Seventy at Seventy

Life Begins at 70

[46] The Man who bears the Cross

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[46] The Man Who Bears the Cross – a Blog about the City of Antwerp
I am using my categories loosely and there is a lot of overlap between [3] Places and [4] Outside. The Outside category is about landscapes and buildings and will have topics such as Churches, Streets, Buildings and Statues. This one is about a visit to the city of Antwerp concentrating on two of its buildings and several of its statues.


As always, Wikipedia provides some helpful information. Antwerp is the most populous city of Belgium (second to Brussels if you count the extended metropolitan areas.) It is the capital of the Antwerp province in the region of Flanders – the northern Dutch speaking part of the country. Its inhabitants are nicknamed ‘Sinjoren’ referring to the Spanish noblemen (señor) who ruled the city in the Seventeenth Century.

It lies on the river Scheldt and is linked to the North Sea by the Westerschelde estuary, the remaining part of what was a more complex delta before management by a number of dams.

The port of Antwerp is the second largest in Europe. We visited for just part of one day in late May when our ship docked at the cruise terminal.

There are differing versions of the city’s name. A legend, illustrated by a statue in front of the Town Hall, talks of a giant called Antigoon who lived near the Scheldt. He exacted a toll from passing boatmen. For those who refused he severed one of their hands and threw it into the river. He was eventually killed by a young hero called Silvius Brabo, who cut of the giant’s own hand and threw it into the river. Antwerpen is said to come from hand werpen (similar to Old English hand wearpan) meaning ‘throwing the hand.’

Another longstanding theory puts it from the Roman period and the Latin Antverpia from ante verpia meaning ‘before sedimentation.’ The Scheldt used to follow a different track with the city in a curve of the river. Perhaps Antverpia was a small outpost by a river crossing.

Many historians and etymologists now argue that it derives from “An ‘t werf” meaning ‘on the wharf.’ Another possibility is from “Aan ‘t werp” (at the warp.) This “warp” (thrown ground) is a man-made hill or a river deposit, high enough to remain dry at high tide, for the construction of dykes and polders.

Before I start with our city visit here is an example of Belgian hospitality. We just asked for Americano coffee but we each had a little madeleine and a tiny amaretto – and it wasn’t expensive.

There were narrow streets in the central old part of the city, probably only so empty because we were early on a Monday morning. In the background of the picture above you can see the Cathedral, the main attraction. We did have to wait for it to open so we went elsewhere to begin our sightseeing. We will come back to the cathedral.

The Steen

Known in Dutch as Het Steen, (‘the Stone’ or ‘the Stone Castle,’) this is a medieval fortress, the oldest building in Antwerp. It was originally known as Antwerpen Burcht (Antwerp Fortress) but it became “‘s Heeren Steen” (‘the King’s castle’) in the early Sixteenth Century after extensive rebuilding by Charles V, and later just Het Steen.

It controlled access to the river Scheldt and was used as a prison from 1303 to 1827. In the Nineteenth Century most of the fortress was demolished when the quays were straightened to prevent the river silting up. The remaining building was heavily modified and became a maritime museum. More recently the museum has moved and the building is no longer open for public access but we could walk round it and see various statues and plaques.

There is a rather unusual statue at the entrance depicting the giant known as Lange Wapper and two ordinary men. He is not the same giant mentioned above but is a character in several stories about Antwerp from Flemish medieval folklore.

Just by this statue a ramp takes you through an arch round the back to another arch. In the picture above you can see a crucifix overlooking a view of the Scheldt and a coat of arms on the wall ahead. Both of these are shown in more detail below.

The arms are those of the Margraviate of Antwerpen, Mechelen and Turnhout (an earlier version of the province of Antwerp) with the eagle of the Holy Roman Empire over the arms of the city. The city arms now are just the castle with two hands. The motto Fortunata Antverpia was only used in the Sixteenth Century. The lord and lady as supporters also date to the Sixteenth Century. The modern arms have male and female savages.

Shown above is a view of the castle from the city side.

The Cathedral

The cathedral with its tower and gold clock-faces dominated the city and I will start with some external views.

The front entrance (above) is impressive but so is the side door!

As the notice proclaims it is the Cathedral of Our Lady, ‘Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekathedraal,’ and it took 170 years to build. It was designed to be the largest Gothic church in Belgium but was never fully completed. Instead of having two towers of equal height its south tower is far from complete. The architect Pieter Appelmans will be mentioned later.

Inside we find an impressive nave with a magnificent ceiling.

The carved choir stalls were equally impressive but very reminiscent of similar carvings in many English cathedrals.

The carved pulpit and many of the other statues and decorations came originally from other churches.

It was full of baroque art including pieces by Rubens.

The stained glass windows were difficult to photograph.

I suppose I was thinking of how the cathedral differed from those I had seen in England. The art was different and the windows were not quite the same. But the organ could have been British and the crypt was not unusual.

I was surprised at these memorial stones. We do have them in churches and cathedrals in England but the lettering fades over the centuries. I have never seen them before like this with white stone set into the black monuments. They were in Latin and said much less (perhaps because this technique only works with large letters,) but they had survived for three or four hundred years.


I start with three statues of people you have already met.

Here is the one with Silvius Brabo and the severed hand. It’s actually a large fountain – a very unusual fountain without a visible reservoir of water. The water just disappears under the fountain.

Next tucked into a corner outside the cathedral, a monument to its architect and some of his master craftsmen.

I have to admit that there were some statues of people I had never heard of but I had to include this son of the city.

Two more statues on buildings that, like the large fountain, showed the green patina of copper. They also had something in common with their subject matter.

I have three more from buildings before I come to one of my favourites.

I loved this child snuggling in bed with a canine family member. The statue was given to the city by the people of China.

Moving away from the city centre to the area by the Steen and the river there were a few more statues starting with an anchor outside the Steen.

I don’t remember Minerva as the goddess of automobiles from my classical education.

Jan Fabre, who lives and works in Antwerp is described by Wikipedia as ‘a Belgian artist, playwright, stage director, choreographer and designer.’ He is responsible for this statue in Antwerp Cathedral called ‘the Man who Bears the Cross.

I won’t attempt to explain its deeper significance but is a life-like statue of a man balancing a cross.

There will be another blog from our very short cruise.


Author: Alan

Retired, currently living in Cheltenham.

One thought on “[46] The Man who bears the Cross

  1. Thank you for yet another wonderful travel story.


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