Antwerp, Churches and Tourism
Tourism Pastoral, Diocese of Antwerp (TOPA vzw)


Saturday, August 8, 2021

Room for silence !!!

However, the Night of the Antwerp Churches 2020 was cancelled.

Antwerp, 25 July 2020

Esteemed associates and sympathizers,

14 days ago the statistics looked very promising, but today we are in the opposite direction. This forces us to cancel the Night of Churches this year.

It is really with regret in the heart because a fine tradition should not be interrupted. Moreover, the unusual theme ‘Room for silence’ really was something to look forward to.

But we are already thinking about what we can hopefully do next year.

We thank you all very much for your understanding and hope to break the silence next year, together, in good health.

Kind regards,
Rudi Mannaerts, chairman TOPA
Jan Vanes, coordinator Night of the Churches

A glimpse (at what might have been)

“How quiet is it” wrote poet Guido Gezelle over a hundred years ago…

But… silence becomes brittle. She’s getting harder to find in a society that’s screaming for action. Where life used to be characterised by tranquillity, especially in the countryside, she is almost untraceable in the densely built Flanders. Just try to find a square kilometre without noise and hassle. Reason why the contemplative Carthusian sisters could only find refuge in the royal domain of Opgrimbie in the still green Limburg.

Until a few months ago we could have used this for the Night of the Churches ‘as an opener on the theme of ‘Room for silence’. But in the meantime, measures to contain a virus have made us experience some forms of silence again, forced or not. Especially in the public space it was sometimes almost terribly quiet in the middle of the summer months, on the streets, in the museums and in the churches. The fact that silence can quickly feel awkward or even seem threatening has now been experienced by all of us.

Traditionally, museums have been experienced as a (secular) quiet space. This is just as true for libraries or the new trend, the study places offered to students here and there. They are havens par excellence for those who want to concentrate on artistic pleasure or intellectual study.

Yet … for many, silence remains something … “to walk up the walls”. Also the (touristic) churches share in the blows. In our secularised society, where the awe for the transcendent and the mystical is subdued, these places too often lose their aura of silence. Even the silence before Mass is no longer evident.

The countermovement does not wait. Critical Westerners are looking for alternatives. Many people rightly opt for austerity and quality of life. And so silence comes into focus again. Just think of yoga and Zen or the annual national ‘Day of Silence’ in the Netherlands (last Sunday in October).

We have to admit that silence was not directly the focus of church organizations or cultural events like the Night of Churches. We strived, and will certainly continue to do so in the future, to be as lively as possible with the churches. The art-historical and religious background is the foundation on which the churches today can further develop their social relevance.

Renowned works of art and vibrating organ playing are indeed trumps. But it does not always have to be ‘bells and whistles’ to make the inaudible sound, to express the unspeakable and to perceive the invisible. Centuries-old seekers of silence such as the Poor Clares, the Carthusians or the Trappists can certainly show us the way.

But also in our churches, and in our Antwerp churches in particular, the visitor can taste the silence. Silence as the most suitable medium to find not only oneself but also the Other, God.

Room for Silence: even though until recently this theme looked less trendy and less popular, it quickly acquired a certain social relevance, partly due to the circumstances. On a more spiritual level, there is clearly still a need for silence. Churches offer a place of rest for centuries, and not only for the believer and not only during prayer services. And that is what this Night of Churches is all about: offering a place of rest, a SPACE where you can and may experience silence and meaning.

We are convinced that we can enchant people who are more sensitive to the profound, who are more in search of meaning than art lovers, who are looking for authenticity.

Many churches will be given new functions in the times to come. But we dare to bet that in the search for a meaningful reuse, not so much the commercial or cultural aspect, but all the more the filling-in as quiet rooms will be played out as an asset, say as exceptional oxygen lungs.

Together with all of you, we will rise to the challenge.

“Niets is sterker
dan de stilte.
Niets heeft zoveel kracht
als het zwijgen van de nacht”
                                   Stef Bos.
“Nothing is stronger
than the silence.
Nothing has so much power
as the silence of the night”
Stef Bos.

The 14 participating churches and their SILENCE theme