Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Antwerp: Onze Lieve Vrowe Kathedraal

The chapel, which stood here in the twelfth century, was replaced twice until it became a huge church. It was around that parish church that building work on the present Cathedral started in about 1352. The last vestiges of the original church were demolished in 1481.
After 169 years of building the north tower raised up, like lacework in stone, 123 metres high above Brabant and Flanders. The largest Gothic construction in the Netherlands was complete. Yet this parish church did not satisfy the aspirations of the powerful and opulent Antwerp. Even in the year of its completion (1521) Emperor Charles V laid the first stone for a gigantic extension. However, it amounted to little more than that, not least because work was brought to a standstill by a severe fire in the nave (1533).
Today little remains of the original furnishings. The church - which became a cathedral in 1559 - suffered not only from the fire but also from repeated plundering: the iconoclast (1566), Calvinist purging (1581) and looting in the French period (from 1794). And yet the Cathedral is still an enormous treasure chamber, preserving works like the ‘Descent from the Cross’ and the ‘Elevation of the Cross’ by Rubens. Moreover, the architecture of the seven-aisled church has again been restored to its full splendour after twenty years of restoration work.


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