Antwerp Cathedral of Our Lady with magnificent four Rubens paintings – Mass times and Opening hours

Cathedral of Our Lady Antwerp, Groenplaats, Antwerp, Belgium

Website of the Sanctuary

32 (0)3 213 99 51

Monday - Friday: 10.00 - 17.00. Saturday 10.00 - 15.00. Sundays and public holidays 13.00 - 16.00

An average of 320,000 visitors each year visit the cathedral, the largest Gothic church in the Low Countries

In the Antwerp Cathedral, there are no less than four works by Peter Paul Rubens on display, the best known and versatile Antwerp Baroque painter.

Three paintings – including some masterpieces from the 17th Century – were made by Rubens specially for this Cathedral; a fourth work of art was acquired by the Cathedral after the French occupation.

For more than a thousand years now, Antwerp Catholics have honored and revered Our Lady, who is the patroness of both Antwerp and the Antwerp Cathedral.

Where the Cathedral now stands, there was a small chapel of Our Lady from the ninth to the twelfth century, which acquired the status of parish church in 1124.

Interesting facts about the cathedral 

  • The north tower of the Our Lady’s Cathedral is 123 meters high, the south tower 65.30 meters, the central aisle 28 meters and the lantern- or crossing-tower where the nave and transepts meet 43 meters.
  • On the interior, the Cathedral is 118 meters long. At the crossing, it is 67 meters wide. The maximum breadth of the nave is 53.50 meters.
  • The total surface area of the floor is 8,000 square meters. At big events, 2,400 seats can be provided for. In principle, the Cathedral can hold 25,000 people.
  • The surface area of the roof amounts to more than 10,000 square meters.
  • The Cathedral has 7 bays, 125 columns and 128 windows (of which 55 are stained-glass).
  • In the time of the guilds and trade associations, each of which had its own altar, there were 57 permanent altars distributed throughout the Cathedral.
  • The nineteenth-century Schyven organ has 90 registers and 5,770 pipes.
  • The Cathedral has a carillon with 49 bells at its disposal.
  • Of the bells that can be rung, the Karolus, which dates from 1507 and weighs 6,434 kilograms, is the heaviest.
  • Maintenance of the Cathedral costs 1.5 million euros per year.
  • Every year, approximately 360,000 people visit the Cathedral.

Antwerp Cathedral of Our Lady with magnificent four Rubens paintings - Mass times and Opening hours

During the course of the twelfth century, it was replaced by a larger Romanesque church. From wall and foundation remains, it appears that this church was 80 meters long and 42 meters wide, and must have looked something like St. Maria im Kapitol in Cologne.

Visiting hours of the Antwerp Cathedral of Our Lady

  • Monday – Friday: 10.00 – 17.00
  • Saturday 10.00 – 15.00
  • Sundays and public holidays 13.00 – 16.00

Entrance fee:

  • for individual visitors: € 6,00
  • in groups (min. 20 pers.) + students + 60+:     € 4,00
  • children under 12: free

Mass times of the Cathedral

Monday – Friday: 16.00

Saturday: 16.00 *, 17.00 * in English

Sundays and public holidays: 09.00, 10.00 **, 12.00 *, 17.00 vespers

*with organ
**with choir and organ

History

In the tenth century, a small chapel in honour of the Virgin was already situated where the present Cathedral of Our Lady is now located. After the establishment of the parish in 1124, the chapel was enlarged into a Romanesque church.

This is where in between 1350 and 1520, the largest Gothic church in the Low Countries was constructed, originally with five aisles and later seven. At the time of the establishment of the Diocese of Antwerp in 1559,

Our Lady’s church was elevated to the status of Cathedral or Episcopal Church. This masterpiece of Brabant Gothic style was not spared through the course of history.

The church was ravaged by fire in 1533 and plundered and damaged during iconoclasms in 1566 and 1581. It also suffered under the confiscation by the French revolutionaries in 1794. But time and again it triumphed over adversity.

Antwerp Cathedral of Our Lady with magnificent four Rubens paintings - Mass times and Opening hours

After the fall of Antwerp in 1585, it was fitted out in Baroque style; after the French revolution, at the end of the 18th century and beginning of the 19th century, it was once again redesigned to incorporate Neo-styles.

