With construction having started in 1352 A.D., after 169 years of construction, the cathedral of Antwerp — Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekathedraal (OLV, or Cathedral of Our Lady) – finally dominated the Antwerp skyline in 1521 with a height of 123 meters (400 feet). It is the highest Gothic building in the Low Countries. The Cathedral is an iconic treasury, with an impressive collection of major art works, including a series of paintings by Peter Paul Rubens. Following a 20-year restoration, the cathedral has been restored to its former architectural beauty.
We were very impressed with the documentation for visitors besides each major piece of art. There were brief discussions plus three ring binders with details about the art and the religious significance of each piece – in both Dutch and English. This may have been the most well explained art treasury that we have visited in a church, synagogue or mosque! It was very interesting to ponder the questions posed at the end of each notebook description – questions meant to get each viewer to consider the relevance of the artwork to his/her own life and actions.
The City of Antwerp, the diocese and the Cathedral of Our Lady are all dedicated to the Virgin Mary. There are several magnificent representations of the Virgin Mary in the Cathedral. Rubens’ “Assumption of the Virgin Mary” [see photographs, above] graces the altar at the front of the Cathedral. There is also a painting by Cornelius Schut with the same theme, near the main altar. There is a moving marble statue that is quite beautiful, the Maasland Madonna. The devotional statue of the Madonna of Antwerp (“Our Lady”) [see the above photograph] is located in the Chapel of Our Lady where many Antwerp residents light a candle.
Jan Fabre’s sculpture, “The Man Who Bears the Cross”, invites pilgrims and cathedral visitors to pause for reflection. The bronze sculpture also encourages them to try and maintain a spiritual equilibrium, to keep the cross in balance, and to experience first-hand how this affects them.