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

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

No convent church without a choir

Further decoration of the choir:
Funeral monuments, statues of saints
and the former choir screen

The funeral monuments

Because in 1629 the troops of the Dutch States Party had definitely taken his cathedral city ‘s-Hertogenbosch, Michael Ophovius had to take refuge. He found accommodation for himself in the Antwerp Dominican convent  and in the church for his funeral monument, fit for a bishop of his time. It was completed two years before his death in 1637. The Avesnes stone monument, with the statue of the kneeling bishop, has been attributed to Hans van Mildert.

With their funeral monuments in the sanctuary bishops kept ‘acting’ life-size in the choral prayers. With their folded hands they do not just indicate the position of the high altar in the East, but they also bridged the monks’ prayers in the choir stalls with the perpetual adoration in the hereafter. Ophovius’ sculpted face evokes his portrait (in common habit) by P.P. Rubens, which was popularised in many versions, one of which is in the entrance hall of the treasury. Later (ca. 1670?) the theme of adoration was demonstrated further with the statue of Our Lady with Child (Claudius de Cock). In the crowning a weeping alabaster putto holding a torch upside down and an hour glass, with his foot on a skull, he points out transient life: memento mori!

St Paul’s – Memorial of Jan Frans Capello and Maria Boxhorn

On the funeral monument of Jan Frans Capello and Maria Boxhorn, which is sometimes attributed to Peter II Verbruggen, the commissioner, bishop Marius Ambrosius Capello, has primarily honoured himself. The bishop is kneeling down in front of a prie-dieu. The patron of his monastic name ‘Ambrosius’, the blessed Dominican Ambrose of Siena (1220 – 1287), stimulates his protégé to read in a book. It has been remarkably combined with the statue of the resurrected Christ, high up against the wall.

St Paul’s – Memorial of Jan Frans Capello and Maria Boxhorn

The funeral monument at the southern side, which has been attributed to Andries Colyns de Nole, cherishes the memory of Henri de Varick, bailiff and margrave of Antwerp († 1630), and of his wife Anna Damant († 1641). Notice the bailiff’s spurs: they really roll! Both figures wear big ruffs, and cuffs of the same type adorn the fringes of their sleeves.

St. Paul’s – tomb of Jacobus de Vries and Maria van Elsacker.

Because in the 19th century it was no longer allowed to bury in towns and churches, the funeral monument of Jacobus de Vries and Maria van Elsacker (Jean-Baptist de Boeck and Jean-Baptist van Wint, 1868) is a cenotaph. On it the deceased have not been represented, but instead their devotion (for the rosary), i.e. ‘Our Lady hands the rosary to Saint Dominic’. The commissioner was their son, Jacobus Antonius de Vries, who was a church warden. Later he also donated the pulpit.

The statues of the dominican saints (1631-1700)

Eight life size white stone statues of Dominican saints, crowning funeral monuments between the windows in the choir, functioned as examples for the Dominicans facing them in the choir stalls. The series of statues progressed rather slowly: the first ones date from the period 1631-1637, the last statue completed the series only in 1700!

The number of saints might tempt us to ‘find’ a deeper religious meaning and a relation with the eight Beatitudes. However such Biblical inspiration was not the foundation of the series of statues. First of all the number of statues was determined by the number of wall sections available between the windows and moreover there are no specific indications to identify one of the eight evangelical Beatitudes with a single Dominican saint.

At the North

Saint Dominic (Andries Colyns de Nole, as the first in the 1631-1637 series.)

To the right of the high altar the founder of the order is in the place of honour.

Saint Peter of Verona, alias Saint Peter the Martyr (Jan-Pieter I van Baurscheit, 1700)

Because the popular preacher (Verona ca. 1205-1252) was killed by two hired assassins we can see him here with his head cleft by a sabre and his breast pierced by a sword. Heavy drops of blood pour from this wound. Dying he writes the word ‘Credo’ (‘I believe’, the beginning of the Catholic creed) on the ground with his own blood.

