Antwerpen Belgium

Old City centre seen from across the river Scheldt.

Antwerp Kathedral logo

Onze Lieve Vrouw kathedral Antwerp, anno 2009

The churches of Antwerp

There are 72 churches in Antwerp which are still used as parish churches, with parish priests assisted in his pastoral duties by government who pays these priests during their life service and provide for the pension in their old days. There was more churches in the past but today, progressing laicization created the situation that even with 72 parish churches for almost 490 000 people (about 7000 people per one parish) most of the churches provide for only one liturgical service per week, typically on Sunday before noon.

Historical Perspective

Some of the Antwerp’s churches have gained the status of historical monuments. These are the churches that were built during the Golden Age of Antwerp – i.e. 16th and the beginning of 17th century. They are used as parish churches for Antwerp citizens living in the neighborhood as well as museum buildings open to the public during defined time intervals. There is also one monumental church that was converted to the musical concert hall.

It is a bit strange because religion play important role in the Antwerp and in Belgian history. During the Golden Age in 16th century the Catholic Church in Antwerp got two strong competitors, the Calvinists that arrive from France and the Lutherans that arrived from German lands. There was quite strong religious discussion which church is correct. There were from time to time brutal acts of the reformatted believers during which they were going from church to church destroying holly paintings that Calvinists and Lutherans have seen as a sin.

The picture on the right is showing such acts of devastation that were even given the name of "iconoclasm".

Philippe II

Finally, the religious revolution of the Reformation erupted in violent riots in August 1566, as well as in other parts of the Low Countries. The following summer Philip II (on the left picture) sent the Duke of Alba (on the right picture) at the head of an army to bring order and catholic belief in Antwerp and the neighborhood. It became the beginning of the end for Antwerp prosperity.

When the more soft approach did not provide for any results, five years later the fighting got more serious and the Eighty Years War broke up.

Duke of Alba

In 1576 Spanish soldiers plundered the city massacring 6,000 citizens and burning 800 houses. More than 2 million sterling of damage was done.

Antwerp became the capital of the Dutch revolt. In 1585, Alessandro Farnese, Duke of Parma and Piacenza, finally captured the city after a long siege and as part of the terms of surrender its Protestant citizens were given two years to settle their affairs before quitting the city. From this time on the Catholic Religion was forced back to Antwerp and a number of new churches have been built.

When in 1830 the Belgian revolution broke up the revolutionists one of the argument of the Brussels revolutionists was religion. The Flanders including Brussels and Wallonia were all catholic when the United Provinces (today’s The Netherlands) were mostly Protestants. And today we finally got almost empty churches with one service per week.