Saint Paul’s, the Antwerp Dominican church, a revelation
Surprising mural paintings and a puzzling inscription
The inscription on the central pilar of the northern aisle
The inscription, which by its form is rather 16th century, reads: “Lan 1644. Frère Paul Lelievre E Aydit Afaire Cest Eglize Chi”. Adapted to modern French it is read as: “L’an 1644, frère Paul Le Lièvre / a aidé à faire cette église-ci”. But in spite of the misleading style, the date cannot be anything but 1544, taking into account the building history. Apparently brotherA male religious who is not a priest. Le Lièvre wanted to act against the rules of his own order and immortalize his name. Because at that moment he did not know when exactly his stone would be put in position, he left open the last figure of the year. When the stone was hauled up to its position in 1544, the (illiterate?) building labourers put it upside down! The brother or someone else added the exact figure ‘4’, but did not exert himself to carve it upside down too. As a result this is the only character that can be read well from the floor! This illustrates how great history is built up with petty things. The black filling-up, which draws our attention even more, was applied later.
Grisaille mural paintings
When during the 1996-1997 restoration works the confessionals were removed, two grisaille mural paintings that form a graceful Mannerist frame of a funeral monument were found on the wall of the Southern aisleLengthwise the nave [in exceptional cases also the transept] of the church is divided into aisles. An aisle is the space between two series of pillars or between a series of pillars and the outer wall. Each aisle is divided into bays.. They were dated “1570” and “1577”. It is a pity, but there was no other solution: the joyous angel, the little bird and the bird’s head have been hidden behind the panelling again. Also the text of Our FatherPriest who is a member of a religious order. that the Calvinists painted on the wall of the Northern aisle has been painted over again.
Probably the peculiar grisaille mural painting on the west wall of the Southern aisle dates back to the same period: Christ as the mystic winepress. Like grapes that are pressed into wine, so Jesus was pressed as it were by his suffering. In fact it is a combination of a few data from the passion, including the scourging and the Ecce Homo. In a small Renaissance temple Christ is standing naked against a column, with crossed hands. In His right hand he is holding the reed as a sceptre, and in his left the scourge(?). From his heart a jet of blood gushes into a chaliceGilded metal cup, usually on a base, which the priest uses for the wine during the Eucharist. (the chalice of the passion): a reference to the EucharistThis is the ritual that is the kernel of Mass, recalling what Jesus did the day before he died on the cross. On the evening of that day, Jesus celebrated the Jewish Passover with his disciples. After the meal, he took bread, broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat. This is my body.” Then he took the cup of wine, gave it to his disciples and said, “Drink from this. This is my blood.” Then Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” During the Eucharist, the priest repeats these words while breaking bread [in the form of a host] and holding up the chalice with wine. Through the connection between the broken bread and the “broken” Jesus on the cross, Jesus becomes tangibly present. At the same time, this event reminds us of the mission of every Christian: to be “broken bread” from which others can live. More, which with “the blood of Christ” is a source of grace, coming from Jesus’s wounds of the cross. The whole representation goes back to an engraving by Albrecht Dürer dated 1509.
The wooden Christ, originating from the Calvary on Falconplein [Falcon Square] (probably Cornelis De Smedt, 1790) and the white marble statues of Our Lady and John the Evengelist, originating from the demolished choirIn a church with a cruciform floor plan, the part of the church that lies on the side of the nave opposite to the transept. The main altar is in the choir. screen (Peter I Verbruggen, 1654-1655) together constitute the Calvary where now the deceased members of the parish are commemorated by their crosses.
Painting “the Works of Mercy”
(after Frans II Francken)
This immense canvas (16.17ft x 8.37ft) shows a striking resemblance, both in composition and figuration, with the smaller, picturesque painting by Frans II Francken in SaintThis is a title that the Church bestows on a deceased person who has lived a particularly righteous and faithful life. In the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Church, saints may be venerated (not worshipped). Several saints are also martyrs. Andrew’s Church (ca. 1600). This painting has been against the west wall of the church, next to the entrance of Veemarkt / Zwartzustersstraat since at least 1748. It used to be above the stalls of the neighbouring Blacksisters, who committed themselves especially to the poor sick and who had contributed to the construction of the church. The painting wanted to stimulate the beholder to active charity and so to generous gifts. Still it is not the sisters who are represented here but the almoners, who on behalf of the civil and ecclesiastical community were responsible for charity and so for all (seven) good deeds.
