Elegance in art and architecture: Cathedral of Our Lady, Antwerp

Interior, Cathedral of Our Lady, Antwerp

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
Arched stained glass window, Cathedral of Our Lady, Antwerp

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.

Cathedral of Our Lady, Antwerp

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.

Details in black and white, Cathedral of Our Lady

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.

The Elevation of the Cross, Peter Paul Rubens
The Descent from the Cross, Rubens, 1612-14
The Descent from the Cross, Peter Paul Rubens
Assumption of the Virgin, Peter Paul Rubens in Cathedral of Our Lady
The Assumption of the Virgin, Peter Paul Rubens

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!

25 thoughts on “Elegance in art and architecture: Cathedral of Our Lady, Antwerp

  1. Pingback: 154 – Design – Beach Walk Reflections: Thoughts from thinking while walking

  2. thehungrytravellers.blog

    So agree with that quote – you don’t have to be devout to appreciate the glory of a place of worship. We are definitely not “people of faith” but it’s very rare that we are not moved by the beauty of a church or cathedral or place of worship of any belief. This one looks stunning.

  3. Toonsarah

    It’s beautiful! And you manged to capture lots of lovely details despite having to stick with your tour. You must have learned a lot from the guide, but on these occasions I always like to go around again on my own to take photos – or preferably not take a tour at all but rely on guidebooks or websites for any info I need! Still, as I say, you did really well to capture and share so much. I love the carvings, wood and stone, in particular 🙂

  4. dawnkinster

    So beautiful! It reminds me of the National Cathedral in Washington DC. Than you for taking us with you as you explored this wonderful place! Great photos!

  5. WanderingCanadians

    The cathedrals in Europe are definitely something else. I love going on church tours, either with a guide or audio-guide as it’s a great way to learn more about the history of the church and the city.

  6. kzmcb

    So spectacular. I spent some moments contemplating the generations that watched the cathedral grow and, in such times, what they thought of it, how they spoke of it in families. To have restoration so soon after completion, I wonder if there was a particular event that damaged it or if, in the slow process of production, it was over exposed to the elements. I guess we’ll never know.

  7. Pat

    Wow, this is really impressive. I love visiting the large cathedrals in Europe and was fortunate to worship in several in Great Britain. I always leave a little uncomfortable, however, wondering how many people lived in poverty so the church could build these. It did employ many people over centuries. It is an interesting issue to think about occasionally.

  8. Armando

    Lovely photos of a memorable place indeed. Thanks for posting them and for your description. Inspiring, as usual!

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