Our 2nd cruise ended in Antwerp, Belgium and it was wet, wet, wet!

The weather didn’t deter us from our regular walk around the town and as we did so it was easy to tell which were groups from the Viking ship, plenty of red umbrellas. Buses took us nearer to the town centre, stopping next to some old sheds which were in the process of being renovated into a skate and exercise walking park.

Former bus station now a skate and walking park.

The first building of interest we arrived at was originally a castle, Het Steen, and then a prison but is now a museum. While a prison, prisoners would be kept in the basement of the building which frequently flooded. When that happened, they were just left to get wet. Their only food was that which family and/or friends brought to them, usually dry bread. Being tortured was a regular occurrence.

Former castle and prison

At the top of the arch at the entrance to the building was a frieze of a young man. Legend has it that he was very fertile and the frieze was made giving him a particularly large penis. If a newly-married woman didn’t fall pregnant within in a few months of marriage, she would slip out at night and stroke the penis and she would be pregnant within a short time. At one stage, the Jesuit Priests voiced their disapproval of both the frieze and the legend and the penis was cut off and it has remained like that ever since.

Frieze of fertile boy

At the bottom of the steps leading into the building was a statue of a folklore boy named Lange Wapper. The legend around him was that he could change his size. He was believed to follow men who had drunk too much in the local bar and, as they walked home, he would gradually become taller and taller. In their drunken state this would fill them with fear and they stayed home with wives and families for quite some time until the fear wore off.

Statue of Lange Wapper
Plaque for Lange Wapper

As we passed through a tunnel we came to a building that looked like a church, it even had a depiction of the crucifixion on the wall but was actually the meeting place of the Antwerp Butchers’ Guild. This building is now also a museum. There was a sign on the wall stating that it was built between 1501-1504. Near to it there were also some remains of the Roman wall.

Crucifix on Butchery Guild building
Remnant of Roman wall

As we walked down the road which would take us to the Main Square or Grote Markt, we saw a home with a statue of the Virgin Mary above the front door. These statues were common until the time of the Reformation when they were banned. Most people then hid them in their basements until freedom of religion was permitted, at different times and in different forms in each country. One of the Roman Catholic leaders suggested that the statues should be lit up but this was not popular with the French who ruled Belgium at the time, so it was finally agreed to have a street light.

Statue of Madonna & Child with blue street light

The Antwerp Cathedral of Our Lady has 4 paintings by Rubens which were brought back from Germany to where they were taken in WWII. These are The Resurrection of Christ, The Elevation of the Cross, The Descent from the Cross and The Assumption of the Virgin. To help protect them from being damaged or stolen, there is a fee of €15 per person to visit the Cathedral. Payment had been made by the Programme Director prior to our arrival and so there was no delay in going in.

Elevation of the Cross
Descent from the Cross

What a magnificent place this was. A stunning example of Gothic architecture with it tallest spire standing 404ft (123m) high. It was built over a period of 169 years, starting in 1352. Even after all that time, from 1533 it underwent a number of restorations due to natural disasters.). Besides the Rubens’ paintings, there are statues of the Madonna and Child from both the 14th and 15th centuries, beautifully carved oak pulpit and choir stalls and, on the altar, a gilded wooden replica of The Ark of the Covenant. The beautiful organ was built in the 19th century and has a wonderful set of pipes.

Pulpit in Cathedral
Replica of The Ark of the Covenant on them altar
Central cross
Organ pipes

In one of the chapels was a very ornately dressed female model whose outfit was changed according to the colours of the Liturgical Season. As it was still the Season of Easter when we visited, she was dressed in white and gold.

Model in white and gold

On returning to the Square we stopped at a sculpture of a young boy lying sleeping on a dog. His story had been told to us while inside the Cathedral. He regularly came into town to sell produce from his parents’ farm with his dog pulling the barrow in which the food was carried. He had a deep desire to see the paintings about which he had been told but, whenever he was in town, the church was locked. One Christmas he and his dog were able to go inside as the church was open for services. Sadly, they were found, frozen to death, at the altar on Christmas morning.

Boy sleeping on dog sculpture
Hands sculpture

Also, in the centre of the Square there was a fountain with a high statue. It was the Brabo fountain, erected in 1887, and the statue was of Brabo clutching the hand of Druno Antigoon, a legendary evil giant who cut off the hands of local boatmen. Brabo was a Roman soldier who challenged Antigoon and successfully cut off his hand and threw it into the River Schelte not far from the castle. It was from this act that Antwerp got its name which means ‘throwing a hand’ and the Coat of Arms includes a castle with a hand on either side. The fountain was under repair so we were unable to see it as it was surrounded with netting.

Statue of Brabo.

We walked back to the buses and were returned to the boat in time for lunch. At about 3pm we decided to visit the MAS Museum. This was such a special place with so much to share that it deserves its own post.