Clad in the dignity of their office, with tabards and typical hats, they act here as masters of the Table of the Holy SpiritThe active power of God in people. It inspires people to make God present in the world. Jesus was ‘filled with the Holy Spirit’ and thus showed in his speech and actions what God is like. People who allow the Holy Spirit to work in them also speak and act like God and Jesus at those moments. See also ‘Pentecost’. in the parishes.
The idea of charity has a profoundly religious base: “whoever remains in love remains in God” (1 John 4:16). This is experienced even more radically from Jesus’s identification with the poor and needy: “whatever you did for one of these least brothers of Mine, you did for Me” (Mth. 25:40.45). Jesus Himself fills this in concretely with the ‘works of mercy’:
“I was hungry and you gave Me food,
I was thirsty and you gave Me drink,
I was a stranger and you welcomed Me,
I was naked and you clothed Me,
I was ill and you cared for Me,
I was in prison and you visited Me.” (Mth. 25:34-36)
- ‘To feed the hungry’ is represented in the foreground by the common distribution of bread, which in those days was one of the most important activities to support the needy. Especially single women with children, elderly and disabled people could be helped there. A courteous almoner hands out bread, while a second one, who is older, keeps his hand on the pot with bread tokens that he will distribute soon, to prevent them from being stolen for the time being. Such tokens could be exchanged for a loaf of bread. The almoners’ servant, in the corner down left, has to keep order during the distribution and, if needed, he has to keep away unlawful beggars with his stick. The crippled man in his little cart, in the centre of the foreground, who moves on with hand crutches, wears a beggar’s sign on his sleeve. Judging from the pilgrim’s badges on his hat the bearded man was born a pilgrim… or a hypocrite.
- On the left the thirsty are quenched. A servant comes running in with a bowl of water to bring round a busty woman who has fainted with thirst. Jugs are passed round; a man enjoys it to the full. In the front there is a cask of wine or water.
In the background on the left three other works of mercy are being staged in what has the shape of small theatres:
- In a Renaissance space an almoner gives clothes to a half-naked man. Another half-naked beggar patiently waits his turn and a third one comes running in.
- In a Renaissance-like tempietto a priestIn the Roman Catholic Church, the priest is an unmarried man ordained as a priest by the bishop, which gives him the right to administer the six other sacraments: baptism, confirmation, confession, Eucharist, marriage, and the anointing of the sick. visits a mortally ill man to administer the last rites. On the steps the wife is praying.
- In a brick house an almoner shelters two travellers, who can be identified as pilgrims. The smoking chimney indicates that they will be welcomed hospitably.
- On the right in the background a religious visits prisoners who are locked up in a round brick tower and look out through a barred window.
- The last work of mercy, ‘to bury the dead’, is not in the Bible however, but the Church added it in times of the plague, which also favoured numerology. A funeral procession is on its way to the churchyard in the background to grant the deceased his or her last resting place. Some ten religious or altarThe altar is the central piece of furniture used in the Eucharist. Originally, an altar used to be a sacrificial table. This fits in with the theological view that Jesus sacrificed himself, through his death on the cross, to redeem mankind, as symbolically depicted in the painting “The Adoration of the Lamb” by the Van Eyck brothers. In modern times the altar is often described as “the table of the Lord”. Here the altar refers to the table at which Jesus and his disciples were seated at the institution of the Eucharist during the Last Supper. Just as Jesus and his disciples did then, the priest and the faithful gather around this table with bread and wine. servers in rochets walk in front of the coffin, carried by four Alexian Brothers. Then a civilian (who has taken his hat off) and his wife follow solemnly.
The silhouette of the towers in the background has given rise to many a speculation, but it is certain they are not from Antwerp.