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

The Antwerp jesuit church, a revelation.

The tower

Less to be seen, more to be heard

The tower, Jacques de la Barre, copper engraving, ca. 1650, © Archief Sint-Carolus Borromeuskerk, Antwerpen

To start services punctually for believers who do not own a watch yet, churches have been provided with auditive means, bells. They have been here since 1624. To have their sound chimed loudly enough across the roofs into the living rooms, these bronze colossi must be high enough. This bell tower is as tall as 58 m (190 ft.), i.e. the height of six houses. That bronze can also be used for less peaceful purposes, could be experienced by the parishioners in 1943, when the bells Aloysius (403 kg) and Franciscus (588 kg) were requisitioned by the German occupier. Since 1954 there have been four bells again.

The tower is behind the apse, which is typically Baroque, and this is the case for several reasons:

  • aesthetically: it must not be in the way of the façade
  • theologically: it is very close to the high altar, where the Eucharist is celebrated and to the tabernacle, where the consecrated hosts are kept. They make Jesus’ presence tangible and are therefore called ‘Holy Sacrament’. This explains why since the 19th century there has been a group of statues of angels on the facade in St.-Kathelijnevest, who kneel in worship of the chalice and a host.

As the tower is behind the church and an impressive screen, which is the facade, hides it from our view, this pearl of Baroque architecture is hardly visible from the church square. The elegant design deserves our attention though.

How elegant is the solution to climb up from a square base to one point at the tower’s cross? The big lantern has a smaller lantern as a crowning, which also functions as a base for the cross.

How graceful is the fourfold use of the Venetian opening, or Serlian arch, in the big lantern? This motif consists of three openings between four pillars: the central one is covered by a rounded arch, the two side openings by a horizontal architrave. This Serlian arch, named after architect Serlio (1475-1554), is a contribution of Rubens, who, during his stay at the ducal palace in Mantua, could look up at a church tower with this motif every day.

A signpost ‘Beware! Falling stones!’ could have been useful now and then. On 7th April 1906, a falling bluestone caused the death of a paperer from Koepoortbrug. In the beginning of the 1990’s rubble fell onto a car. This was not to be wondered since a real tree was growing on the tower. Since then till the end of the restoration in 2006 the tower was in scaffolding. ‘The mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small’ apparently also goes for the mills of administration.