Antwerp (ANVERS, ANTWERPEN, Spanish AMBERES), a city of Belgium, in the archdiocese of Mechlin, situated on the Scheldt (Escaut), about sixty miles from the sea, at the confluence of the little river Schyn, once navigable. Its foundation was probably due to some wandering Teutonic tribe; the people were certainly Christian from about the middle of the seventh century (Diercxsen, Antuerpia Christo nascens ab an. 641, etc., Antwerp, 1747-63, 1773), as is seen by the famous saints then met with in its history as the Irish virgin Dympna, Eligius, Amandus and Willibrord. It was pillaged by the Northmen in 835, but soon arose from its ruins. In the tenth and eleventh centuries it appears as the capital of the Margraves of Antwerp, and from that time to the French Revolution recognized, through all political vicissitudes, no other source of authority in its various political masters. In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries the Dukes of Brabant favored its development by many privileges, political and commercial. In the course of the fourteenth century the Counts of Flanders were its lords paramount and in the fifteenth it recognized the overlordship of the great house of Burgundy, through which relationship it eventually rose to its highest prosperity, when with the rest of the Burgundian inheritance it passed under the control of Emperor Charles the Fifth (1517-56). After his death there broke out a long series of sanguinary conflicts, partly religious and partly politico-commercial, resulting in the overthrow of Spanish and the substitution of Austrian domination (1599) whereby the southern or Catholic provinces of the Low Countries were enabled to preserve their faith, though at a great price from a commercial standpoint. The latter quarter of the eighteenth century was marked by much unrest, owing to the anti-Catholic or Febronian policy of Emperor Joseph II (1765-90). During the French Revolution Antwerp was incorporated (1794) with France, and was made by Napoleon (1804-13) the chief naval fortress of his new empire. After his overthrow it was incorporated (1815) with the new Kingdom of Holland, but cast in its fortunes with Belgium during the revolution of 1830, and has risen since then to the position of a foremost center of European commerce and industry.
POPULATION AND COMMERCE., The population of Antwerp rose in the sixteenth century (1560) to the phenomenal figure of 200,000. It was then the London of the continent, and owed its prosperity to various causes, among which may be mentioned the decay of earlier commercial centers like Bruges and Venice, consequent on the discoveries of Columbus and Vasco da Gama, and the natural deepening of the western entrance of the Scheldt. From the Middle Ages it had inherited a growing trade in fish, salt, and oats, in English wool, and in exchanges of all kinds with the various states of Europe. But now commercial products came no longer by way of the Adriatic and over Venice to the wharves of Antwerp, but directly by sea; this was especially true of the merchandise of the New World. Merchants of every nation flocked to Antwerp; among them the agents of the Hanseatic League and of the merchant adventurers of England; it became the chief banking center of Europe. The rich Fuggers of Augsburg had a house in Antwerp whence they loaned large sums to kings and cities. In those days, it is said, that a thousand vessels were at times anchored off the city, and one hundred came and went daily. Its fairs were no less famous than those of Nuremberg and Novgorod, and had been much frequented even in medieval times, for purposes of barter. But this prosperity declined in the terrible politico-religious warfare of the last three decades of the sixteenth century, and was finally extinguished as a result of the Thirty Years War (1618-48). The Treaty of Westphalia, signed in the latter year, contained a clause in the interest of Holland, providing for the closing of free navigation on the Scheldt. Thereby was closed also the regular source of Antwerp’s commercial and industrial greatness. It was not until the French Revolution, or rather until 1863, that an unimpeded traffic was provided for on the broad smooth-flowing river that rivals the Thames and the Hudson as a creator of national wealth.
