The Antwerp jesuit church, a revelation.
The Antwerp jesuit church, a revelation.
The impressive façade was directly inspired by the one of the 40 years older mother church of the order in Rome: the ‘Gesù’ or Jesus’ Church, built by Giacomo della Porta, ca. 1575. A Renaissance or Baroque church front wants to show itself fully, without being hindered by a tower. So, as far as volume and structure are concerned, the front is a far better echo of the building behind it. The combination of a high nave with lower aisles is counterbalanced by big volutes. Also typical is the predilection for the classical order of columns. In fact, this Antwerp ultramodern church of those days was only a new version of an older model since Baroque evolved slowly.
|section (A)||corresponds with a level inside. The crowning of the front, a triangular fronton, is not considered a section as such.
the base of the lowest section of the Antwerp Jesuit church – including three steps – is largely hidden under the present level of the square.
|bay (B)||1 and 7: stairs towers | 2 and 6: aisles | 3–4–5: central nave|
|cornice (D)||always profiled; here partly protruding or recessed|
|volute (E)||(Lat. volutum: scroll) a spiral curl|
|portals (F)||main porch in the centre; smaller porches at the sides|
For a Baroque building the façade is extremely important. It must draw the attention of the passers-by. Rome may be famous for its innumerable Baroque façades, here the effect is stronger and more superb because all possible means have been used, such as the immense dimensions, the dynamic design, the variety in building materials and the lush decoration.
Those who go and have a look behind the screens of this façade, from Grote Goddaert or Minderbroedersrui, will quickly see through the secret of the façade that has been thrown up: the front is no less than 8 m (or 26 ¼ ft.) taller than the ridge of the roof.
It is good to bear in mind where exactly the big window of the central nave is situated in the whole of the front: above it there is the bust of Ignatius and on top of that the fronton. Once you are inside the church, you may become aware of what a gigantic screen this façade is, since it is still 8 m (or 26 ¼ ft.) taller than the big window above the organ. Moreover, to the visible width of the interior the two stair towers should be added!
Initially the dimensions were wonderfully equal in height (without the cross) and in width: 33.2 m (or 109 ft.) so that the façade is inscribed in a perfect square. One cannot think of a better balance, but 4 of the 7 steps have disappeared under the levelled-up square.
The vertical movement is first of all the result of the way the façade has been composed: starting from the cross on top in the middle, the movement softly flows over the slanting sides of the fronton to hasten downwards along the immense volutes and ultimately fall down along the freestanding Ionic columns on the extreme corners of the tall aisles. To this common vertical movement an upward one is added. Both stair towers, which are crowned with an arbour on top, receive the vertical movement from the volutes and lift it once again to make it land on the ground floor. To lift the front from the ground level there is a plinth along it, which is interrupted by stairs consisting of seven steps for each of the three gates. From an aesthetic point of view this base was a starting point of vertical elegance. Now the major part of the plinth is hidden beneath the pavement of the levelled-up square, so that only three steps are still to be seen.
The horizontal dimension is first of all caused by the more or less equal height of the sections.
This is provided by the gigantic volutes, the classical order of columns and pilasters, the partly protruding cornice underneath the 2nd section and the ditto round-arched tympanum, as well as by the slightly backward positioning of the stair towers and their crowning with an arbour.
The warm feeling the façade exhales is mostly due to the cream-coloured sandstone of the load-bearing stones and most sculptural motifs. Contrary to the monotone Baroque façades in Rome, this one is full of contrast because of the grey freestone, used for constructive, more delineating elements such as columns and pilasters, cornices, architraves and volutes, plinth and steps.
. Angels Faces and masks
cartouches – shells festoons – cornucopias – fruit baskets
The strongly profiled architectonic morphology of the Baroque as such already contributes to the decoration:
When you compare this front with the stately Renaissance façade of the Antwerp Town Hall the most striking elements of the Baroque are: the focus on the façade, the dynamic design with a stronger vertical power and the omnipresent decoration. The social function is identical for both buildings: to catch the eye, to impress, to express prestige and identity. The splendour and the exuberant decoration of the church building no doubt reflect the enormous self-awareness of the Catholic Church in the Counter Reformation.
