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

Exhibitions - Archives

2001 - Dressed differently, worn differently.

Saint Andrew’s Church: The wardrobe of Our Lady
Saint Charles Borromeo’s Church: lace, embroidery and religious vestments
Saint James’s Church: Chasubles in all colours and styles

May 29 – September 30, 2001

The theme of fashion is not unknown even to the churches. Many church textiles have followed fashion closely or have taken on a fashionable life of their own. Here, however, a certain fashion lasts much longer. Because these religious textiles remain stored in sacristy cupboards and, due to less use, hardly ever see daylight, the 2001 fashion year was an opportunity to bring these ecclesiastical fashions out of the closet once again. Three churches in Antwerp opened their wardrobes: Saint Andrew’s, Saint Charles Borromeo’s and Saint James’. Each church highlighted one or more themes.

Explanation of the title

‘Dressed differently, worn differently’ divides the clothing in three sections:

  • The functional garments used for religious worship are soon transformed into hieratic, solemn garments: dressed differently. But not every parish or monastic community can afford to make new expensive vestments. That is why existing civilian garments are often gratefully used. Thanks to donations, the same fabrics are recycled for a new, ecclesiastical use and thus worn differently. Civic textiles become church garments.
  • A priest dresses differently for church services than he does in everyday life. By dressing differently in the sacred celebration, he is stimulated to behave differently in office: he does not just stand there, does not just do anything, he acts here in front of the community on behalf of Jesus. Clothing can help to experience the ordinary, everyday acts of celebration differently. Clothes become garments.
  • As a rule, consecrated men or women dress differently from others. For the religious are not concerned with special sacred celebrations, but with their whole concrete way of life, which wants to be a reference to God. To confirm this choice of life for themselves and not to waste time in front of the wardrobe and the mirror, they do not wear changing fashionable clothes, but wear the same kind of clothes every day. To make their orientation towards God clear to others and to protect it, they wear a recognisable sign all over their bodies. And in order not to arouse envy in their fellow sisters and brothers and to give witness (also to the outside world) to their common ideal and their mutual brotherly and sisterly love, they wear a uniform habit. Clothing becomes a habit.

The Saint Andrew’s Church could show off the wardrobe of Our Lady. It surprises everyone to see what a (colour-) rich wardrobe such a processional statue of Our Lady has: a material proof of Mary’s popularity. A separate phenomenon here is the recycling of beautiful 18th-century ball gowns into such a Madonna cloak.

Saint Charles Borromeo’s Church, with its lace room, focuses on lace, embroidery, and habits: “hyper- and anti-fashionable”.

Lace as an additional refinement in the liturgy. The use of lace decoration is strikingly parallel between civil and ecclesiastical textiles. In the 17th century, it was stately and decorative, both on flat collars and on cuffs. In the 18th century, it was refined and frivolous, both on bonnets and sleeve cuffs and on corporals and choir shirts. We are pleased to make a link here with the exhibition in the Rockox House, which is devoted to bourgeois fashion.

Embroidery – chinoiseries. In the second half of the 18th century, a fashionable exoticism prevailed as a grateful variant of the rococo’s search for decorative refinement. In the liturgical textiles, (real) chinoiserie is due to the China mission of the Jesuit order, among others.

Religious habits. Those who do not go with the fashion, for whatever (spiritual) reason, somehow follow their own ‘fashion’. Thus, the religious orders have often created their own ‘cut’.

Saint James’ Church has the richest collection of church vestments: ‘chasubles in all colours and styles’. Spread over some twenty side chapels, you can follow the evolution of liturgical vestments, from the figurative 16th century Passion vestment – the oldest preserved in Antwerp – to stylised contemporary creations. And if you want to make a chasuble yourself: read ladies’ magazines from the early 20th century.

This exhibition was a collaboration between:

  • Tourisme Pastoral Antwerpen vzw, Workgroup Monumental Churches
  • The churchwardens of the churches involved
  • Sint-Andries 2000 vzw
  • Jacobus Antverpiae vzw