The Cathedral in Antwerp, largest gothic church in Belgium and the Netherlands, was
begun in 1350 and took 200 years to build. The massive neo-gothic entrance, rebuilt in
1903, was a show-stopper for us with its massive detailed concentric arches. Once
inside, we found a friendly English-speaking staff who collected small entrance fees and
answered a few questions.
In our quest for the biggest and the best, we were determined to admire the beauty of the
structure and the overall effect of its decoration rather than gazing endlessly at the 4 Rubens masterpieces contained there. (We had just seen so many of these at RubensHuis, and we didn’t want them to overshadow our appreciation of the Cathedral.) This was not difficult. Endless detail of fine craftsmanship led me to exclaim to my friend: "It took as many people to build this as to create the internet!" A
harmonious coming-together of diverse talents always inspires me with awe!
My friend and I had to take turns with the camera. He kept zooming in on minute details
of craftsmanship; I, master designer by choice, admired the nave and chapel "scenes" here and there where "perfect beauty" could not be improved. For him, the meticulous carving of oak choir stalls and pulpit was intriguing; for me, the engineering of lightfall on the high altar was miraculous--and there was that Rubens!
The Assumption of Our Lady was the most colorful, most dramatic decoration about the scene. High in front of it, a beautiful
gold cross directed attention up to the light through the stained glass and finally to a
frescoed ceiling: a repetition of The Assumption theme by Cornelis Schut, a contemporary of Rubens. In his own house, Rubens’ work could not appear so magnificent, but here, it was surrounded by painstaking effect, more than any one master could reproduce at home, no matter how he tried. (See entry "Rubenshuis.")
Proceding now to the tomb of Jan Moretus and Martina Plantin, the Antwerp printers whose museum home I had not time to see, I would view Rubens’ The Resurrection of Christ, which the painter himself designated for these friends. Beautiful! Yes, the master’s huge book collection was partly ordered in their printing shop. Here in the Cathedral, the society of early 17th-Century Antwerp was preserved.
We still had to see The Raising of the Cross and The Descent from the Cross in the transepts left and right of the high altar. Again, honored positions in the lovely church presented the masterpieces to their best advantage.
It was dark when we exited the church. From the the market square, the Brabantine gothic form 120 meters high shined gold for all the community to find their way, as the masters had. (See photo, Grote Markt entry.)