AREAS OF ANTWERP | St. James’ Church (Sint-Jacobskerk)

In November 2022, renovation works started on the east side of St. James’ Church or Sint-Jacobskerk in Antwerp. So when that was announced and before that area was closed off from the public, I went to visit the church.

St. James’ Church is a former Collegiate church built on the site of a hostel for pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela. The present building is the work of the Waghemakere family and Rombout Keldermans, in Brabantine Gothic style. The church contains the grave of Peter Paul Rubens in the eastern chapel.


From 1431 on, even before the church was built, the chapel on this site was a stop on the route to the burial place of Saint James the Great in Santiago de Compostela. In 1476 the chapel became a parish church so plans were made to replace the modest building with a large church. 

In 1491, construction of the late Gothic church started. It was not completed until 1656, when Baroque architecture was in vogue. Throughout all those years the architects closely followed the original Gothic design, hence the consistent Gothic exterior. My guide in October 2022 told me it was quite impossible not to follow the Gothic architecture as the foundations were already there. 

The interior, however, is decorated in Baroque style.

The plans at the start of the construction, in a time when Antwerp was on its way to becoming one of the most important economic hubs in Europe, were very ambitious. The church was to feature just one tower, but this was to be about 150 m (490 ft) tall, well above the 123 m (404 ft) of the two planned towers of Antwerp’s Cathedral of Our Lady.

Unfortunately, due to the decline of the city from the mid-16th century on, financial problems eventually caused construction to be halted after the tower had reached just one third of its planned height.

Although the original interior was destroyed during the iconoclastic storms of 1566 and 1581, the Baroque 17th-century interior is well preserved thanks to a priest who pledged allegiance to the French revolutionaries, who had just invaded the city. 

In return, he was rewarded by being permitted to choose one church in Antwerp which would not be plundered, and chose St. James’, thus saving the interior. Many of the original stained-glass windows were unfortunately destroyed during World War II.

Among the Baroque interior decorations are the carved wooden choir stalls, created between 1658 and 1570, the opulent main altar (1685) and the communion rails of the holy chapel (1695). The central pulpit was created in 1675 by Lodewijk Willemsens.


St. James’s Church served as parish church for several smaller crafts and guilds and religious brotherhoods. The choir was completed during the Baroque period with the tombs and chapels of wealthy families. 

The most famous memorial chapel is that Peter Paul Rubens. He painted the altarpiece ‘Madonna Surrounded by Saints‘ in the chapel. Elsewhere in the church you can admire a masterpiece by Jacob Jordaens.

A visit

You can visit St. James’ Church. Admission is free and so is the guided tour. Opening hours are limited though. 

It doesn’t take hours to visit the church, but is well worth a little detour. 

On the look of Antwerp

6 Comments Add yours

  1. elvira797mx says:

    Wow! So beautiful church, is amazing.
    Thank’s for share Timothy.
    Have a lovely day!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Timothy says:

      Yes it really is beautiful. Have a great day, Elvira.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. elvira797mx says:

        Thank’s Timothy for share.
        Great day as well

        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s