At the end of the twentieth century, a programme of scientific restoration was started: first the western façade, the portals and the towers; followed by the interior, the nave and the choir. Restoration of the radiating chapels and further outside restoration are next on the agenda.

The Our Lady’s Cathedral of Antwerp reconciles ‘being’ with ‘becoming’.

For five centuries, its north tower, which points toward God like a finger, has dominated the silhouette of the city without changing. But during that same period, the Cathedral was repaired and refurnished repeatedly.

It assembles the various styles of the times – gothic, renaissance, baroque, rococo, and so on – without ever taking on a definitive form.

The Cathedral harbors, for example, a marble statue of the madonna from the fourteenth century. Some of the wall paintings date from the fifteenth century.

The stately devotional statue ‘Our Lady of Antwerp’ in the Mary chapel is Sixteenth century. The four baroque masterpieces by Rubens first saw the light of day in the beginning of the seventeenth century. A tabernacle in the form of the Ark of the Covenant, just like the large clock on the tower above, is eighteenth century.

The neogothic decoration stems from the nineteenth century. The sculptures that decorate the main portal were added at the beginning of the twentieth century. And as recently as 1993, a Metzler organ was installed above the south entrance to the ambulatory.

Masterpieces of Rubens in the Cathedral

  • The raising of the cross (1609-1610)
  • The resurrection of Christ (1611-1612)
  • The descent from the cross (1611-1614)
  • The assumption of the Virgin (1625-1626)

The Raising of the Cross (1609-1610)

(panels, 460 x 340 cm (middle panel), 460 x 150 cm (side panels)) Peter Paul Rubens 

Rubens originally painted the Raising of the Cross for the high altar of the long-demolished Saint Walburga’s Church, which was situated in front of the Steen castle.

The work of art was brought to the Cathedral in 1816. Rubens was inspired by Italian examples when creating his Raising of the Cross. Chronologically as well as thematically and stylistically, this painting predates Rubens’ Descent from the Cross.

Antwerp Cathedral of Our Lady with magnificent four Rubens paintings - Mass times and Opening hours

The Raising of the Cross (1609-1610)

Rubens (1577-1640) painted The raising of the cross in 1609-1610, when he himself was about the age of the martyred Christ.

Until 1794, this colossal work (central panel: 460 x 340 cm, side panels: 460 x 150 cm) was part of the high altar of the St Walburgis Church, which was later demolished. Hauled away by the French, the triptych was returned to Antwerp in 1815, where since 1816 it has had a central place in the Our Lady’s Cathedral.

In The raising of the cross, Rubens introduced baroque art in the Netherlands after an eight year stay in Italy. The whirling strength, the impelling dynamism that characterize this masterpiece full of drama and pathos are striking. Nevertheless the whole presentation appears coherent and balanced.

The diagonal composition of the central panel, with nine assistant executioners who act in unison, exerting their intensely earthly, carnal strength to raise the cross with the pale Christ, possesses a gruesome beauty.

Here, Rubens has set down the raising of the cross, which until that time had scarcely appeared in the visual arts, in an unprecedentedly expressive, almost tempestuous manner. This relates to Roman-Catholic self-confidence, which was regained during the Counter reformation.

The Resurrection of Christ (1612)

(panels, 138 x 98 cm (middle panel), 136 x 40 cm (side wings) Peter Paul Rubens

For the tomb of Jan Moretus and Martina Plantin – members of the Antwerp printers’ family Plantin Moretus – Rubens chose “The Resurrection of Christ”. Both wings show the patron saints of the donors.

For the married couple Jan Moretus and Martina Plantin, of the renowned Antwerp Plantin-Moretus family of printers, Rubens painted this commemorative triptych in 1611-12 (central panel: 138 x 98 cm, side panels: 136 x 40 cm).

Jan Moretus died in 1610. His widow, who commissioned the work, lived until 1616.

Antwerp Cathedral of Our Lady with magnificent four Rubens paintings - Mass times and Opening hours

The Resurrection of Christ (1612)

The central panel shows Christ, to the alarm of the soldiers shrinking back in the darkness, strong and radiantly rising from his rocky tomb.

