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

Antwerp's St Andrew's Church, a revelation.

Saint Anne's Altar

In 1594 a separate altar for the devotion to Saint Anne was consecrated in the then church, probably against a different pillar from the present one in the northern aisle. Stylistically the current painting can date from that time. In spite of some dispute, it is ascribed to Marten Pepijn (1575-1643).

By ‘The Holy Kinship’ the wider family relations of Saint Anne are meant, a typically medieval theme, which rather emphasized the broader kinship in a time when the individual family was not yet given so much importance. According to medieval tradition Anne successively married Joachim, Clopas and Solomas. From each of these marriages one daughter was born: Mary, Mary of Clopas and Mary Salome. Especially the family ties between grandma Ann, mother Mary and the child Jesus must be understood in the light of God’s providence and this has been illustrated by the allegorical dove of the Holy Spirit on top. On the left Saint Anne and Mary together hold the infant Jesus, who bends towards John the Baptist. The latter’s mother Elizabeth (Mary’s cousin) and her husband Zachariah are also there. In the front and in the back are other members of the family, whose mutual relations are only based on apocryphal traditions. Because of the apocryphal nature of the theme the representation was forbidden by the Council of Trent (1545-1563), but apparently the power of tradition was still too strong here to obey that ‘cold’ ecclesiastic prescription.  And do you not find it touching how in the bottom right corner the dog licks its master?

About ten years after the transepts had been finished in 1663 Jan Van den Cruyce constructed a marble portico altar against the northern crossing pillar, commissioned by the brotherhood of Saint Anne. The central panel of the old altarpiece was incorporated into it. In order to finance the new altar a special polychrome wooden collection plate was made. Originally saints Antony Abott, Roch and Sebastian were also venerated at this altar, three plague saints. People counted on their intercession in times of epidemics so that they could show themselves worthy of this title.

Saint Roch appears in relief on the little door of the reliquary in the predella. His polychrome wooden statue above the retable painting was added in the second half of the 19th (or first half of the 20th) century. It came from one of the innumerable poor alleys that were pulled down.

On the altar crowning an elegant Mary Magdalen seems to be dancing on the left, and on the right Elizabeth of Thuringia in an exemplary way gives a golden coin, which in those days was the largest currency, to a crippled beggar, whose amputated lower leg is resting on a knee crutch.

The black marble altar rails, ascribed to Michiel I van der Voort (ca. 1720), comprise a few decorative white marble panels with in medallions each time the bust of a saint who is venerated at this altar:

  • north: Saint Anthony as an old man, with a T-cross;
  • south: Saint Roch, as a pilgrim with two scallops on his pelerine;
  • west, at both sides of the little door: Saint Anne and Saint Joachim.

A separate statue of Saint Anthony Abbott (17th century) is against the next pillar.