Antwerp's St Andrew's Church, a revelation.
The Celebration Altar: Colours set the tone
Since the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), church buildings have been conceived as (preferably) oriented around a single central altar, symbolizing the one church community converging around Christ. On St Andrew’s stylish ‘festive table’, elegant antependia or ‘veils’ alternate in accordance with the colours of the liturgical year. Several complete sets of such textiles (which may include a priest’s chasuble, a veil for the chalice, a purse and sometimes even Marial robes) originate from 18th-century Late Baroque.
The colour for ‘ordinary’ time is green. As such, the panels of the crossing altar – originally from a resting altar used during processions have been painted green. The front panel features a heart, while the back panel features an anchor; the third theological virtue of faith, meanwhile, is symbolized by a consecrated host – either set in the monstrance on the ‘resting altar’ at the time, or in today’s Eucharistic celebration.
During periods of preparation and quiet, such as the Advent preparation time before Christmas and particularly during the austere period of Lent before Easter, decorations are removed as much as possible and the liturgical colour is purple. At such times, three giant purple canvases shield the main altar from view.
The most precious antependia are intended for the grand, festive times of Christmas and Easter, when the main colour is golden yellow. One of these antependia was made of Chinese silk (with matching design), and has been embroidered with birds, insects and other animals. The most precious High Baroque antependium stems from the church of St Philip, in the former Spanish South Castle. The entire silver drape field has been decorated with relief embroidery: curling acanthus scrolls in gold wire sprouting into horns of plenty, richly laden with all kinds of fruit in multi-coloured silk. The antependium’s central motive is a baroque chalice set in high relief, embroidered around a (wooden) core in gold wire.
Pentecost, which celebrates the disciples’ first rediscovery of their fervour to proclaim the message of Jesus, is symbolized by the colour red – as are the feast days of the martyrs, whose blood was shed. Thus, the warm red antependia that were so elegantly embroidered during the 18th century simultaneously symbolize the church’s martyred patron saint Andrew.
Mary is seen as pure and ‘full of grace’; accordingly, she is celebrated in combinations of blue and white. Black – customary for funerals before the Second Vatican Council – is often beautifully combined with golden yellow (for the cross, the ribbons and the seams of chasubles), symbolizing heavenly joy, even during mourning and sadness.
Decorating this monumental church proved to be dangerous at times: note the fatal accident at the main altar of beadle Joseph De Strycker in 1928.