The Baroque façade does not call attention to itself. It proclaims a message of a higher level. Before you enter the church, it is important to know how to read this front message.
In the church – and also in the Church – everything has to do with Jesus. He – the Saviour, the Redeemer, the Messiah – is symbolised by the big gilded cross on top. That Jesus was prepared to give Himself so much as to die on the cross, was stressed in some sketches by Rubens, in which life size angels occur on the fronton. At the far left and right an angel holds an instrument of Jesus’ passion in his hand: the right one three nails of His crucifixion, the left one the lance His heart was pierced with to ascertain death. A third angel would support the cross on top of the façade. However, they remained but sketches.
This Jesus has been sculpted plastically once (by Hans van Mildert) as a child standing on His mother’s knee. He blesses the world, starting with the passers-by on the church square. The gaze of the Madonna enthroned follows this blessing. Because Jesus and Mary are not an ordinary ‘mother and child’ their dignity is accentuated by an elegant canopy, of which the sideways hanging curtain is held up by an angel. In the 17th century the rumour went that this Jesuit’s Madonna could look over the roofs into the Town Hall.
Jesus’ gospel is universal and is passed on from generation to generation by all possible means. The first ones to contribute to this were the four evangelists. Initially their life size statues in their niches formed an X-formation in relation to the Christ monogram in the centre.
Originally the main responsible of the Twelve, Peter, and this other great apostle Paul, also in niches, flanked Jesus’ name in the central escutcheon. Both apostles are often named in one and the same breath, such as for instance in St.-Pieter en St.-Pauwelstraat (Saint Peter and Paul Street) nearby. The Roman Catholic Church is pre-eminently the apostolic church, as it is formulated in the Profession of Faith. This means that its existence and functioning are rooted in the mission of the 12 apostles and in the apostolic succession of popes. The devotion and the mission of Jesus’ apostles, the first companions of Jesus, do form an important keynote for the spirituality of Ignatius, the founder of the order.
Although the six life size statues were hurled down during the French Revolutionary Rule, the corresponding symbols in relief remained in the façade. But the two evangelist symbols at the ground floor were an easy prey for destructiveness. Unfortunately, the 19th century restorers interpreted the damaged winged heads of Mark’s lion and Luke’s ox as angels’ heads. And because angels do not belong to the evangelists Mark and Luke, the new statues of the evangelists were put next to the central medallion on the first floor and consequently both apostles came to stand next to the main porch. The result of this confusion is to be seen till today. A 17th century etching shows that there is no doubt that the apostles Peter and Paul used to be at the first floor. They can clearly be recognized by their attributes: the keys and the sword. Also, the evangelists Mark and Luke on the ground floor can be identified because of their writing pose. The 19th century restorers could easily have avoided their mistake by poring over this etching, which was commonly known.
The four evangelists can be identified by their personal attributes on their bases. Except for Mark they all hold something that refers to writing in their hands. Their current position is as follows:
For the bust of Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, we must look up once again. In fact, the Jesuits wanted this church to be the very first one devoted to him. In the Roman Catholic vision, a church is first of all meant as a house of God, i.e. a space where a community celebrates God, who has revealed himself especially in His Son Jesus. Besides, houses of prayer are also assigned a patron saint, a salutary person who is considered a model and protector; in this way God’s assistance is made more tangible. For the patronage of a church only people the church has canonized officially are appropriate. Such a canonization is done in different stages; you must be beatified first. When the church was consecrated in 1621, Ignatius had not been canonized yet and so the Jesuits had to appeal to an official saint. They soon chose Jesus’ mother, Mary, who plays a very important role in Ignatius’ spirituality. That is why the Madonna and child are enthroned in the fronton of the façade, whereas underneath we can see Ignatius’ bust, which was originally made in marble, white (the head) and black (the cassock): two monumental angels laurel him, as happened before with a Roman triumphator. Exactly one year later Ignatius was canonized and since then the church was known as Saint Ignatius Church (orally abbreviated to ‘Saint Ignatius’), the first one by that name. One can wonder if the sculptures would have been different if Ignatius had been canonized earlier: without Our Lady and Child?
