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April 22, 2004
The Begijnhofkerk, or Church of the Beguinages, is a hidden gem with colorful Baroque interiors that have pastel walls reminiscent of Caribbean colors. Constructed from 1629 to 1647, the church has a fancy high altar designed by Jan van der Steen. The exterior of the church is sadly surrounded by rickety looking scaffolding for now, but go inside for an uplifting experience. A great portion of the two former Beguinages in the area have been converted to lovely residences. The little streets in this area are so picturesque with many fine details that display the collective pride of the local residents.
Sint-Janskerk (St. John Church) from the 15th Century has a somewhat plain exterior while housing Baroque furnishings. The main attraction of this church is a triptych by Rubens, "The Adoration of the Magi". Painted in 1619, the model for the face of the Virgin Mary was Isabella Brant, the first wife of Rubens. This impressive work is noted for its contrasts of light and dark. The interiors feature many finely carved wooden elements, like the 17th Century pulpit and the choir. Sint-Katelijnekerk (St. Katherine Church) is located a few blocks northwest of Sint-Rumbold. Its period of construction covers the 13th to the 15th Centuries. This church bears the local Scheldt and Dender Gothic styles prominently used in this region of Flanders.
Sint-Pieter-an-Pauluskerk was the former monastic church of the Jesuits, as its Baroque facade may indicate. This church dates back to 1670. Next to it is a theater that was the Paleis van Margareta van York, a palace in the Late Gothic style built in 1480. Look across the street to find the Paleis van Margareta van Ostenrijk, a complex that was a palace and then served as the seat of the Great Council and as the Palace of Justice. Much of this project was designed by the prolific Rombout Keldermans in 1503, notably the structures around the charming arcaded courtyard and parts of its main facade. The design is one of the earliest examples of Flemish Renaissance architecture.
From journal Bill in Belgium - MECHELEN (side trip from Antwerp)
June 20, 2003
There is no entrance fee, and there was a very friendly man at the little gift shop. He gave us a guide and some postcards for free. The Rubens Chapel contains his grave and the painting he created to be displayed in his chapel. It is entitled Our Lady Surrounded by Saints. There are also some very fine artworks in the church by Jacob Jordaens. I loved the carved choir stalls.
Saint Charles Boremeo
This is a Jesuit Church that, at one time, had a gorgeous collection of Van Dyke and Rubens ceiling paintings.
All of them, 39 in all, were destroyed in a fire in 1718. What a nightmare. The ceilings are plain white now, but the church still has one Rubens. Two other Rubens were taken by the Austrians during their rule, one of which is now on display in the Vienna Kunstmuseum.
The Cathedral of Our Lady
This is the largest Gothic cathedral in the Low Countries. There has been a shrine to Our Lady on this site for over 1,000 years. This cathedral is in a constant state of restoration. Although the last major renovation was completed in 1993, they are now working to uncover the medieval wall paintings in the Apse Chapels.
This is not only a national treasure, but a vibrant religious community as well. It is the seat of the bishop of Antwerp.
The cathedral is esthetically pleasing and artistically well endowed. There is a Rubens almost everywhere you look, four major works in all.
There is also the Murillo of St. Francis and the Assumption of the Virgin by Cornelis Schut in the dome. It is this painting that had photographers on their backs to capture it in a photo. You have the feeling that you can look straight up and into heaven.
On the left wall as you walk in are a row of exceptionally carved confessionals. These are of the pre-Vatican II variety and are almost beautiful enough to make me overcome my aversion to this particular mode of confession.
In Our Lady of Praise Chapel, you will find the Antwerp Madonna.
This is a polychrome wood statue from the 16th century. Every year on the Feast of the Assumption, the statue is placed in the center of the cathedral dressed in her finest robes. Like many devotional statues, she has her own wardrobe.
There is a 2€ entrance fee, which we all gladly paid. I felt privileged to be able to help maintain this great cathedral.
From journal Antwerp-The Flemish Gem