attributed to Hans van Mildert. The design for this lime wood statue is said to be based on a sketch by P.P. Rubens. It is a legacy from the illustrious Saint Michael’s Abbey, which dominated the southern side of the Scheldt until the end of the 18th century. The statue still bears traces of polychromy. As a warrior, the archangel Michael is clad in close-fitting armour and a skirt. His wings have disappeared over time. With his right hand, he raises the sword, while he directs his gaze to the winged dragon figure with the devil’s head. On the shield in his left hand is the coat of arms of the defunct Premonstratensian St Michael’s Abbey, a cross with four lilies as spokes. Only shortly before 1986 did the statue turn up at the Antwerp antique dealer Bascourt. On the occasion of its 100th anniversary, the Church of St. Michael received it as a gift from a parishioner.
Among all the Gothic, Baroque and neo-churches in the Antwerp church landscape, the Church of Saint Walburga is a pearl of modernism. The church was inspired by the ideas of the progressive Pilgrim Movement in the 1930s. The construction and history of this ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’ is made clear in an exhibition with documents and plans of the artists who designed the church, including Flor Van Reeth and Eugeen Yoors. Archive material gives a picture of the inauguration ceremonies of the church.
We show cult objects that are rarely or never exhibited, such as chalices, ciboria, reliquaries and monstrances. Books, bibles and missals come from the cupboard and some special paintings from the sacristy.
Old customs come back to life. Get to know the confessional up close and listen to the texts recited from the pulpit at regular intervals. At the baptismal font, we show the attributes used and an old baptismal book.
Old documents and photos take you back to the atmosphere of this popular and wealthy parish. They bear witness to the ecumenical working group, the apostolate and care of the sick, the Christmas plays with puppets, the theatre performances and exhibitions. And the relics of our patron saint also have a prominent place in the old candelabras from 1938.
The wonderfully sounding Gerard D’Hondt organ that occupies the entire west wall on the dock is also a visual gem. The birch wood organ case spreads out like a grid with reverberation holes over the entire back wall of the church.
The history of the majestic Christ the King church appeals to the imagination. It was originally intended as a pavilion for “Flemish Art” for the 1930 World Fair. The Neo-Romanesque-Neobyzantine style is in keeping with that of the St Laurentius Church, also from the beginning of the 20th century. In one of the side chapels, an exhibition is set up about the construction of the church and the architecture of the 1930s.
In deze vrij jonge kerk zijn de oude “verborgen schatten” eerder beperkt. Toch bezit zij een aantal mooie kerkgewaden, kelken en monstransen die men aan het publiek wil tonen.
But above all, the interior of the church is special. The Neo-Byzantine glass-in-copper chandeliers by Frans Calders, the 24 larger-than-life statues of saints by Alfons de Roeck and the intimate side chapels with their intricate and ever-changing marble altars are worth discovering.
The showpiece of the church are the magnificent stained-glass windows. High up in the nave and the choir, 20 thematic windows depict the high days of the church year and the seven sacraments. The 30 windows in the side chapels form triptychs around the saints venerated there. For lovers of stained glass: on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the church, a detailed and beautifully illustrated art book was compiled about the stained glass windows.
The Christ the King Church also has a strong music and organ tradition. It combines an exceptional Hans Klaisor organ (5564 pipes) with a special space and acoustics.
The patron saint of the Church is in the spotlight today. 10 August is his name day, his death day in 258. He is portrayed in many places in and outside the church, Laurentius, ‘the honoured one’. Paintings, icons, stained-glass windows and statues often depict him with his attribute, the grate, on which he was tortured. In the third century, Laurentius was one of the seven deacons of Pope Sixtus II. As a deacon, literally a ‘servant’, he was responsible for distributing the Church’s income among the poor, a ‘Public Centre for Social Welfare’ avant la lettre in Roman times. However, his consistent attitude led to his arrest, torture and death by fire on a roster under Emperor Valerian.
The fact that Laurentius was chosen as the church’s patron already in the 17th century is closely linked to Antwerp’s turbulent history during the Spanish era. The veneration of the saint in this parish is clearly reflected in the long existence of the Brotherhood of St. Laurentius and in special celebrations and numerous objects that we unearthed for the occasion, such as precious liturgical material, procession attributes and prayer cards.
Founded in 1659, St Laurent’s Parish is the oldest fully-fledged parish in Antwerp outside the Spanish ramparts. The present Neo-Byzantine church, with Art Deco elements from the interbellum period of the last century, is already the fourth church since the 17th century. Our guides will tell you all about its history in the Leikwartier during the Night of the Churches.
With its almost 4000 pipes and 3 manuals with 12, 11 and 13 stops respectively, the exceptionally beautiful Pels organ from 1934 is one of the largest electro-pneumatic organs with a cone loading system in Belgium.