Thomas Aquinas (Andries Colyns de Nole, 1635-1636)

The great scholar (12225-1274) was acclaimed “Doctor Angelicus” (“Angelic Doctor”). He left an enormous amount of writings, including the Summa Theologica, which accounts for the pen and inkwell as his attributes. In art he can also be recognized by the chain on his chest with on it the sun of philosophy, an allusion to the conquering light of divine truth. Because the office of Corpus Christi and the hymn Lauda Sion is to his credit, he also carries a sun monstrance. In line with the legend two angels gird on a ‘chastity belt’ that extinguishes lust in the loins. With the inscriptions they carry the putti at both sides of the console refer to this: “cingulum” and “castitatis”. In Saint Paul’s church there was also a brotherhood around this so-called “Thomas’ little rope”.

Saint Hyacinth (Artus I Quellinus, ca. 1650?)

(Kamień Śląski in Silesia 1185 – Krakow 1257). He preached in Northern and Eastern Europe, and for this he was also called ‘the Apostle of Poland’. When the Tatars took the town of Kiev, Hyacinth could take the consecrated wafers in a ciborium from the cathedral at the very last moment. Here it is represented as a monstrance. According to the legend Hyacinth also took a very heavy statue of the Virgin Mary, which by miracle became as light as a feather.

At the South

Saint Catherine of Siena (Pieter I Verbruggen, 1646, after a design by Andries Colyns de Nole)

This member of the third order and mystic (1347 – 1380) in a vision got betrothed to Jesus  and as a sign of this she has received a ring. Moreover she bears the stigmata, the five wounds of Jesus. In this intense conjunction with Jesus she has exchanged her crown with his crown of thorns. And therefore she smilingly looks at the cross in her hands.

Saint Antoninus Pierozzi of Florence (Peter I Verbruggen, ca. 1650)

Antoninus, archbishop of Florence († 1459). Although the scales may refer to canon law as his specialty, here the legendary ‘Deo gratias’ scales are concerned. The donation in kind a farmer gave was paltry but this did not prevent Antoninus from giving thanks only: the sheet of paper mentioning Antoninus’ usual answer “Deo gratias” (Thanks be to God) turned out to be heavier.

Saint Vincent Ferrer (Peter I Verbruggen, 1643, after a design by Andries Colyns de Nole).

As he was one of the most famous preachers of his time, who was able to mobilize entire crowds, this Spaniard (1350 – 1419) has his left hand in a rhetoric gesture. He warned his audience of the last judgment, which might explain the sculls as ‘memento mori’ in the cornucopias, which flank the base.

Saint Raymond of Peñafort (Peter I Verbruggen, 1660)

This Catalan (ca. 1175 – 1275) was the author of the first code of canon law. As an erudite professor and patron of jurists he reads from a book (openmouthed). Moreover he was a popular father confessor.

The former choir screen
(Peter I Verbruggen, 1654-1655)

Choir screen, drawed by Lodewijk Serrure (ca. 1833), litho Jan Jozef Linnig, 1846

A screen that screened off the choir from the nave gave the fathers the opportunity to pray the offices more quietly and more comfortably, because they were not in the draught. Together with two side altars the entire construction was built in 1654-1655 by sculptor Peter I Verbruggen, after a design by carver Servais Cardon. At the same time the colossal screen was the support of the gigantic white marbled wooden triumphal cross on a globe, which dominated the church interior. The crucified Jesus was flanked by His mourning mother and John the evangelist. Both marble statues are now in the back of the northern transept. Further this marble group of statues consisted of five mourning child angels, nearly 1 m tall, who sadly invited a look up at the Crucified Saviour. Four of them are now around the altar in the crossing.  Against the globe winged Chronos was sitting, armed with a scathe, indicating time on the zodiac with an arrow.

Above the gate to the choir was the so-called Portrait of Soriano, a type of painting of devotion with Saint Dominic in full length, called after the monastery of the same name. It was an ‘ex voto’ of the nineteen year old Barbara Spers, founder of the side altar that is now in the southern chapel. On Saint Dominic’s altar, left, at the northern side, was the canvas Our Lady heals Saint Dominic’s wounds of self-chastisement by Gaspar de Crayer (p. 68), on the Holy Cross altar there was the Pieta by the same painter or by Huybrecht Dirix (p.54).

So as to have a freer view on the high altar of the new parish church the choir screen was pulled down in 1833. The choir organ by Jean-Baptiste Forceville had already indirectly been sold to Our Lady’s church in Broechem (Province of Antwerp).

The scientific justification of the data concerning the choir of Saint Paul’s in Antwerp can be found HERE.
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