ECCLESIASTICAL DEVELOPMENT.—III the Middle Ages Antwerp was comprised within the see of Cambrai. But in 1559, at the instance of Philip II, a new arrangement of the episcopal sees of the Low Countries was made by Paul IV, whereby three archiepiscopal and fourteen episcopal sees were created, and all external jurisdiction, however ancient abolished. Antwerp became one of the six suffragans of Mechlin, and remained such until the end of the eighteenth century. This step did not meet with the goodwill of the merchants of the city, who feared the introduction of the Inquisition and the costliness of an episcopal establishment, and urged the transfer of the new see to Louvain, where it would be less offensive to the non-Catholic elements of their city. The new heretical doctrines were already deeply rooted in the city and vicinity, and their representatives were of course the chief agents of the opposition, though certain Catholic monastic interests were very active, being now called on by the Pope to provide for the support of the new see. Finally, the famous theologian Sonnius (from Son in Brabant) was transferred from Bois-le-Duc to Antwerp in 1569 as first bishop of the new see, and governed it until his death in 1576. Ten years of religious and political conflict elapsed before another bishop could be appointed in the person of Livinus Torrentius (Van der Beke) a Louvain theologian, graceful humanist, and diplomat. He died in 1595. The scholarly Mirus (Le Mire) was Bishop of Antwerp from 1604 to 1611, and was succeeded in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries by a series of fifteen bishops, the last of whom was Cornelius Nelis, librarian of Louvain University, and Bishop of Antwerp from 1785 to his death in 1798. Pius VII suppressed the see November 29, 1801, by the Bull “Qui Christi Domini vices”. Its former Belgian territory now belongs to the Archdiocese of Mechlin, the Dutch portion to the Diocese of Breda (Foppens, Historia Episcopatus Antuerpiensis, Brussels, 1717; Ram, Synopsis actorum eccl., Antwerp, Brussels, 1856). The abbeys and convents of Antwerp were long very famous centers of its religious life. In the twelfth century the Canons Regular of St. Norbert (Premonstratensians) founded the abbey of St. Michael, that became later one of the principal abbeys of the Low Countries, sheltered many royal guests, and eventually excited no little cupidity and persecution by reason of its great wealth. The Cathedral of Antwerp was originally a small Premonstratensian shrine known familiarly as “Our Lady of the Stump”. Many other religious orders found a shelter in Antwerp, Dominicans, Franciscans (1446); Carmelites (1494), Carthusians (1632), likewise female branches of the same. The Cistercians had two great abbeys, St. Sauveur, founded in 1451 by the devout merchant, Peter Pot, and St. Bernard, about six miles from Antwerp, founded in 1233 (Papebroch, “Annales Antuerpienses”, to the year 1600, ed. Mertens and Buchmann, Antwerp, 1846-48).
RELIGIOUS CONFLICTS.—The medieval religious life of Antwerp seems to have been troubled by only one notable heresy, that of Tanchelin in the twelfth century. But the principles and doctrines of Luther and Calvin soon found sympathizers among the German, English, and other foreign merchants and also among the citizens. First the Anabaptists and then the Calvinist field-preachers attacked with a fierce persistency the existing religious order. To the religious differences were added patriotic feelings and the hatred of Spanish domination. Popular passions, nursed from many sources, exploded in August, 1566, when the splendid cathedral that had been 176 years in process of building was sacked by a Calvinist mob, the seventy altars destroyed, and all the works of art it contained defaced or stolen. Similar scenes occurred in all the other churches and convents of Antwerp. The next year Spain replied by the sending of the Duke of Alva, one of the great military captains of the age, who inaugurated a reign of terror that bore with equal severity on Protestant and Catholic, since it interfered with the trade of the city and vicinity by stopping the supply of English wool for the looms of Flanders, and by intensifying the religious and patriotic embitterment whose seeds had first been sown by the Anabaptists and the Calvinists. Henceforth the history of Antwerp (ecclesiastical and civil) is intimately bound up with the story of the Gueux (Beggars) resistance to the policy of Philip II (1556-98). The sack of Antwerp by the mutinous Spanish troops (November 4, 1576), that French troops attempted to repeat (January 17, 1583) and the famous siege of the city by Spain‘s great captain Alessandro Farnese, Duke of Parma and Piacenza, are among the darkest pages of the great city’s pitiful story in the last decades of the sixteenth century. At a cruel price, set rather by politics than by religion, the Catholic faith had been preserved in Antwerp, and Protestant domination excluded in favor of Catholic rule. From 1599 to 1621 the Catholic Netherlands were governed by Albert, Archduke of Austria and his spouse Isabella, daughter of Philip II. After the death of “the Archdukes”, Spanish rule was once more made permanent in this “cockpit of Europe” until 1714 when, as one result of the War of the Spanish Succession, the government of the Catholic Netherlands again fell to Austria.
