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

Saint Paul’s, the Antwerp Dominican church, a revelation

The Calvary garden: on a pilgrimage 'round the corner'

The Calvary of Saint Paul's Church, one of the most picturesque corners in Antwerp - coloured lithograph, published by Granello in Antwerp, 19th century. © Museum Plantijn-Moretus/Prentenkabinet Antwerpen
Saint Paul's - The Calvary garden today

The Dominicans and the pelgrimage to Jerusalem

For many a Christian the pilgrimage to the Holy Land is a goal in life. In 17th century Antwerp the Dominicans took the lead in the promotion of this pilgrimage. Within the Brotherhood of the Rosary they founded the Fellowship of Palmers. The last ones to visit the Holy Land at the end of that century were the two Ketwigh brothers, both Antwerp Dominicans. Because the Holy Land had become inaccessible due to the advancing Ottoman troops Dominicus (Domien) van Ketwigh conceived the plan to convert the graveyard next to the church into a contemplative statue garden evoking Jerusalem. The burial function of the churchyard was to be preserved. So this Baroque creation was meant to be a kind of spiritual ersatz good. By seeing Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection impersonated life size, the spectator can call these mysteries of faith to mind more vigorously and experience them more deeply. Already before 1699 Willem I Kerricx drew the first design for the ‘hill’, but it took nearly half a century to have the entire project realized. For this cause until 1741 an appeal was made to several Antwerp Baroque sculptors including Jan Claudius De Cock, Willem I Kerricx and Willem-Ignatius Kerricx, Jan Pieter I van Baurscheit, Michiel I van der Voort and Alexander Van Papenhoven.

Although the dominant Calvary lends its name to the entire garden of the former graveyard, it is in fact also a garden of resurrection, as Jesus’ rising from the dead is brought into vision ‘live’ by His encounter with Mary Magdalene in the garden! Moreover the prophets foretell Jesus’ suffering as well as His resurrection. Whoever was involved in Jesus’ sacrifice of love by His crucifixion and His triumph over death, either as a direct witness, a prophet or as a worshipped pious person, has been given a place here. By the thematic positioning of the statues and by the lively dialogue of some groups of statues this remarkable ensemble looks somewhat like an open air theatre.

Four Dominicans, who were palmers themselves, carrying rosaries, accompany the visitors. To illustrate the destination of their fellowship, they hold shields with on them the Christian escutcheon of Jerusalem, while palms refer to the pilgrims’ custom of entering their hometowns triumphantly with this ‘piece of evidence’.

At the beginning of the path two beatified Dominicans invite the visitor to join them on their journey by means of the texts on the rim of their shields. On the left there is Jordan of Saxony (D1), who succeeded Dominicus to be the second magister-general of the order. In 1237 however he was killed in a shipwreck when coming back from the Holy Land. He recommends the visit with a verse from the psalms: “AENBIDT OP SYNEN HYLIGHEN BERGH. Ps: 98.” [Worship on His Holy Mountain] (Ps. 99:9). To the right there is the Portuguese Gondisalvus of Amarante (1187-1259) (D2), who, after a stay in Palestine for over ten years, became a hermit and afterwards a Dominican. On Gundisalvus’ shield there is: “SYN GRAF SAL GLORIEUS WESEN ISA : II”  [His tomb shall be glorious] (Isaiah 11:10).

On top of the hill, on the terrace underneath the cross, two fathers are preaching. They are the co-founders of the fellowship of the palmers: Domien Vanden Boom (D3), on the left, and the crippled Jaak Pussens (D4) on the right.

Floorplan of the calvary garden

Dominicans   Apostles
D1 Jordan of Saxony A1 Peter
D2 Gundisalvus of Amarante A2 Paul
D3 Domien Vanden Boom
D4 Jaak Pussens Evangelists
Ev1 Matthew
Angels Ev2 John
E1 crown of thorns Ev3 Luke
E2 image five wounds Ev4 Mark
E3 sponge and name board ‘INRI’
E4 seamless robe and dice Minor prophets (Latin inscriptions)
E5 cross p1 Hosea (Ozeas)
E6 ladder p2 Joel (Ioel)
E7 shroud p3 Amos (Amos)
E8 scourge and ropes p4 Obadiah (Abdias)
E9 Veronica’s veil p5 Jonah (Jonas)
E10 whipping post and crown of thorns, (nails, whip, dice) p6 Habakkuk (Habacuc)
p7 Micah (Michaea)
Sorrowful Mysteries, Tomb and Resurrection   p8 Nahum (Nahum)
DM1 Death agony p9 Haggai (Aggaeus)
DM2 Flogging p10 Malachi (Malachias)
DM3 Crowning with thorns p11 Zephanaiah (Sophonias)
DM4 Bearing of the Cross p12 Zachariah (Zacharias)
Holy Grave (above it Crucifixion and Pietà)
JC – MM: Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene Major prophets
P1 Isaiah (Isaias)
Worshippers P2 Ezekiel (Ezechiël)
V1 Empress Helena P3 Daniel (Daniël)
V2 Mary of Egypt P4 Jeremiah (Jeremias)
V3 Longinus
V4 Peter and the crowing rooster Old Testament
V5 Pelagia Mo Moses
V6 Jerome Da  King David
V7 Eustochium