The Antwerp jesuit church, a revelation.

The chapel of Saint Francis Xavier

In the northern aisle, the 1720 wainscoting with a cycle of 20 passages from the life of Saint Francis Xavier ends in an apse with the altar that was devoted to him (1621). Here too the emphasis is on the miraculous aspects, even though the ‘apostle of India’ – as he is called in the arch above the apse – is strongly typified as an enterprising, vigorous and heroic proclaimer of faith. The most important attribute of this missionary is the crucifix he is holding up as a sign of his preaching. Anyway, as a youngster Francis already had an ardent devotion for the crucified Christ. Xavier can mostly be recognized from the white surplice and the stole above the black Jesuit cassock: i.e. the liturgical garments to baptize (converts).

The ‘apostle of India’ mainly worked in Goa, where he founded a college, and at the South coast with the poor and the oppressed. He went a lot about with children and in this way tried to reach also the older ones for Jesus’ message. After having crossed several islands of the Indonesian archipelago, he attempted to establish closer contact with rulers and scientists in his beloved Japan. Finally, they pointed at the land of culture, China. On his way there, the great missionary died on the desert island Sancian in 1552. The day of his death, 3rd December, now is his feast-day. His body lies in Goa.

This missionary, who once and for all had left his family, friends and culture, at a time when one could not fly to and from by plane, left an impressive correspondence. This stimulated many young idealists to become a Jesuit missionary. In his trail, a great deal of Flemings (‘Flamencos’) went to the Far East. One of them was Ferdinand Verbiest, who was appointed chief astronomer and builder of the imperial observatory in Peking (1688). Therefore, the foundation at the Catholic University of Louvain promoting the relationship with China, bears his name.

From Antwerp, these missions to the Far East were provided with religious works of art and especially with thousands of pictures (engravings). The artistic influence was mutual; this is testified by for instance the Chinese liturgical textile in the sacristy.