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

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

The Veemarkt gate

Veemarkt with Saint Paul's Church, etching, Jan Linnig, 1843 © Museum Plantijn-Moretus/Prentenkabinet Antwerpen

Probably the late Gothic side gate (beginning 16th century) had to give separate access to the graveyard, at the spot where now the Calvary garden is.

Domien van Ketwigh, who had been appointed prefect of the Brotherhood of the Rosary in 1703, in that same year commissioned a group of statues for the tympanum: Mary gives the rosary to Saint Dominic and Catherine of Siena. The reason mentioned for this initiative was that until then the small church door resembled more the entrance to an inn than the one to a church.

Sint-Paulus – tympaan aan de Veemarkt

However much the geographic accuracy of the continents represented on the globe can be questioned there is no doubt it is our world that the violent green serpent wants to take possession of. Precisely to deliver the world from evil Jesus has come into the world, thanks to Mary. To make certain that we do not forget this and to make us join in this fight for good by praying, Mary encourages us to pray the rosary. This is why Mary (anonymous, maybe Willem Kerricx I, already before 1703) gives the rosary to Dominic and Catherine of Siena (1703, possibly Pieter I Van Baurscheit), respectively iconographically right and left of Mary.

As was the case with all religious statues on street corners, in front of this group of statues there used to be a light arm with a lantern of devotion, which certainly proved to be useful in the dark hours. More statues of ‘Our Lady of the Rosary’ could be found at street corners and house fronts in the neighbourhood of the Dominican monastery. One of them can still be seen at the façade of Lange Doornikstraat 27.

In 1734 Domien had conversions made once again. A new Baroque porch frame was built, which is as big as a house and starts from the foundation so that it can also support the two neighbouring houses. In the centre of the tympanum a few emblems and inscriptions constitute a vertical ornamental band. At the bottom there is the year, in big numbers. The text “In Jerusalem potestas mea” (in Jerusalem is my domain; Sir. 24:11) was taken from the Epistle of the feast of The Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary (21st November). Together with the Christian escutcheon of Jerusalem this alludes to the Brotherhood of Palmers, who commissioned the whole. Moreover they refer to the Calvary garden with the Holy Grave, which had been built just behind this gate thirty years before. And thanks to Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection Mary takes part in His dominion. In the fronton, just underneath the statue of Mary, there is Mary’s monogram in a wreath of roses.

On top of the crowning fronton once again three statues (anonymous) can be seen. Probably the statue of Our Lady, of which also the back has been sculpted and which Is older than the other ones, was re-used after it had undergone some small adaptations. Mary with the infant Jesus are on top and on a lower level are flanked by the church patron, Paul, and the founder of the order, Saint Dominic, who is now iconographically left, due to the hierarchic surplus value of Paul. With a rhetoric gesture the latter points at a quotation from his Epistle to the Romans 13.

At the same time underneath the thirty years older group of statues verses were inscribed on the tympanum, which can be translated as:

the origin of the Rosary Prayer given to Dominic has protected this town
started by Mary as a holy weapon against the powers of the enemy

The ‘powers of the enemy’ is a reference to the Dutch-English troops that were overcome at the Battle of Ekeren (1703). The diocese protested against the swift pious interpretation of the victory and forced the text to be changed and so now the last two lines are in a strikingly different font and read as: (translation:) “Has brought to mankind a lot of protection”.

The quite particular (Paris lime)stone, with two figures who are holding an apple together, was inserted later. One might be tempted to interpret them as Adam and Eve, so that they show a connection with the big snake and Mary, Eve’s counterpart, who is also called ‘new Eve’, on the tympanum above. The fact that both figures clearly wear clothes does not allow this interpretation. Fortunately none of the neo-Gothic facelifts that were planned in the 19th century were carried out.

From this gatehouse at Veemarkt a covered corridor slowly goes up to the side entrance of the church. Above this corridor there is the back part of the houses at Veemarkt. In the ceiling of the corridor you can notice the corbels for the stone floors of the fireplaces on the first floor. The wooden ceiling allows prying glances into the rooms above…