It wouldn’t be a European tour worth its salt if we didn’t see at least one cathedral. But in Belgium, we saw several — and not just any plain ol’ architectural beauties. Cathedral of Our Lady in Antwerp has distinguished itself as a noteworthy example of Gothic architecture, but it’s also a depository of some of the world’s finest art from Peter Paul Rubens.
You need not to be of faith to sit quietly and contemplate the loveliness of a cathedral.Simon Jenkins, author of England’s Cathedrals
As with many tours of cathedrals, we had too little time and very few moments of silent reflection and contemplation. If it weren’t for our handy iPhones, we might not have been able to snap anything as we walked along, listening via earbuds to our knowledgeable guide and snapping away quickly as we attempted to capture the essence of Cathedral of Our Lady with little time for adjusting light settings.
Even so, we marveled at the construction that began in 1352 and took 169 years to complete. And then later we read that restorations and renovations began in 1533. Today, it’s the tallest cathedral of its kind with a spire reaching 404 feet in height.
The details fascinated us — from the hand carved pulpit to the carvings, flooring, and vaulted ceiling. We especially liked the female brandishing a stick as she “warned” the audience to pay attention to the speaker and remain reverent.
Noteworthy, as well, was the use of the color black to add elegance and distinction to the predominately white interior. Everywhere, the stark contrasts outlined details that might have not been seen otherwise.
We found ourselves pointing out to each other notables worthy of a second look: stained glass windows, carved wooden details, and vignettes celebrating famous people and venerated saints.
But if there could be another reason to visit Cathedral of Our Lady — the main one for many guests, in fact — it would be the magnificent art of Peter Paul Rubens, the artist who painted specifically for this particular building in the early years of the 17th century. We were taken not only with the subject matter, but also the use of movement, the studies of the human body, and the color and composition of each.
Regardless of your religious leanings, Cathedral of Our Lady is worth seeing if you’re in Antwerp. And you’ll be in good company. According to a flyer we received on our Viking cruise, “the cathedral draws an average of 360,000 visitors annually.” And you can see why.
Travel architecturally and culturally,
Rusha & Bert
This post is one in a series prompted by a recent trip to The Netherlands and Belgium. Thank you to Viking cruises (Holland & Belgium 2022) and our travel agent, Lauren Gunnels of Ortelius Travel Advisors, for the arrangements and free time to enjoy the scenery!