For some months now, the St. Norbertus Church on the Dageraadplaats has been home to a magnificent organ. Its striking mahogany colour contrasts with the bright interior of the neo-Gothic church. This authentic Kramer Baroque organ has now been fully adapted to contemporary needs by Orgelmakerij Reil (Ned.).
Numerous interior details refer directly to the environment in which this church was built. This is not surprising: after all, architect Ernest Dieltiens was also the designer of the railway embankment between Antwerp and Berchem. The playful battlements and turrets can be found on confessionals, wall panelling, the pulpit, altarpieces and even the mantelpiece in the sacristy. Also when the organ case of the Loret-Stevens organ was renewed in 2001, ‘centre turrets’ were added. In the fittings, we find small and bigger dragons, references to the adjoining Draakplaats and Draakstraat.
Recently, one of the murals was cleaned. It is therefore a good opportunity to discover the differences between the preliminary studies that we show in the week chapel and the murals in the church.
And hopefully you will also pause to look at the beautiful mosaic floor, designed by the architect himself and laid by the Brussels firm Pellarin, who had previously laid the floor of the Egyptian temple in the Zoo in 1893.
The ‘Old Church’ of Berchem houses many beautiful works of art that bear witness to the illustrious history of Berchem and of the church itself. In the gothic choir, next to the baroque choir stalls from 1660, there is the beautiful monument in memory of Marie-Anne van Berchem (1663) and 19th-century epitaphs of famous Berchem citizens. The pulpit with its imposing Willibrordus statue (1719) and the confessionals show great craftsmanship, both from the baroque period and the 19th century. And … thanks to the restoration of the high 19th century stained glass windows in recent years, the church is once again bathed in bright colourful light.
Inside the ambiently lit church, we pay attention to some of the fraternity lists and especially to the oak frame of Theophile Roucourt. This priestly dean is commemorated on the choir with the beautiful relief statue that A. Strijtmans sculpted in 1919 on the occasion of Roucourt’s diamond (60 years!) priestly anniversary.
We take out a number of beautiful silver cult objects and in the church we set up no less than eleven procession banners, including one of Saint Polonia, the patron saint of dentists, whose statue also adorns the church. What you cannot see (for the time being) but what they can tell you all about is the exceptional medieval handwritten missal that is in the possession of the church. It is one of the oldest in the Low Countries, probably from around 1200.
And before you continue your tour, enjoy the majestic century-old copper beech (Fagus silvatica var. Purpurea; 18th century!) in front of the church. This exceptional tree has been classified as a landscape since 1949.
Just like most of the Antwerp churches in the 19th-century city expansion, the St. Willibrordus Church was built in the then trendy neo-Gothic style. It replaced its 17th-century baroque predecessor, which was consecrated in 1654. Although this baroque church was seized and sold with its entire contents by the French Revolutionaries at the end of the 18th century, the buyer, a stooge, donated it back to the parish after the French era and it could once again be used as a church.
In many places in this majestic church, there is evidence of previous churches. Most remarkable, perhaps, is the painting by P.P. Rubens, St. Willibrordus in Adoration of the Holy Family (before 1631). This is a typical 17th-century Baroque depiction in which a saint, in this case the patron saint of the church, worships the infant Jesus on the lap of his mother Mary. At the top of a staircase, the Holy Family is looking at Willibrordus. Dressed in an embroidered gold brocade cope and resting on his bishop’s staff in his right hand, he climbs the stairs. To emphasise the identity of Willibrordus, a baptismal font was added at the bottom left and a small church at the right. These two specific attributes relate to Willibrord as a miraculous well-wisher and founder of churches, and are partly related to his stay in Antwerp.
Equally unique are the four votive paintings (around 1730). They are portraits of children who are presented as small adults, either with a flaming heart as a symbol of their piety, or with children’s toys: a basket of bread, a whistle or a dove. The paintings were given by the faithful in gratitude for a cure through the intervention of Our Lady. A fifth votive painting is kept in the sacristy.
A real surprise is the poignant and symbolically powerful epitaph for the Antwerp painter Cornelis Schut (1655). This illustrious contemporary of Rubens was buried in the previous Willibrordus Church. His pious motto, inspired by his own name, was very apt: “Godt Is Ons Schvt” (God is my shelter) (after Psalms 46:2 and 59:17). One of his great works of art can be admired in the cathedral’s celebration dome.
This evening, we would also like to introduce you to numerous church treasures: the sacred silver, monstrances, chalices and ciboria, fraternity books and textiles such as chasubles, both from the Baroque period and the 19th century.
This must be the most hidden and unknown jewel among the churches of Antwerp. The church is almost hidden between the houses of Lange Beeldekensstraat in a distinctly multicultural neighbourhood. But it is a must, an absolute must.
Architect E. Goethals, who was inspired by nothing less than the Sacré Coeur in Paris in 1933, created a remarkable neo-Romanesque interior with a large open space. The enormous twelve-sided dome has a diameter of no less than 25 metres.
Come in time to enjoy the wonderful stained-glass windows in the choir by Marc de Groot.