The fact that on the cartouche below Ignatius’ bust we can read a ‘B’ of Beatus (beatified) has nothing to do with his official status at that time, because only one year later, at the occasion of his canonization, it could already be replaced by the higher status of ‘saint’ (Lat. sanctus). As happened also in other orders before the Second Vatican Council, among each other the Jesuits talked about their founder as “our blessed father (Ignatius)”. ‘Blessed’ (Lat. beatus) means ‘in heaven with God’ and so ‘worth honouring’. But because the Jesuits direct themselves from this façade to a broad public, ‘noster’ (our) is left out and what remains is “BP.IGNs” (Beatus Pater IGNatius).
Anyway, thanks to Ignatius the Jesuit order is there and they have their blazon right in the middle of the façade, which is even more striking by the contrast between the gilded letters I H S on the black background. According to the original Greek version they are three letters of the name Jesus (IHSOS). According to the Latin version, which is more current in Western Europe, they are the initials of the creed that Jesus is the saviour of all men: Jesus Hominum Salvator. That Jesus could only save humanity from the powers of evil and death by sacrificing Himself on the cross – and rising from the dead – is illustrated by the combination of His name and a few instruments of the passion: the cross above the crossbar of the ‘H’, and underneath three nails for His wounds: two for the wrists and one for the crossed feet. With this emblem the Jesuit order, alias the Company of Jesus or Societas Jesu, wants to express their identity and their devotion to Jesus. All over the world Baroque Jesuit churches can easily be recognized by this emblem. In Antwerp, no one less than the artist of that time, P.P. Rubens, was asked to design it. More than anybody else he succeeds in drawing the attention to this emblem playfully, with floating angels triumphantly flocking around the escutcheon.
scheme of the metopes (north-side at left)
On the spandrels of the main porch two herald angels blow the trumpet: ‘Come here! Something is going to happen here!’. They invite you and get you in the (right) mood to enter the house of God, filled with joy, looking forward to the encounter with His Son Jesus. This encounter is mainly experienced in the Eucharist and this is what the liturgical implements on the metopes of the frieze of the first section refer to.
Other utensils for the Holy Mass are:
That the faithful experience the Eucharist as a festive event is brought into vision by musical instruments on this same frieze. Thus, several stringed (10) (14) (17) and wind instruments (13) (17) (21) can be noticed, as well as a positive organ (12) and scores (18) (21).
Notice that one side of the façade is nearly the mirror view of the other one. Only at the northern side there are a few metopes more (nbs. 18-21).
Do you not know the history of this church by heart? Let us organize an open book exam outside on the church square then. The façade tells you broadly speaking the church’s weal and woe with gilded dates, either in numbers or intellectually and playfully hidden in inscriptions or chronograms [Greek: time-writing]. The latter were extremely popular in the Baroque period, but hard to grasp by the common people. All Roman letters that also have a numerical value are written in capital letters:
M 1000 · D 500 · C 100 · L 50 · X 10 · V 5 · I 1
The sum is a year. In the Latin alphabet the U was also written V.
|ChrIsto Deo, VIrgInI DeIparæ,
b. IgnatIo LoIoLae
soCIetatIs aVthorI SenatUs
pUbLICo et prIVato aere
|To the divine Christ, the God- bearing Virgin,
the beatified Ignatius of Loyola,
founder of the Society, the municipality
and the people of Antwerp
with public and private funds
have wanted to build [this].
Due to an absent-minded restorer, however, an error has crept in. The first ‘I’ of aVIhori [sic.] must be a ‘t’: “aVthori” (which is the corrupted, but current form of ‘auctor’: the founder, think of author).