This type of tomb was a novelty, since up until then it had been the practice in art to portray the tomb of Christ as a sarcophagus.

The Descent from the Cross (1612)

(panels, 421 x 311 cm (middle panel), 421 x 153 cm (side panels). Peter Paul Rubens

Rubens designed this world famous triptych as an altar piece for the Cathedral, commissioned by the Arquebusiers Guild.

As St. Christopher, patron saint of the guild, carries the Child Christ, each one of the panels refers to the carrying of Christ. The well-balanced and harmoniously proportioned work of art is typified by expressive characters and moderate colours.

Antwerp Cathedral of Our Lady with magnificent four Rubens paintings - Mass times and Opening hours

The Descent from the Cross (1612)

Although painted a few years after The raising of the cross, Rubens to some extent made use of another style for The descent from the cross (1611-1614).

The sense of clarity and serenity are greater here. The light shines more softly. The positions and movements of the figures are more controlled. Overall, the whole painting looks more classical.

Nevertheless, because of its stylish grandeur, monumental character (central panel: 421 x 311 cm, side panels: 421 x 153 cm), diagonal composition, and sense of the dramatic and decorative, this triptych is a paragon of baroque art.

On the central panel eight people carefully take the lifeless Christ from the cross. Starting from the top and moving down, there are two anonymous helpers, then Joseph of Arimathea on the left and Nicodemus on the right; below are Mary, who stretches out her arms toward her son, John, in his fiery red garments, and at the very bottom Mary Cleophas and Mary Magdalen.

Against the flat, dark background the figures light up three-dimensionally, as it were. Together they bear the body of Christ, which they have taken up in a white shroud – a reference to the Corpus Christi and the Eucharist.

Assumption of the Virgin (1626)

(panel, 490 x 325 cm) Peter Paul Rubens

In 1581, the former altar piece was removed. In 1619, Rubens concluded a contract with Johannes del Rio, who was then Dean of the Cathedral and
who had decided to bear the costs for the new altar.

Work was started only in 1625-1626 and was mainly continued onsite. Bright and animated colours enhance the composition’s dynamic movement.

Antwerp Cathedral of Our Lady with magnificent four Rubens paintings - Mass times and Opening hours

Assumption of the Virgin (1626)

It is evident that the imposing oil painting (490 x 325 cm), which has adorned the high altar for nearly four hundred years, is dedicated to the patroness of the Cathedral.

That it depicts the assumption of the Virgin is also self-evident. Although the theme derives from church tradition and is not based on the Bible itself, it was nevertheless especially popular when Rubens made this altarpiece in 1625-1626.

Borne up by a cloud of playful cherubs, light as a feather, with fluttering hair and gown, eyes expectantly turned toward heaven, Mary rises upward from her stone tomb.

To the left, two large angels fly in to crown her with a garland of roses. Below, near the abandoned grave, are the twelve apostles and the three women who according to legend were present at Mary’s death.

Schyven Organ (14.40 metres high, 10.50 metres wide, 5 metres deep)

Schyven (1891) (organ casing: 1657, designed by painter
Erasmus Quellin the Younger (1607 – 1678), sculptures: Pieter
Verbruggen the elder (1616 – 1686)

Behind the existing Baroque organ front carrying sculptures of Saint Cecilia and angels, Pierre Schyven from Brussels built a totally new instrument in 1891.

It is considered one of the most important organs from the Romantic era in this country.

Because of its typically symphonic timbre and its exceptional poetic melodious tone, this organ is especially suitable for organ compositions from the 19th and 20th centuries. It contains four manuals and pedals, 90 stops and 5,770 organ pipes.

Antwerp Cathedral of Our Lady with magnificent four Rubens paintings - Mass times and Opening hours

Metzler Organ (12.20 metres high, 4.30 metres wide, 3.45 metres deep)

Metzler (1993)

This instrument was built by the Metzler company from Zürich, Switzerland. It is mainly intended for the interpretation of works by J.S. Bach and his French contemporaries.

Due to the distinct positioning of the organ pipes and its precise “touch”, the organ is also suitable for many different styles of work from numerous other periods.