The local guide can tell you everything about the iconostasis, which will be enchantingly lit, and about the striking murals. Especially Willibrordus preaching on the bank of the Scheldt painted by Pieter Dierckx in 1938 is special, not only because of its exceptional breadth, but also because it is the culmination of history painting in Antwerp.
This “night” is the ideal opportunity to reacquaint yourself with St Francis of Assisi Church, a neo-Gothic work of art with Byzantine features such as the dome. The local guides are sure to tell the story of the history and construction of the church, also using visual material. Also discover the colourful stained-glass windows; when the sun’s last rays reach the end of the day, they provide a colourful backdrop.
Together, we will look for the details, hidden or otherwise, that we tend to overlook, both in the decoration of the sacred space and in the architecture. The beautiful processional statue of Our Lady and the processional banners will be displayed in the church. We will also introduce you to altar tables that have long been hidden away and beautiful old missals that will literally be taken out of the closet.
You will soon realise that St Francis of Assisi Church has been a living and active church since its early days at the beginning of the twentieth century. The enthusiasm of the local reception staff to get you acquainted with the church, its history in the municipality of Merksem and the parish activities is contagious.
The St. Lambert Church on the ancient St. James’ route to Compostella, the via Brabantica, is a fairly austere church that will charm you with its remarkable works of art from the Baroque era. The Forceville organ from 1713 is still completely intact, and in the strikingly beautiful organ case, Antwerp sculptor Jan Claudius de Cock has carved numerous instruments between playful angels, such as the lyre, the shawm, the horn, the trumpet, a violin and a traverso. And at the top, an angel triumphantly raises the trumpet. Worthy of discovery.
The church has an eventful history, the worst being the fire of 1683, which destroyed almost the entire 15th-century Gothic building. Only the present brick Gothic choir and the tower base date back to the 15th century.
But the church now houses some remarkable relics from the vanished church of the former polder village of Wilmarsdonk that had to make way for the port expansion of Antwerp in the 1960s. All that remains of this church is the 15th-century Gothic tower in the middle of the container port. In fact, the neighbouring parish of Ekeren, Sint-Laurentius (Schoonbroek), is the full heir of the Wilmarsdonk church, but since it could not accommodate any monumental works of art in its emergency chapel built in 1966, it was an obvious step to consider the village church of Ekeren as well. Thus, the old baroque choir stalls were replaced by the classicist choir stalls of Wilmarsdonk. A few panels that have been installed as wall panelling next to a confessional also come from this choir stool.
The two medallions with Saints Peter and Mark, however, are part of the former choir stalls of the church sculpted by Artus II Quellinus. Two restored parts of this choir stool can be found at the back of the church under the rood screen.
And it was precisely thanks to the replacement of the old pulpit from Ekeren with the more recent one from Wilmarsdonk in 1966 that the oldest work of art in the church became available: the tabernacle that is incorporated in the northern choir wall, but had long been hidden behind the former choir stalls.
Once, a Last Supper by Cornelis Schut, a pupil of Peter Paul Rubens, hung in the church. Unfortunately, it has disappeared without trace. The current painting in the north transept with the same theme is also a legacy of Wilmarsdonk.
The Sint-Laurence church in Ekeren-Schoonbroek is literally an oddity, both in terms of its location and its architecture. When the Antwerp port expanded, a number of polder villages were completely wiped off the map, including the neighbouring Wilmarsdonk. The age-old Gothic village church was demolished in 1966. Its tower is the only beacon of the vanished village left standing, lonely amidst endless piles of containers. Partly in order to provide this displaced population with a new place to live, the new district Schoonbroek was built next to the village of Ekeren, which was to become an independent parish. As heir of the parish of Wilmarsdonk, it was also given the patron saint of the vanished Wilmarsdonk: Laurentius.
The emergency chapel served for about 25 years until the consecration of the current church in 1980, designed by P. Schellekens and K. Beuten.
As heir to the former village church of Wilmarsdonk, this modern church houses some of the artworks and religious artefacts from the demolished polder church. The most striking and sonorous is of course the recently restored baroque Bremser organ, which is almost unique. It dates back to the third quarter of the 17th century. Today, you can enjoy its wonderful sound.
Let them tell you the story of the construction of the church, but also the story behind each of the works of art: about the painting Madonna with Child and grapes and what this has to do with Leonardo de Vinci; or about the painting of Auguste Piron from 1855 Saint Sebastian. The recovery of the centuries-old missal printed on the Plantin presses with 18th-century silver fittings by Gerardus Verhoeven from Ekeren is a story in itself. And also the silver canon boards and the beautiful tabernacle are an inheritance from the polder church.
Today is a feast in the church: it is the name and death anniversary of the patron saint Laurentius, who died on 10 August 258. Appointed as a deacon in Rome, he set himself up as the defender of the poor. According to tradition, he was tortured by the death by fire on a grate. His statue with his torture device can be found in a prominent place in the church.