Above the side windows of the second section this date is repeated, both in Latin – MDCXXI – (2) and in Arabic numerals – 1621 (3).
But throwing parties and building cost money. In 1625 the debts even exceeded half a million florins (1 florin = a day’s wages of a master mason). Despite the favourable economic climate of the Twelve Years’ Truce (1609-1621) the generosity of benefactors, fund raisings and municipality subsidies remained insufficient. Despite Father General’s command to economize, Father Tirinus, who oversaw the construction, continued undisturbed: he added two side chapels to the church (1621-1625) and started extensions of the professed house. It is logical that he was replaced by Jan de Tollenaere. Thanks to suspending the statutes of the professed house temporarily, which was kept a secret for the general public, they succeeded in settling the gigantic debt in three years’ time.
O! July, how sad to remember your eighteenth day,
For the eye, ear and heart it was too bitter a lash!
After having been closed only 1 year, 3 months and 19 days, the church could again be consecrated on 6th November 1719. Thus was reported by the same author in his new poem, in which he paraphrased Apocalypse 21:4-5.
He will wipe every tear from their eyes,
and there shall be no more death or bitter mourning,
nor sadness, or wailing or pain or shouting
the first things have once again passed by
And the one° who sat on the throne has spoken: (° God)
“Behold I make all things new and none was broken.”
The good news of this resurrection has also been made clear in an allegorical way on the tympanum of the main porch (4): the name of Mary rises from a tomb. Exactly like Mary was reawakened from her sleep into new (and eternal) life, this church, which was dedicated to her, arose from its ashes, as described in the accompanying chronogram: “MarIae DICata eX CInere restItVor” (1719). This is a sample of the symbolic-associative way of thinking that was extremely popular in de Jesuits’ educational theory. On both doors together (5), you can also read the year of restoration ‘anno 1719’, but then you will need some patience to ‘decipher’ this playful Baroque calligraphy in mirror view.
After two more years of interior restoration, led by Jan Pieter I Van Baurscheit the church had completely risen from its ruins.
In Austrian times, the college buildings provided accommodation for the Royal College and the Military Academy; from 1794 till 1927 it was a military hospital. The three country estates were sold to private individuals. The college buildings were well taken care of, but the destiny of the stately professed house was quite sad. Together with the sodality building it passed into private hands. All materials that could be sold were broken away, only the exterior fronts at the church square were preserved. The sodality building was used for the most varied of purposes: meeting hall of the revolutionary Jacobin Club (the Société des Amis des Droits de l’Homme), a music and theatre hall, a party and dance hall that was very popular in nightlife, a bazaar. In 1866 the Algemene Werkmansbond (one of the predecessors of the socialist movement) organized a meeting in favour of universal suffrage there. Finally, in 1879, the premises were bought to be the municipal library. This was a triumph for the anticlerical: “C’est aujourd’hui la chapelle silencieuse du Livre, propice à l’étude et aux méditations” [Today it is the silent chapel of books, suitable for studying and meditating.] The new main entrance received Baroque doors from the former chapel of the town hall. In 1883, while he was still alive, Hendrik Conscience (a very popular Flemish Romantic author) got a statue from the municipal government on the square that was named after him.
All movables were stored in a depot and listed. The furnishings of the sodalities were also confiscated, despite their righteous protest they had an independent statute, separated from the order. It resulted in a large sale of church ornaments and linen, silver, altars, (500!) paintings, furniture, kitchenware. The manuscripts and a few books were transferred to the (later) Royal Library, the schoolbooks to the new state schools. The government did want the Acta Sanctorum, the work of the Bollandists, to be continued. To this end some former Jesuits could have 8,000 books and 453 manuscripts from their predecessors at their disposal. Since the 19th century this Bollandist project, the oldest scientific institute in the country, has been continuing in the Collège Saint-Michel residence in Brussels.
|SanCte CaroLe BorroMaee
|Saint Charles Borromeo,
[dedicated] to you
by the faithful
|[In honour] of saint Charles
the former glory
has been repaired.