Antwerp's St Andrew's Church, a revelation.
The choir stalls and the 36 saints
By analogy with monasteries and chapters, parish churches provided choir stalls to clergy and church officials for the performance of sections of the Liturgy of the Hours. The figures on the handles, the inlaid rims and the reliefs above the bottom row seats are all characteristic of sixteenth-century Mannerism, while the gigantic claws that function as plinths of the wainscoting are typical of High Baroque.
Following the dissolution of St. Salvator’s Abbey – also called ‘Abbey of Pieter Pot’, after its founder – the so-called Relics of 36 Saints found refuge in St Andrew’s in 1802. These 36 small panels with the saints’ depictions (by Theodoor Boeyermans, 17th century) embellish the panelling of the choir stalls (K) (2 x 14) and of the brotherhood stalls in the aisles (B) (2 x 4). Each caption notes the saint’s respective feast day as marked by the Church, which corresponds to the person’s dying day, if the latter is known.
These are the 36 saints (if their dying day is unknown, the saint’s feast day is mentioned):
Saint Adrian, martyr, Roman officer († 304), (8 Sept.)
Saint Agatha, virgin martyr, Sicily (3rd century), (5 Feb.)
Saint Agnes of Rome, virgin martyr, Rome († 304), (21 Jan.)
Saint Alexius of Rome, ascetic, Rome († 417), (17 July)
Saint Anselm of Canterbury, doctor of the Church, archbishop of Canterbury, († 21 Apr. 1109)
Saint Augustine of Canterbury, ‘Apostle to the English’, archbishop († 26 May 604)
Saint Barbara, virgin martyr, († 306, Heliopolis, Egypt), (4 Dec.)
Saint Bartholomew the Apostle, disciple and martyr, Armenia († ca. 70), (24 Aug.)
Saint Benedict of Nursia, founder of a religious order, Monte Cassino († 21 Mar. 543/7)
Saint Blaise, martyr, bishop of Armenia († 316) (3 Feb.)
Saint Catherine of Alexandria, virgin martyr, Alexandria (4th century), (25 Nov.)
Saint Cecilia, virgin martyr, Rome († 230), (22 Nov.)
Saint Christina of Bolsena, virgin martyr, Tuscany († 304), (24 July)
Saint Cunera, virgin martyr, companion of Saint Ursula, (12 June)
Saint Dorothy, virgin martyr, Rome († 303), (6 Feb.)
Saint Giles, hermit, abbot Provence († 721), (1 Sept.)
Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, Thuringia, († 19 Nov. 1231, Marburg)
Saint Felicitas of Rome, martyr, Rome († 162), (23 Nov.)
Saint Gertrude van der Oosten, Delft († 6 Jan. 1358)
Saint Hathebrand, Frisian monk, († 1198), (30 July)
Saint Hyacinth of Poland, Dominican, († 1257, Kraków), (16 Aug.)
Saint Ignatius of Antioch, bishop and martyr, († 110, Rome), (1 Feb.)
Saint Ivo of Kermartin, jurist, Britanny († 19 May 1303)
Saint Josaphat, Indian prince, ascetic (27 Nov.)
Saint Juliana of Liège, virgin, prioress († 1258), (5 Apr.)
Saint Lutgardis of Aywières, virgin († 16 June 1246)
Saint Margaret of Cortona, penitent woman, Tuscany († 22 Feb. 1297, Cortona)
Saint Mary of Egypt, penitent woman, Transjordan desert (5th century), (9 April)
Saint Rabanus Maurus, first abbot of Glanfeuil Abbey in Saint-Maur-sur-Loire († 15 Jan. 584)
Saint Moses, Arab hermit in the Sinai desert, martyr († ca. 395), (28 Aug.)
Saint Paulinus of Nola, bishop († 431), (22 June)
Saint Pelagia, penitent woman, Antioch (5th century), (8 Oct.)
Saint Placidus, Benedictine monk, martyr (6th century, Messina), (5 Oct.)
Saint Roch, Montpellier, pilgrim († 1327), (16 Aug.)
Saint Scholastica, virgin and abbess at Monte Cassino, († 543), (10 Feb.)
Saint Thecla, virgin martyr, Seleucia (1st century), (23 Sept.)
In those splendid processions of yore, the relics were carried along in a huge portable case, including a monumental silver shrine (by Jan Verschuylen, 1845) with extra poles for no less than 16 men; for a long time, the men who carried the shrine would come from the gendarmerie in Korte Vlierstraat. For the yearly celebration, this shrine carrying the 36 small panels was placed in the centre of the church on a huge pedestal, constructed for the occasion. Now, the relic shrine is at the back of the south aisle.
Eight more saints
Sainthood has remained an all-time human ideal to be attained; thus, eight photographs of more recent saints were added to the 28 small Baroque paintings in the choir stalls. At the north side, we note the confessors:
Mother Teresa (1910‑1997), founder of the Sisters of Charity and Nobel Peace Laureate of 1979.
Don Bosco (1815‑1880), patron saint of youth, founder of the Salesian Society
Thomas More (1478‑1535), humanist, philosopher, author of a. o. Utopia, chancellor of England, beheaded by Henry VIII because of his Catholic beliefs.
Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer (1902-1975), founder of the lay movement Opus Dei.
At the south side, we recognize people who have paid for their engagements with their deaths, sometimes as martyrs:
Saint Damien De Veuster (1840‑1889), missionary, ‘Apostle of the Lepers’ on Molokai (Hawaii).
Edith Stein (1891‑1942), Carmelite nun of Jewish origin, killed in a concentration camp.
Maximilian Kolbe (1894‑1941), Friar Minor, who volunteered to die in place of a family father who had been sentenced to death at Auschwitz concentration camp.
Mother Mary of Jesus (1841‑1884), founder of Daughters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, with a monastery in Merodelei in Berchem (Antwerp). She was murdered.
… and a mirror
Finally, a mirror aims to show you the 37th saint. Who, you wonder, could that be? Look hard, you might see a candidate… “I? / Me?”