Source:

  • Antwerp Cathedral info

Pictures:

  • By Alvesgaspar – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44472913
  • By Alvesgaspar – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44261447
  • By Peter Paul Rubens – http://art.alafoto.com/albums/alphabet/PeterPaulRubens/Peter_Paul_Rubens_-_Raising_of_the_Cross_-_1610.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=48774204
  • By Peter Paul Rubens – Web Gallery of Art: Image Info about artwork, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5100387
  • By Peter Paul Rubens – Own work, Alvesgaspar, 13 July 2015, 14:17:05, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44480931
  • By Peter Paul Rubens – Web Gallery of Art: Image Info about artwork, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15464446

In the Antwerp Cathedral, there are no less than four works by Peter Paul Rubens on display, the best known and versatile Antwerp Baroque painter.

Three paintings – including some masterpieces from the 17th Century – were made by Rubens specially for this Cathedral; a fourth work of art was acquired by the Cathedral after the French occupation.

Master pieces of Rubens in the Cathedral

  • The raising of the cross (1609-1610)
  • The resurrection of Christ (1611-1612)
  • The descent from the cross (1611-1614)
  • The assumption of the Virgin (1625-1626)

Visiting hours

  • Monday – Friday: 10.00 – 17.00
  • Saturday 10.00 – 15.00
  • Sundays and public holidays 13.00 – 16.00

Entrance fee:

  • for individual visitors: € 6,00
  • in groups (min. 20 pers.) + students + 60+:     € 4,00
  • children under 12: free

Guided tours

Under guidance of Cathedral Welcoming Group guides • Individual
In English (depending on availability of the guides):

Monday till Friday:
11 a.m., 2.15 p.m.
3.45 p.m mid July-end August

Saturday:
11 a.m., 2.15 p.m.

Sundays and public holidays:
2.15 p.m.
1 p.m., 3 p.m. mid July-end August
• Groups
Groups are kindly requested to notify the Cathedral Information Service of their visit
beforehand. Professional guidance is available to address specific interests of certain groups.

History

In the tenth century, a small chapel in honour of the Virgin was already situated where the present Cathedral of Our Lady is now located. After the establishment of the parish in 1124, the chapel was enlarged into a Romanesque church.

This is where in between 1350 and 1520, the largest Gothic church in the Low Countries was constructed, originally with five aisles and later seven. At the time of the establishment of the Diocese of Antwerp in 1559,

Our Lady’s church was elevated to the status of Cathedral or Episcopal Church. This masterpiece of Brabant Gothic style was not spared through the course of history.

The church was ravaged by fire in 1533 and plundered and damaged during iconoclasms in 1566 and 1581. It also suffered under the confiscation by the French revolutionaries in 1794. But time and again it triumphed over adversity.

Antwerp Cathedral of Our Lady with magnificent four Rubens paintings - Mass times and Opening hours

After the fall of Antwerp in 1585, it was fitted out in Baroque style; after the French revolution, at the end of the 18th century and beginning of the 19th century, it was once again redesigned to incorporate Neo-styles.

At the end of the twentieth century, a programme of scientific restoration was started: first the western façade, the portals and the towers; followed by the interior, the nave and the choir. Restoration of the radiating chapels and further outside restoration are next on the agenda.

The Our Lady’s Cathedral of Antwerp reconciles ‘being’ with ‘becoming’.

For five centuries, its north tower, which points toward God like a finger, has dominated the silhouette of the city without changing. But during that same period, the Cathedral was repaired and refurnished repeatedly.

It assembles the various styles of the times – gothic, renaissance, baroque, rococo, and so on – without ever taking on a definitive form.

The Cathedral harbors, for example, a marble statue of the madonna from the fourteenth century. Some of the wall paintings date from the fifteenth century.

The stately devotional statue ‘Our Lady of Antwerp’ in the Mary chapel is Sixteenth century. The four baroque masterpieces by Rubens first saw the light of day in the beginning of the seventeenth century. A tabernacle in the form of the Ark of the Covenant, just like the large clock on the tower above, is eighteenth century.

The neogothic decoration stems from the nineteenth century. The sculptures that decorate the main portal were added at the beginning of the twentieth century. And as recently as 1993, a Metzler organ was installed above the south entrance to the ambulatory.

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