Antwerp's St Andrew's Church, a revelation.
Choir and Chancel
Stained glass windows: Faith, Hope and Charity/Love
There is more consistency in the three stained glass windows of the chancel (by Jan Huet, 1964-1965) than is evident at first sight. Two personifications can be found high up: Faith (with cross) on the north side, Hope (with anchor) on the south side. The central apse window has been walled in. Where, then, might one find the principal one of the three theological virtues? Love resides closest to the altar and to the ground floor in the big stained glass window on the south side, above the corridor leading to the sacristy. Here, the glazier tells Jesus’ parable The Good Samaritan (Lk 10:29-37) in many hues and colours. Both Levite and priest seek to avoid the wounded man – although he is a compatriot of theirs – and turn around inquisitively. They see how a third passer-by, a Samaritan in fact, cares for the victim and supports him on the way to the inn. What a wonderful illustration of Charity/Love!
The current baptismal font is the holy water font of a former monastery church, probably of the Calced Carmelites (also known as the Order of the Brothers of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel) situated in Meir. Since its arrival at the church of St Andrew’s in 1806, the font had been in the back of the baptismal chapel, at the south side. Among those who were baptised here, we may recognize several Belgian authors: Hendrik Conscience (baptised in 1812), the man ‘who taught his people to read’ because he was the first to write really popular books in Flemish, and the novelist Lode Zielens (baptised in 1901). During the 1880’s , baptism was administered to more than a thousand new-borns on average per year, equalling around 2.5% of the population! Since the church’s restoration in 1970-1975, the font has been in the choir; this move echoes the teachings of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), which focused on the community receiving the newly-baptised.
The adoration of the Magi
This painting is attributed to Hendrick van Balen (1573-1632), a contemporary of Rubens. Note the painter’s realism in depicting baby Jesus’s wish to play with everything that glitters, such as the bald head of the oldest king, who enters first and kneels down. The falconer on the far left illustrates the century-old royal privilege of falconry, as applied to these ‘three kings’. In line with Baroque tradition, the falconer leans against the frame and looks at the viewer – as does one of the page boys – thus engaging the audience in the scene. The colours of Mary’s dress have a symbolical significance: the red represents her as a woman of flesh and blood, the blue (green, rather, due to the varnish) as one chosen by divine grace.
The guardian angel
This canvas with rounded upper corners was painted by Erasmus Quellinus II (1667) and adorned the portico altar of the Brotherhood of the Holy Guardian Angels. The chapel was situated in the southern transept, which the churchwardens had demolished in 1830. A design sketch is kept in Dresden. A scared youth is seen crouching in the painting’s centre, caught in a moral dilemma. On one side, the boy’s virtue is being challenged by wicked, many-faced Evil, which is depicted as a demon with the wings of a bat, and is about to throw a snake onto his victim. A pleasant woman dressed in red and with one naked shoulder represents the erotic figure of Lust (Luxuria), grabbing the boy’s arm; she is supported by winged Amor, who is ready to shoot his arrow. Dressed elegantly in silvery blue, Lady Fortune is sitting on a treasure chest in the foreground. She embodies three temptations in one: pointing her sceptre at the riches in two bags of gold coins at her side, she further seduces the boy to accept fame – represented by the laurel wreath –and power – a golden royal crown. This particularly seductive trio sought to tempt Jesus in the desert too, and did so in vain (Matt 4:1-11).
On the other side, iconographically to the right, a ‘guardian’ angel armed with lightning fire approaches to protect the boy against these enemies of his soul’s salvation. The angel acts for God, whose identity is represented by the tetragram on the shield. Clearly, the angel is aware of God’s strengthening grace – note the beam of heavenly light falling on the angel’s shield.
With great effort, we may recognize the gaping monster at the bottom left depicting the entrance to hell, which is where the devil’s temptations seek to lead the boy. But this cunning offensive by the worldly vices will fail due to heavenly assistance, alias the guardian angel. This scene was rendered as an engraving and published in limited edition as a memorial picture for two distinguished brotherhood members.