Cathedral of Our Lady Antwerp

For more than a thousand years in Antwerp, people have honoured and revered Our Blessed Lady, who is the patroness of both the city and the Cathedral. From the 9th through the 12th Century, where the cathedral now stands, there was a small Chapel of Our Lady, which in 1124 acquired the status of parish church. In the course of the 12th Century, a larger, Romanesque church replaced it. From wall and foundation remains, it appears that it was 80 meters long and 42 meters wide and that it must have looked more or less like the St. Maria im Kapitol in Cologne.

In 1352, the construction was begun for a new church, which would become the largest Gothic church in the Netherlands. Originally it was the intention to provide the church with two towers of equal height.

In 1521, after nearly 170 years, the Church of Our Lady was completed. After the new church was gutted by fire in large part during the night of the 5-6th of October 1533, all energy and means went to its reconstruction. The completion of the second tower was delayed, which in fact led to its abandonment. Moreover, only in 1559 was it made the Diocese church of Antwerp and thus a cathedral, though again it lost this title from 1801 until 1961 because the Diocese was dissolved during this period. As an architectural work, constructed primarily of raw and white natural stone, the Cathedral of Our Lady is an impressive example of Brabant Gothic. Belonging to the most important characteristics of it are a decorative integration of architectural and sculptural art, a sober and open interior architecture that is based upon a complex construction, spatial and vertical effects, and a subtle play of light and shadow. The church has a high northern tower and a lower southern one, an octagonal lantern, or crossing tower, with an onion-shaped top, seven aisles, a crossing aisle, a choir, an ambulatory choir and five choir chapels and six side-oriented chapels. A century was spent on the construction of the northern tower, by which its style evolves from a robust High Gothic one below to a refined Late Gothic above. The lower portions are heavy and square, with very few ornaments, while higher up the tower is increasingly more richly decorated and airy. The spire looks like stone lacework.

The fire of 1533 is by far not the only disaster by which the cathedral was troubled. Merely 33 years later, during the Iconoclasm of 20 August 1566, the Protestants destroyed a large part of the precious interior. In 1581, when Antwerp came under Protestant rule, again a number of art treasures and furniture were destroyed, removed or sold. Only after 1585 with the restitution of the Roman Catholic authority did peace return. Two centuries later another disaster struck. In 1794, the French revolutionaries took over our regions, by which the Cathedral of Our Lady was plundered and severely damaged. Around 1798 the French even toyed with the idea of leveling the building. However, after each blow, the Cathedral knew how to restore itself. In 1816 various important works of art, amongst which three masterpieces by Rubens, returned from Paris. Spread out over the 19th Century the church was completely restored and refurbished. Between 1965 and 1993 a complete restoration once again took place.

In the Cathedral of Our Lady four masterpieces by Peter Paul Rubens are to be found: The Raising of the Cross (1609-1610), Triptych with the Resurrection of Christ (1611-1612), Descent from the Cross (1611-1614) and Assumption of the Virgin (1625-1626). Throughout the Cathedral several works by Baroque artists such as Otto van Veen, Maerten de Vos, Hendrick van Balen I, Cornelis Schut I and Artus Quellinus II are to be found.

Eight monumental altarpieces from the collection of the Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp (KMSKA) are the showpieces of the exhibition Reunion. From Quinten Metsijs to Peter Paul Rubens. Masterpieces from the Royal Museum reunited in the Cathedral in the Antwerp Cathedral of Our Lady. The exhibition was supposed to end in November 2009 but it has been extended until the reopening of the KMSKA in 2017.