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

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

Our Lady’s Chapel
Our Lady of the Holy Rosary

Further decoration of the devotion to Our Lady

The reliefs of the Rosary stalls
(possibly Peter I Verbruggen, ca. 1657-1659)

The wardens can attend the religious services in more comfortable stalls. Each spot aims at edification: in the panelling reliefs evoke five miracles that were credited to praying the rosary. Starting from the altar:

  1. Dominic advises Blanche of Castile (1188-1252), queen of France, to pray so as not to remain childless. This accounts for the childbed as a promise in the background. She will bring Louis IX (‘Saint Louis’) into the world.
  2. While he is drowning, the irreligious cannoneer Francis Lopez receives spiritual aid from Our Lady of Manilla.
  3. By praying the rosary the inhabitants of Limoges succeed in warding off the plague.
  4. After first having renounced his faith, the Florentine Dominican Antony of Rivoli, or Antony Neyrot, professes his Catholic faith again when he is a prisoner in Tunis. In the course of the stoning that follows his apostasy and sinful life is being forgiven.
  5. In 1550 in Barcelona a woman was unjustly accused of adultery by her husband, who attempted to murder This was prevented by praying the rosary.

The five scenes go back to illustrations in the book of verses by father Vloers, published in 1658 and probably designed by Erasmus II Quellinus.

The statue of Our Lady of Sorrows
(Jan Pieter I van Baurscheit, 1702)

With this statue they wanted to pay tribute to prior Abraham van Greyn († 1693), who was also prefect of the Brotherhood of the Holy Rosary. The white marble work of art was dated and signed by Jan Pieter I van Baurscheit in 1702.

One can question the choice of this iconographical type. On 15th September, i.e. the day after Holy Cross Day ‘Our Lady of Sorrows’ is celebrated according to the calendar of the Church. ‘Our Lady of Sorrows’ is better known by het Latin name ‘Mater Dolorosa’ or ‘Mater Afflicta’, as her praises are sung in the popular Good Friday song, Stabat Mater. This gave rise to a separate  devotion and thus also to a particular artistic subject matter. This is why with this iconographical type one must imagine the Crucified Jesus on her left. Her eyes remain focused on Him as it were, but in the meanwhile she frenetically keeps her hands folded at her side and beseechingly towards Heaven.

Mary is tortured by unbearable sorrow to the innermost of her mother’s heart. In spite of her misery she restrains herself upright with dignity. The gesture of her frenetically folded hands is the only affected movement that crosses the contours of her body, but it is already weakened by the cloak that hangs down from her arm. On the other hand this cloak creates elegant folds and shadows around Mary.

Each of the two angels on the plinth holds an instrument of the passion in his hand and makes clear that nobody can remain unmoved at such deep sorrow. Although as  each other’s pendants they are nearly  the  same  regarding  pose with bended head  (and one leg playfully to the front),  they each express their compassionate feelings in a personal way. The left one, with the crown of thorns, dries his tears with a handkerchief, the right one, with a scourge of ropes, keeps one hand in front of an eye.

The statue of Saint Rose of Lima
(Artus II Quellinus, ca. 1660-1670)

No saint is more appropriate to be pictured as an example for the devotion to the Rosary than Isabella Flores y de Oliva (Lima, 1586 – 1617). In 1671 she was the first American, though born from Spanish parents, to be canonized. This was probably the occasion for this white marble work of art by Artus II Quellinus (which can be dated stylistically ca. 1660-1670)

To help her family, which due to investment risks had got themselves into financial troubles, she worked in the field during the day, and as a seamstress very late at night. After she had refused to get married, she wanted to  be a Dominican nun, but she was not admitted to convent life because of her weak health.

Because an Indian girl described her as ‘as beautiful as a rose’ she was nicknamed ‘little rose’ and she became a member of the third Dominican order. At her entry she called herself ‘Rose of the Holy Virgin Mary’.

As a member of the third Dominican order she wears the Dominican habit. Out of penance she wears a metal band round her head, which she hides under a wreath of roses. Could this also be an illustration of her yearlong looking forward to the day of her death, as the day of her eternal marriage? She died young on 24th August 1617.

Tradition goes that Mother Mary appeared to Rose and granted her the favour of carrying the Divine Child in her arms and thus sharing her motherly feelings, which Quellinus represented with respectful modesty.

She is the patron of the harbour of Calloa near Lima and this explains why one of the two gracious angels at her feet is holding an anchor as an attribute.

The tissue of her habit and veil has been sublimely carved in the fine folds. Together with her young face and the affectionate relation with the infant Jesus this lends a somewhat softer character to the late Baroque style.

Painting “The Adoration of the Shepherds”
(Peter Paul Rubens ca. 1609)

This work was painted in about 1609 and is supposed to be the first one Rubens painted after having returned from Italy. Apparently pretty soon bonds were established between the Preachers and Rubens. A painting of such massive dimensions (13 ft. high by 10 ft. wide) must have been intended for a large altar. Which one is unknown.


Rubens took over the composition of the painting of the same name that he had made only a year before for the Oratorian church in Fermo, but due to his steady evolution towards Baroque this work already shows freer and stronger technique. As he was still heavily influenced by Caravaggio Rubens mainly used brown hues and an outspoken chiaroscuro. This way of illumination has been used here to illustrate the spiritual meaning of the infant Jesus as ‘the Light of the world’, or as His birth has been described in the more elaborate Nicene creed: “Light of Light”. Because Mary wants to show her New-born Child to the shepherds rushing in and folds back the cloth, the light can emanate from the Divine Child. For the shepherd who is standing on the extreme left, the light seems to be too strong, which is why he protects his eyes. In this way he illustrates ‘the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light’ (Mt. 4:16). Also symbolic are the ears of corn in the manger: they refer to ‘the bread that came down from Heaven’ (John 6:41).

However static and stereotyped the scene may seem at first sight, Rubens has managed to create more movement in it. Although all four shepherds and shepherdesses share the same admiration, each of them has been individualised by a gesture of his or her own and thanks to an astonishing foreshortening an angel tumbles down from heaven in an unseen spectacular acrobatic feat.

After it had been confiscated by the French in 1794, the painting could fortunately return after Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo. The gigantic canvas still bears traces of the heroic rescue operation during the disastrous fire in 1968, when it had to be cut out of its frame.

The oil sketch or modello (of the Fermo version), which is kept in the Hermitage in Saint-Petersburg, is dated there at 1608.

Next to this painting there is Dominic’s self-chastisement at Segovia (Gaspar de Crayer, about 1655). This painting used to be on Saint Dominic’s altar, north of the choir screen. Dominic’s back shows traces of blood of the scourge and around his waist he is wearing a chain with a heavy stone at a very sensitive spot. Mary appears to him to soften his pains.