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

The Our Lady’s Cathedral of Antwerp, a revelation.


It is called Peter, and it had been a long time since its melodious voice had filled the Antwerp Our Lady’s Cathedral. On 16 May 2016, during the Feast of the Dedication of the Cathedral, together with its smaller companion, it could fully be itself. I must admit that I had not known of their existence at all. In the Northern triforium, at the level of the Schyven Organ, they can be found: two small bells that used to mark each half hour. Thanks to the restoration of the big organ they can be fully used again. We do not know much about the smaller bell. The inscription on the bigger one however not only mentions its proud name but also its year of birth: 1477. Our Peter has witnessed it all: the Golden Age, the Iconoclast Fury, Rubens’ heyday, the French occupation, the rise of neo-Gothic, the restoration of the Antwerp diocese and even my episcopal consecration in 2009. It is good that it makes itself heard again. What is the use of a bell if it does not ring?

For many years this has been father Rudi Mannaerts’s mission: to unlock the ecclesiastical patrimony so that it can be totally itself. This means: to render a voice to our church heritage so that it can proclaim the Glad Tidings. Because what is the use of religious art if it does not lead people to Jesus?

With vzw Toerismepastoraal (Pastoral Tourism Service) Rudi Mannaerts has set up courses, has realised free guided tours by the welcoming team in the Antwerp monumental churches and has developed a documentation centre. Recent publications have made an even wider public acquainted with the insights acquired. Keys to the revelation of the monumental churches Charles Borromeo, Saint Paul’s and Saint Andrew’s have already appeared. The present piece of work about Our Lady’s Cathedral is the icing on the cake. I truly thank Rudi Mannaerts and his collaborators for the work produced, their passion and enthusiasm. I also thank vzw Maria-Elisabeth Belpaire and its governors that made the publication of this series of books possible.

Saint Augustine once gave a sermon on the occasion of the consecration of a house of prayer. He associated the physical construction with the spiritual growth of the Christians who gather there. Augustine says: What we see realised materially in these walls must be completed inside you spiritually. What we see accomplished here in stone and wood must be realised inside your own body by the constructive grace of God. I dare hope that the revelation of our cathedral will contribute to us being built further as a house of God. Because what else is the use of a Christian community?

Johan Bonny
Bishop of Antwerp

W.H. Bartlett, Interior of Antwerp Cathedral, etching, J. Woods - © TOPA-Documentation centre · Antwerp Church Heritage