INTELLECTUAL LIFE.—Amid religious and political conflict the Catholic intellectual life of Antwerp never flagged. The city is famous in the annals of printing. In 1492 Thierry Maertens printed at Antwerp, as a fly-sheet, a Latin translation of the letter of Columbus in which he announced his discovery of the New World, and in this way probably first made known the great event to the men of Northern Europe. But it is to Christopher Plantin (d. 1589), and his son-in-law and successor Moretus, that the city chiefly owes its fame as a center of bookmaking and distribution. This “giant among printers” organized the trade on a basis hitherto unattempted, began and executed extraordinary enterprises, and founded a house that lasted during the seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries in which period it enjoyed a monopoly of the sale of missals and breviaries throughout the vast Spanish domains. It was the Plantin press that issued the first volume of the “Acta Sanctorum” (1643), an enterprise begun at Antwerp by the Jesuit Heribert Rosweyde (d. 1629), organized there by his confrere John Bolland (see Bollandists) and conducted there until 1778, when it fell a victim of the ridiculous “reforms” of Joseph II. Plantin’s own masterpiece is the great Antwerp Polyglot Bible in six folio volumes, the “Biblia Regia” issued at Antwerp from 1569 to 1573, and really at Plantin’s own expense. Besides the scholarly bishops of Antwerp already mentioned, the city boasts of other notable Catholic scholars, the great critic and savant Justus Lipsius, and other helpers of Plantin, e.g. Kiliaen, the Flemish lexicographer, and Ortelius and Mercator, the geographers (Max Rooses, Christophe Plantin, imprimeur anversois, Antwerp, 1900). In modern times it is celebrated as the home of Hendrik Conscience, the immortal Flemish novelist, and of Augustin De Backer, the erudite biographer of the Society of Jesus.
THE PAINTERS OF ANTWERP.—In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries Catholic faith,. municipal prosperity, and a certain large-mindedness combined to make Antwerp a center of artistic life second to none in Europe. It was often called “the Florence of the North”, and was well-known in medieval times for its “Guild of St. Luke” founded in 1382, and active until the end of the last century. Prominent among the illustrious artists of Antwerp are the great portrait painter Quentin Matsys or Metsys (1466-1530) and Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), the latter at once a prince of painters, courtier, diplomat, and Antwerp’s most distinguished citizen. He was also a very devout Catholic and heard Mass daily before beginning his work. Other famous artists were Van Dyck, Jordaens, Teniers, the Jesuit Seghers and sculptors like Luc Faydherbe and the Quellins. In modern times the genius of the old Antwerp painters has revived in masters like Wappers, Leys, and others. Religious realism, rich and vivid coloring, vigor of execution, minuteness of detail, abundance of ornament and light, characterize the works of the Antwerp School of painters. Their city has long since become a museum of religious art unique on the northern side of the Alps, and highly expressive of the earnest spiritual Catholicism of the once warlike burghers, now a new race of merchant-princes. The armies of Jacobin France soon became masters of Antwerp (1794) and for the next five years every kind of excess was committed there against the Catholic religion. Priests were exiled, even murdered; the churches and convents were closed and pillaged; the Catholic hierarchy abused and insulted in every conceivable manner; statues, paintings, and artworks of all kinds belonging to the churches were sold at public auction, and only the overthrow of the Directory in November, 1799 by Napoleon Bonaparte prevented the demolition and sale of the incomparable cathedral as mere stone, timber, and iron.
