Monday, June 9, 2014

Onze Lieve Vrouwekathedral

Antwerp, Belgium

Onze Lieve Vrouwekathedral and friend.
For how close Belgium is, I have spent relatively little time exploring the neighboring country. My main experience there was when we passed through on my first visit to the Netherlands. We were supposed to have a connecting train in Brussels that would take us to Holland, but when we got there the track was closed due to a gas leak. In order to get around the leak, all the would-be train passengers were packed onto buses where we stood for the over an hour bus ride to Antwerp. Except some of the roads winding through the small towns were also closed, prompting detours across unpaved alleys riddled with potholes that made sure we got to know our fellow passengers a little better. I held my breath that the overloaded bus wouldn't sink into the deep mud.

Some distinctive Belgian buildings. Grote Markt, Antwerp.

When we finally arrived in Antwerp, the magnificent train station was a welcoming beacon of relief. It is still, I think, the most beautiful I've seen. Remembering this, I decided it was time to pay another visit to the city and make a proper exploration.

The cathedral entrance.
One of the main attractions is the Onze Lieve Vrouwekathedral. Considering that the towering spire dominates the city center skyline, it is indeed a hard site to miss. According to the history on the website, construction began in 1352, with original plans calling for two towers. It was to become the largest Gothic church in the low countries. However, completion was disrupted by a fire in 1533, and after damage during conflict between the Catholics and Protestants and later looting by French revolutionaries, repairs were undertaken in various architectural styles.

Even if you are not Catholic, cathedrals such as this one are a great place to see amazing artwork and craftsmanship. Onze Lieve Vrouwekathedral has on display many original paintings by masters such as Peter Paul Rubens, who lived in Antwerp.
Paintings are displayed everywhere you look.
The Raising of the Cross, Rubens, 1610
Don't forget to look up! The Assumption of the Virgin, Cornelis Schut

Besides the paintings, there are plenty of finely carved wooden statues. Some are diminutively tucked around corners and in cubby holes to unexpectedly catch your gaze with their vivid expressions. Others are arranged in a long row lining one wall, a procession of men and women in various states of emotion.

The stone carvers also made their mark, with finely decorated altars bathed in jeweled sunlight streaming through stained-glass.

Window representing various trade unions.

Those excited by dates and history will be interested in the many internment stones dating from the 17th and 18th centuries. The degree of wear on these stones also suggest which areas had the highest amount of foot traffic over the years, with several worn almost completely smooth by millions of feet shuffling in slow awe.

Onze Lieve Vrouwekathedral
Groenplaats 21 (near the Grote Markt)
Open Daily
Entrance € 6,00, kids under 12 free

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