Cathedral of Our Lady (Antwerp)

Cathedral of Our Lady

Cathedral of Our Lady
Basic information
Location Antwerp
Geographic coordinates 51°13′14″N 4°24′02″E / 51.22056°N 4.40056°E / 51.22056; 4.40056Coordinates: 51°13′14″N 4°24′02″E / 51.22056°N 4.40056°E / 51.22056; 4.40056
Affiliation Catholic
Rite Roman
Region Diocese of Antwerp
Year consecrated 1521
Ecclesiastical or organizational status Cathedral
Leadership Johan Bonny
Website De Kathedraal
Architectural description
Architect(s) Jan and Pieter Appelmans
Architectural type Cathedral
Architectural style Gothic
Groundbreaking 1352[1]
Completed 1521
Direction of façade W
Capacity 25,000
Length 120 metres (390 ft)
Width 75 metres (246 ft)
Width (nave) 53.5 metres (176 ft)
Height (max) 123 metres (404 ft)
Official name: Belfries of Belgium and France
Type Cultural
Criteria ii, iv
Designated 1999[2]
Reference no. 943
State Party  Belgium and  France
Region Europe and North America

The Cathedral of Our Lady (Dutch: Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekathedraal) is a Roman Catholic cathedral in Antwerp, Belgium. Today's see of the Diocese of Antwerp started in 1352 and, although the first stage of construction was ended in 1521, has never been 'completed'. In Gothic style, its architects were Jan and Pieter Appelmans. It contains a number of significant works by the Baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens, as well as paintings by artists such as Otto van Veen, Jacob de Backer and Marten de Vos.

The belfry of the cathedral is included in the Belfries of Belgium and France entry in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.


Artist vision of the completed cathedral (18th century)

Where the cathedral now stands, there was a small chapel of Our Lady from the 9th to the 12th century, which acquired the status of parish church in 1124.[1] During the course of the twelfth century, it was replaced by a larger Romanesque church (80 metres (260 ft) long and 42 metres (138 ft) wide).[1]

In 1352, construction was begun on a new Our Lady’s church which would become the largest Gothic church in the Netherlands. In the beginning, it was to be provided with two towers of equal height. In 1521, after nearly 170 years, the new church of Our Lady was ready. The south tower reached only as far as the third string course.

During the night of 5–6 October 1533, the new church was largely gutted by fire. The completion of the second tower was therefore delayed, which led to its ultimate postponement. Moreover, the church only became cathedral of the bishopric of Antwerp in 1559 but lost this title again from 1801 to 1961, following the Concordat of 1801.[1][3] During the Iconoclasm of 20 August 1566 (part of the Beeldenstorm at the start of the Eighty Years' War), Protestants destroyed a large part of the cathedral interior. Later, when Antwerp came under Protestant administration in 1581, a number of artistic treasures were once again destroyed, removed or sold. The restoration of Roman Catholic authority came in 1585 with the fall of Antwerp.

In 1794 the French revolutionaries who conquered the region plundered Our Lady’s Cathedral and inflicted serious damage.[1] Around 1798, the French administration intended to demolish the building but after each blow, the cathedral was able to recover. In 1816, various important works of art were returned from Paris, including three Rubens masterpieces. And over the course of the 19th century, the church was completely restored and refurnished.

Between 1965 and 1993, a complete restoration took place.[1]

Main nave
Stained glass window

Musical life

At the beginning of the 15th century, the cathedral's choir started developing an active musical life, and as a result, the cathedral's importance in the history of music soon soared. Johannes Ockeghem, one of the most important composers of the 15th century, served here as a vicar-singer in 1443, and so did Jacob Obrecht between 1492 and 1497. Organists who worked at the cathedral include Henry Bredemers (1493–1501), who went on to become a teacher to Philip the Handsome's children, and the renowned English composer John Bull (1615–1628), who fled to Flanders from his home country escaping justice. From 1725 to 1731 Willem de Fesch served as Kapelmeester followed from 1731 to 1737 by Joseph-Hector Fiocco. Lesser known, but locally important figures, such as Jacobus Barbireau and Andreas Pevernage, also worked at the cathedral.

Significant architectural details

The church's one finished spire is 123 metres (404 ft) high,[4] the highest church tower in the Benelux. Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor commented that the spire should be kept under glass, and Napoleon compared the spire to Mechlin lace.[5] The largest bell in the tower requires 16 bell ringers.[6]

The west portal features statues which include the missionary Saint Willibrord. He is thought to have spent time in Antwerp in the 7th century.

Major works of art

The cathedral possesses some major works of art :

Two of these artworks were confiscated by Napoleon and moved to France, The Raising of the Cross (which was actually the main altar piece of the St Walburga church) and The Descent from the Cross, but were returned to the cathedral in the 19th century.[5]


Facts and figures

  • Interior length: 118 metres (387 ft)[1]
  • North tower height:123 metres (404 ft)[1]
  • South tower height: 65.3 metres (214 ft)[1]
  • Central aisle height: 28 metres (92 ft)[1]
  • Lantern height or crossing-tower where the nave and transepts meet: 43 metres (141 ft)[1]
  • Maximum width of the nave: 53.5 metres (176 ft)[1]
  • Total surface area of the floor: 8,000 square metres (86,000 sq ft)[1]
  • Surface area of the roof: more than 10,000 square metres (110,000 sq ft)[1]
  • Capacity: 2,400 seats. In principle, the cathedral can hold 25,000 people.[1]
  • The cathedral has 7 aisles, 125 pilars and 128 windows (of which 55 are stained-glass).[1]
  • In 1533 there were 57 permanent altars in the cathedral.[1]
  • The nineteenth-century Schyven organ has 90 registers and 5,770 pipes.[1]
  • The cathedral has a carillon with 49 bells.[1]
  • The heaviest bell is Karolus (1507), weighing 6,434 kilograms (14,185 lb).[1]
  • Maintenance of the cathedral costs 1.5 million euros per year.[1]


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 "History". Diocese of Antwerpen. Retrieved 2009-01-03.
  2. "Unesco, Works of Antoni Gaudí". Retrieved 2011-02-03.
  3. The bishopric of Antwerp was abolished during this period
  4. "Cathedral of Our Lady". Retrieved 2016-02-10.
  5. 1 2 Coe, Fanny E. (1896). Dunton, Larkin, ed. The World and Its People. Volume 9. Book V. Modern Europe. Boston: Silver, Burdett & Co. p. 164.
  6. Coe, Fanny E. (1896). Dunton, Larkin, ed. The World and Its People. Volume 9. Book V. Modern Europe. Boston: Silver, Burdett & Co. p. 165.


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