ENGLISH CATHOLIC INTEREST. The interest of Catholic England in Antwerp is not a slight one, apart from the close commercial relations that existed from the beginning of the twelfth century to the end of the sixteenth. Persecuted English Catholics often took refuge in that city; thus English Brigittine nuns of the royal abbey of Syon House, nearly all of them of noble birth, were welcomed there in the time of Henry VIII. A convent of English Carmelite nuns was founded there in 1619, and flourished until the French Revolution, when the sisters returned to Lanherne in Cornwall where their convent still exists. Mention is made in the city annals of Gilbert Curle, his wife Barbara Mowbray, and his sister Elizabeth Curie, devoted adherents of Mary Stuart, the latter, her attendant at the block (Lingard, Hist. of England, VI, vi, 463). Their house at Antwerp was a shelter for persecuted Catholics from England. Dying, Gilbert Curie bequeathed sixty thousand florins to the Scotch College at Douay. Another English Catholic resident at Antwerp was the famous Richard Verstegen, a prominent religious publicist, author of the famous “Theatrum crudelitatis haereticorum” (Antwerp, 1586), with engravings designed by himself, a vivid polemical account of the sufferings of contemporary Catholics for their faith, also of several other works written in Flemish.
OBJECTS OF RELIGIOUS INTEREST.—The Cathedral (St. Mary’s) begun in 1354, is said to have been 176 years in process of erection. It is cruciform in shape, with triple aisles and an ambulatory. Its dimensions in feet are: length 384, breadth of nave 171, breadth of transept 212, height 130. The vaults are supported by a forest of columns (125). The great northern tower is nearly 400 feet high and was compared by Napoleon Bonaparte to Mechlin lace hung aloft in midair. Its organ, built in 1891, contains ninety registers and is said to be the largest in Belgium. Among the famous art-treasures of the cathedral are the “Descent from the Cross” and the “Assumption” by Rubens. It was much damaged by the Calvinists in 1566 and by the French (1794-98). Other important churches are: St. Charles Borromeo, built 1614-21, and once decorated with thirty-six large ceiling-frescoes by Rubens; St. Jacques (1491-1656), once the favorite burial-place of the wealthy and distinguished families of Antwerp and filled with their monuments and chapels, including the Rubens chapel; St. Paul, built by the Dominicans (1531-71), since the battle of Lepanto (1571) the seat of a famous confraternity of the Rosary. There are also churches dedicated to St. Andrew, St. Augustine, St. George, Sts. Michael and Peter, and St. Joseph. The Plantin-Moretus Museum exhibits the workshop and residence of that great family of ecclesiastical printers (purchased in 1876 by the municipality) quite as they were in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In the various rooms may be seen copies of old missals and breviaries, correspondence of learned men (St. Charles Borromeo, Baronius), portraits of famous editors (Arias Montanus, Justus Lipsius) employed by Plantin and Moretus, drawings by Rubens, engravings by famous masters, artistic bindings, and specimens of all the most perfect work done for this establishment of learned printers during their flourishing period. Altogether it is a “unique picture of the dwelling and contiguous business premises of a Flemish patrician at the end of the sixteenth century”.
The Catholic population of Antwerp and arrondissements is 344,817 (census, 1900). The city contains 34 Catholic churches and chapels, 2 Protestant churches, and 2 synagogues. There are 7 religious orders of men and 30 of women. The chief educational institutions are the Academy of Fine Arts, Academy of Trades, Normal School, Royal Athenmum, College of St. John Berchmans, Institute of St. Norbert, College of Notre Dame and Trades Institute of St. Ignatius, both under the Jesuits. There are in addition boarding schools and day schools under the following religious orders: Ursulines, Sisters of Our Lady, Sisters of the Terninck Foundation, Sisters of the Sacred Heart, Ladies of Christian Instruction, the Apostolines, Annunciates, Sisters of Mary and Sisters of the Heart of Mary. Among the charitable institutions are a Beguinage; a house of the Little Sisters of the Poor, with about 400 inmates; the motherhouse of the Sisters of the Heart of Jesus, for the protection and reclamation of women. There are orphanages for boys and girls, two sailors’ homes, an asylum for the insane, a number of hospitals, e.g. St. Elizabeth‘s with a capacity of 400 and Stuivenberg 500. In Antwerp also is situated the motherhouse of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart.
THOMAS J. SHAHAN