Built between 1352 and 1521 as one of the world’s tallest buildings, Antwerp’s majestic cathedral still dominates the city’s skyline. Inside are magnificent canvases painted by Rubens.
The Onze-Lieve-Vrouwe-Kathedraal (Cathedral of our Lady) is a masterpiece of lace work in stone.
Begun in 1352, it is one of the finest Gothic buildings in Europe. The church, which became a cathedral in 1559 replaced a Romanesque church built in the twelfth century. The last vestiges of that church were demolished in 1481.
The overall design of the Antwerp Cathedral is attributed to Jean Appelmans, also known as Jean Amel de Boulogne, although the construction was most likely headed by De Waghemakere. A nineteenth-century monument at the base of the southern spire commemorates the architect.
The choir and nave were built first between 1352 and 1411. The west front was built later, between 1422 and 1474.
The last part, the tower, was finished in 1518. Of the two planned towers, only the northern one was built. The octagonal portion of the tower, constructed between 1501 and 1507 was designed by Herman de Waghemakere. Inside the tower is a carillon with forty-seven bells. The actual spire was built by Domien de Waghemakere, Antoon Keldermans II, and Rombout Keldermans between 1508 and 1518.
The cathedral was the tallest structure in the Low Countries for several centuries. Even now, the 123 meter (405 feet) tall spire reigns over the city. Partly due to height restrictions in Antwerp, it is still the tallest building in the city. As an example of the aspirations of Antwerp in its golden age, Emperor Charles V laid the first stone of a significant extension, three times the size of the current one, which would make it the largest building on earth. Water damage resulting from a severe fire in the nave in 1533, which destroyed the ceiling and the Gothic furniture, prevented the construction of this megalomaniac project.
The wide central nave is flanked by three aisles on each side, creating a huge interior space with forty-eight pillars in each aisle. The cathedral has a length of 117 meters and a width of 65 meters at its widest point (384 x 213 ft.).
In 1566 and again in 1581, the interior of the cathedral was badly damaged by the Calvinists during the iconoclastic furies. In the eighteenth century, the French even threatened to demolish the building entirely. Fortunately, the city architect could hold off those plans. During the French occupation, most of the interior was sold by the French.
Despite all the plundering, some major art treasures have survived. The most notable are three large paintings by Rubens: Descent from the Cross (1612), Elevation of the Cross (1610) and the Resurrection Triptych (1612). There are many more notable objects inside like altars, confessionals, statues and the pulpit. The main relic that survived the Middle Ages is the bronze tomb of Isabella of Bourbon. The cathedral also features thirty-four huge stained-glass windows.
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