Antwerpen’s Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekathedraal (The Cathedral of Our Lady) was constructed between 1352 and 1521. Those were the days that no-one cared much about a building period of almost 170 years, say 7 (8?) generations. The result deserves only superlatives – our vocabulary proves insufficient, so you think of something yourself. The Cathedral pictured, as seen from the –evenly stunning- Grote Markt (Great Market Square).
Just one, the north one, of the initially two planned towers is finished. Its construction took a century causing its style to develop from a robust gothic lower part to a refined late gothic upper part. The lower parts are heavy and square with few ornaments, whereas the tower’s higher parts are more and more rich ornamented and opened out. How on earth did they do it? One inevitably tends to think about the number of people that had an accident during the construction period.
Some facts and figures about the cathedral. The north tower reaches 123 meters (404 feet) into the sky, the unfinished south tower 65,3 meters (217 feet). The north tower is the highest church tower in the Benelux, beating ‘our’ Dom Tower (Utrecht) by over 10 meters (35 feet). On the inside the cathedral’s length is 118 meters (almost 400 feet) and the maximum width 53,5 meters (almost 180 feet). The cathedral consists of 7(!) naves, 125 columns and 128 windows – among them 55 stain glassed. During the age of guilds (and craftsmen) every one of them had their own altar; there have been 57(!) of them in the past. A carillon of 49 bells is played on Monday, Wednesday and Friday at noon. There are 6 bells used for ringing. The Carolus-bell, dating from 1.507, is the heaviest weighing almost 6,5 tonnes. We read somewhere that 16 men are needed to ring the Carolus-bell!
Of course a few pictures of the cathedral’s interior are taken. This one shows the central nave. Works of art are on display in the side naves – some permanent, some temporarily because the Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten Antwerpen (KMSKA) (Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp) is closed for another three years due to renovation.
Already visible on the last picture: the cathedral’s oak pulpit, crated in 1713 by Michiel van der Voort (1667 – 1737) for the Sint-Bernardusabdij at Hemiksen (Antwerpen). The pulpit is inside the cathedral since 1804. It’s a long story, of course. We confine ourselves to the mix of styles, being naturalism, baroque as well as rococo. It belongs unmistakeable to the top of Flemish sculpture.
Confessional boxes keep attracting our attention – it must have to do with our upbringing. There are three large pieces of wainscoting, serving also as confessional boxes. The priest, sitting, could serve a sinner, of course kneeling, on either side – it’s all well visible when looking carefully at the picture. Do we need to say anything about the sculpturing? Twelve apostles and twelve women, all life-sized, are part of it all – the women representing virtues like penitence (with a whip – and more) and so on. It’s just stunning.
A richly ornamented altar, almost giving a hint of being slightly kitschy, in one of the side-naves.
Tombstones in a cathedral’s floor are always interesting too. The ones in this cathedral are even more interesting as the used language, apart from the inevitable Latin, is often old Flemish/Dutch. ‘Stirf’ (died) now would be ‘stierf’; ‘iuly’ (July) is now ‘juli’; ‘huysv.’ (housewife) is nowadays ‘huisv(rouw)’ (more modern, of course, ‘echtgenote’ (wife or spouse)); ‘meert’ (March) is now ‘maart’ and ‘jonghman’ (young man) nowadays probably would be jr. ‘Desem’ is (D)december in English as well as Dutch at present. ‘Gesteelycke’??? We’d like to know. ‘Jonghe dochter’ (young daughter) is still the same in Dutch, minus the letter h. Surprisingly the addition ‘jr’ is only used in case of a male person in our era – surely? The last one: 9bris – must be ‘septembris – (S)september.
Works of art now – all on display inside the cathedral. This one is called ‘Het gevecht van de Opstandige Engelen’ (‘The Fall of the Rebel Angels’), altarpiece of the fencers, painted by Frans Floris (de Vriendt) (1519/1520 – 1570). The members of the fencers-guild were in charge of maintaining public order and defending the city. The guild’s patron is the Archangel Michael, here defending the heavens with his angels.
‘Aanbidding van (door?) de Herders’ (‘Admiration of (by?) the Sheperds’), again by Frans Floris (de Vriendt), altarpiece of the gardeners. Mary presents the newborn Christ tot the sheperds who have come running with simple gifts.
‘Aanbidding van (door?) de Koningen’ (‘Adoration of (by?) the Magi’) by Artus Wolffort (or Wolffaert) (1581 – 1641), altarpiece of the tailors. It looks rather exotic, focusing on the Magi’s splendid robes.
The first one of four stunning works of art by the great Peter Paul (also Pieter Paul, Pieter Pauwel or Petrus Paulus) Rubens (1577 – 1640). Without any doubt more about him on a later occasion. This one is called ‘De Kruisoprichting’ (The Elevation of the Cross’) (1609-1610). See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Elevation_of_the_Cross_(Rubens).
Next we see the second Rubens ‘De Kruisafneming’ (‘The Descent from the Cross’) (1611-1614). See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Descent_from_the_Cross_(Rubens).
Followed by the third Rubens ‘De Verrijzenis van Christus’ (The Resurrection of Christ’) (1611-1612). This time more information in Dutch, see https://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/De_verrijzenis_van_Christus_(Rubens).
‘Wonderbare visvangst’ (‘Miraculous catch of fish’) probably by Hans van Elburcht (? - ?) (large middle-panel) and Ambrosius Francken (1544/1545 – 1618) (surroundings), altarpiece for, guess who, the fish-merchants. After the resurrection Jesus returned to earth and made the apostle Petrus the first pope.
The last, fourth, one by Rubens ‘De Hemelvaart van Maria’ (‘The Assumption of the Virgin Mary into Heaven’) (1625-1626). Of course this is a main work of art for this cathedral, as it is named after the Holy Virgin. It decorates the main altar and is visible in the distance on the fourth picture.
Again the assumption of the Virgin Mary, by Conelis Schut (1597 – 1655). This decoration of the dome, created in 1647, is surprisingly made on canvas, placed 43 meters (143 feet) up high and has a diameter of 5,8 meters (19 feet). The skilled use of perspective creates the impression as if the dome opens up to heaven.
A more detailed picture of the same. It’s difficult to suppress the impulse to lay down on the floor and look at it at length.