Saint Paul’s, the Antwerp Dominican church, a revelation
The Chapel of the Holy Sacrament
and of the Sweet Name of Jesus
The Communion rail(s)
(Sebastiaan de Neve, 1655-1657)
So as to ensure the host was received with more respect the Council of Trent introduced a new piece of furniture: the communion rails.
While he was still busy with the crowning of Our Lady’s altar, in 1655-1657 Sebastiaan de Neve also worked at the marble communion rails, which covered the entire width of the transepts. In this way the four altars in the transepts were fenced off in one go. When the choir screen was pulled down in 1833 the central compartments were put more aside.
The leitmotiv of the pierced marble reliefs consists of a sturdy fanning trail sowing fruits, among which child angels are frolicking. The motifs were adapted to the altar in front of which the panel in question was originally (or still is) positioned. In front of the altar of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary the trail has been decorated with a bunch of roses; with the altar of the Holy Cross the instruments of the passion fitted; with the altar of the Holy Sacrament the usual vegetal symbols of the sacrament of the Eucharist can be found: child angels picking bunches of grapes, and cornstalks, which at least once are clearly associated with the final product, the hosts.
In the central nave, in front of the then altar of the founder of the order Dominic, which is now in a space next to the Southern transept, the founder has been evoked by his fixed attribute: the legendary (here quite funny) dog with the torch and the globe. It is remarkable how variedly the angels are praying; are these some of the nine praying positions attributed to Saint Dominic? At both extremes there is Intercession, or Supplication.
A peculiar variant is the angel supporting the arm of one of his colleagues and this way alluding to Moses, because “As long as Moses kept his hands raised up, Israel had the better of the fight, but when he let his hands rest, Amalek (the enemy) had the better of the fight. Moses’ hands, however, grew tired; so they put a rock in place for him to sit on. Meanwhile Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side and one on the other, so that his hands remained steady till sunset. “ (Ex. 17:11-12). This is symbolic of the mediating prayer for the Church Militant, in other words for Christians in their struggle against their weaknesses and for their virtuousness.
The humbly kneeling angels ‘stand’ for Adoration. The angel carrying a lily in the right panel personifies Chastity one of the three religious vows.