Lange Nieuwstraat 73A
Collegiate Church | XV-XVII | Gothic | Roman Catholic Church
01 April - 31 October
Mon 14.00 - 17.00
Tue 14.00 - 17.00
Wed 14.00 - 17.00
Thu 14.00 - 17.00
Fri 14.00 - 17.00
Sat 14.00 - 17.00
Sun 14.00 - 17.00
Due to renovation works, the opening hours are subject to change
The Saint-James church is still Antwerp’s starting venue for pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostella. Since time immemorial pilgrims from far and near took the trip to the grave of apostle James the Great, who according to a legend lies in a Roman graveyard in Galicia. Alongside these roads, churches and chapels for the pilgrims were built all over Europe.
In 1404, Saint James’ guild bought a piece of land near the house of pilgrimage next to the Kipdorp (now Saint-James place) to build a chapel that was brought into use in 1415. In 1491 the first stone was then laid of the mighty tower of the current gothic Saint-James church that had to be higher than that of the current cathedral, the Mother church. Due to shortage of funds work had to be stopped regularly, and so the work on the presbytery could only be started at the beginning of the 17th century. During the following 160 years the landlords remained loyal to the Brabant gothic style. After the iconoclasm that wrecked the whole interior, altars were also built in renaissance- and baroque style. In 1656, a chapter was installed in the renovated church, that in 1705 was elevated to ‘Renowned Chapter’.
The church has an overwhelming interior with 23 altars and an extra-ordinary art collection with names like Jordaens, Rubens, Van Balen and the burial chapel of Peter Paul Rubens.
As befits a pilgrim church, the virtues of mercy are central in the iconography.
The original altar of the Saint Roch chapel (1517) depicts in 12 scenes how Saint Roch visited and helped the plague victims on his pilgrimage to Rome. In the apse chapel we can see how Charles Borromeo asks Mary for mercy for the terminally ill and on a tiny painting on the backside of a pillar in the nave, we can see a Trinitarian freeing captured civilians from the hands of a slaver. On the opposite pillar we can see ‘Charity’ handing out coins to 4 boys and girls. The red uniform that the children are wearing is a sign that they were being tutored in the ‘House of Apostles’ in the Rode street, a school founded as a private initiative by canon Hendrik Merchier to educate the poor. They received the typical red uniform as a gift. On the other side, banker Lantschot lets us know on his gravestone how he hoped to receive divine mercy for his charity.
KIKIRPA : Photo-library online
The south side of the gothic church, the sunny side of choice, formed the right space to be dedicated to the devotion of Jesus and the Holy Communion. During Holy Communion the sacred host is consecrated to His Body in the name of Jesus Christ. This tangible sign of Jesus’ presence is considered to be the most important amongst the 7 sacraments, hence the name “the Holy of Holies’ or from the Latin ‘the Venerable’, the sacrosanct Sacrament.
The altar painting “The Last Supper” of Cornelis van Dale dates back from 1590. Jesus took bread during the Seder, broke and shared it with the following words: “Take and eat, this is My Body, given up for you”. The essence of the love willing to sacrifice itself. The communion rails, a kneeling rail to receive Jesus with more respect in receiving the Sacred Host, is an unparalleled master piece by Willem Kerrickx and Hendrik Verbruggen (1696).
Since centuries Saint James and Antwerp are inseparably connected to the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella. The core of going on a pilgrimage is to start the journey with a heart yearning, in the expectation of coming closer to God in silent intimacy. It is as though one would be ‘praying with his feet’, something that keeps on inspiring pilgrims to this very day.
Marble sculpture of Jan Claudius de Cock (ca. 1721).
James the Great is represented as an apostle by means of a book. One can recognise him as well as a pilgrim due to his cloak covered with scallops and his walking stick with calabash. Next to him lies a hat. The flanking attributes allude to his dignity as well as his martyrdom: a bishop’s mitre and a sword.
The idea for a burial chapel in the parochial church of Rubens was more the Fourment family’s idea than of Peter Paul Rubens himself, who would probably would have preferred to been buried with his own family in the Saint Michael abbey. Nevertheless, he agreed with the new project on his death bed on the 17th of May 1640 and lists his last will as “thereby choosing burial in the parochial church of Saint James”.
Altar painting Our Blessed Lady with Child worshiped by Saints (P. P. Rubens, 1634). Mary sits on a marble bench in front of a doorway covered with foliage, while she is being crowned by cherubs with a garland. She herself also acts as a throne for her little boy. The arch child which is Jesus on her lap cheerfully looks up to his mother and playfully puts out his hands towards an unknown kneeling bishop.
Faithful to the medieval tradition in which Mary holds a place of honour on the right side of Jesus on the cross, the Mary chapel is also situated on the right side of the cruciform shape of the church. Right and left ought not to be interpreted as from the viewpoint of the visitor, but rather by viewpoint of the person who lies at the heart of this church building: Jesus.
In the niche above the baroque altar of Sebastian van den Eynde (1664) stands a bigstatue of Mary: Our Blessed Lady, Help of Christians. The remarkable screw pillars are in full bloom with the floral symbols of Mary. The white marble altar platform shows us a rosary with little roses as beats, even the little cross consists of these little flowers.
In 1673 the twenty-year-old Dorothea Janssen standing near the sculpture of Mary is healed from a cancerous lump in the chest, which leads to her conversion to Catholicism out of gratitude and is the start of an ever increasing devotion to Mary.
Sculpture by Artus Quellin the Old (1660). On her lap Mary carries the dead body of Jesus. She gently supports his head while holding up her left hand begging towards God.
Roch healed a sick cardinal and was brought to the Pope as an expression of gratitude. After three years Roch left to return home. On his way he healed the ill and blessed the dying.
Everyone who would like to get to know the life story of Saint James can go to the series of 12 Saint James panels (dated 1517). Saint Roch was celebrated on the 16th of August. Date of birth and death aren’t known.