Saint Andrew’s Church
St Eligius Altar of the Minters
Original triptych, Maerten de Vos, 1601, today in the Antwerp Museum of Fine Arts
Central panel: a contemporary photographic reproduction, courtesy Agfa-Gevaert
Outer panels: ‘The Avarice of Egoism’ versus ‘The generosity of Charity’
Immediately after the liberation of Antwerp by the Spanish forces in 1585 the Minters’ Guild rebuilt their 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. at St. Andrew’s, which had been destroyed by Calvinists during the 1566 Iconoclastic Fury. A triptych was commissioned from Maerten de Vos, then one of the city’s most renowned painters.
The altar is dedicated to the patron 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. Eligius: due to his craftsmanship and his honesty he was appointed royal minter by the king of the Francs. Moreover, the saint abandoned worldly fortune for a life as a missionary 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. and was the first historical figure to visit Antwerp around 650 C.E. Enough reason for the (Antwerp) minters to choose Eligius as their patron saint.
On the central panel The question to Jesus about the tribute to Caesar (Mt. 22:15-22), the high priests and scribes have sent accomplices to trick Jesus into an answer while teaching in the Temple of Jerusalem. They ask Him if the Jews are to pay taxes to the Roman Emperor. He answers: ‘Show me a denarius. whose image and name does it bear?’ ‘The henchmen reply: ‘Caesar’s.’ A positive answer would have meant He was not the genuine Messiah, as this person was expected to defend the rights of the Jews against the Roman occupiers. With a negative reply the accomplices would have handed Him over to the Roman administrator as an insurrectionist. “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God’ (Lc.20:21-26). The astonishment was great at this apt reply, in which state and religion are separated: one cannot misuse religion for political purposes and vice versa.
In 1798 the French administration confiscated the triptych of the minters. It finally ends up in the Antwerp Royal Museum of Fine Arts, where today it is kept in the cellar storage, far away from the public eye.
The Works of Mercy
Painting on panel, Frans II Francken, ca. 1600-1620
The painting on the north wall also refers to the virtue of generosity. It shows a real-life scene, with the almoners of the city distributing food to the needy.