When we arrived in Antwerp we did what we often do, check in with the local tourist information office to get a map, mass transit map and timetable and to buy tram tickets. The women at the desk told us we had to be sure to visit Antwerp’s two cathedrals. I knew of only one and with its tall spire you can’t miss it. It was the first thing I saw when I opened the drapes to our room. She smiled and said “Antwerp Centraal is our other cathedral.”
With a mass transit pass it’s hard to miss Antwerp Centraal. It is the hub of the city and a beautiful railway station, according to a Newsweek poll, one of the fifth most beautiful in the world. It was built in neo-Gothic style in 1905 but has had a through refit to handle trains, trams and the metro with shops and resting areas.
The Cathedral of Our Lady dominated the Antwerp skyline and sits in the middle of the old town. Part of its spire is under scaffolding for renovation but the scaffolding does not detract from its presence. We walked by several times. On Saturday late afternoon, with the sun at an angle that could cast interesting shadows we decided to go in. The Cathedral normally closes at 3 PM Saturday and we would have missed going in except that our travel luck held. On our way across the square a man approached us with a box of votive candles. Apparently it was free blessings night at the cathedral. Normally you put a coin in the box to get a candle and light it with a prayer but this Saturday night cathedral parish members were out on the square, handing out candles, and inviting us in. “You must know someone who needs a blessing.” I thought it was a wonderful way to invite us to church, and indeed with a new grandson we were in the market for blessings.
The parish was started in 1124. Construction on the current church building started in 1352. The spire rose above the rest of the skyline in about 1520. The building was completed in 1521 and was named a cathedral in 1559. Between then and 1585 it was ransacked twice by Calvinists. It burned once. In 1794 it was sacked during the French Revolution and in 1816, after Napoleon got the sack, the treasures of the cathedral were returned, including the Rubens paintings. The current restoration is almost complete. Of course the treasures of the Cathedral are four Peter Paul Rubens paintings. The one in my picture is Christ’s Descent from the Cross.