Cathedral of Our Lady in Antwerp (Onze-Lieve-Vrouwe Kathedraal)

The largest Gothic style cathedral in the Netherlands was built in the period between 1352 and 1521. Since 1559, the church has been the cathedral of the bishopric of Antwerp (with a break between 1798 and 1961). The total area of the cathedral is 8,000 square meters, and the bell tower is 123 meters tall. One of the architects of the cathedral was Pieter Appelmans.

In the first half of the 18th century, when Peter I visited Antwerp, the cathedral excited general admiration. However, by the end of the century, the “revolutionaries” began to give less value to this pearl of the Brabant Gothic architecture.

The 1717 Travel Journal of Peter I (known as “Jurnal”) reads as follows: “April. <...> On the 2nd day, at 7 o’clock in the morning, he was pleased to visit another Jesuit (!) church which is as beautiful in its building and decorations as the first one (or even better than the first one), and he was pleased to see the superior paintings there, and then he visited the bell tower which is very high, namely 82 Russian fathoms, and has a good striking clock.”

More facts are found in the Detailed Voyage Journal (for April 1717, prepared by scrivener Ivan Yuriev): “<...> he again visited Jesuit churches one of which has a very rich building and is decorated with marble and also with superior paintings, and then he visited the bell tower which is an old building very beautiful architecturally and also very high, namely 82 Russian fathoms, and has a beautiful striking clock.”

The Cabinet Budget Expenses report for 1717 states:  “April <...> the 6th: A chervonets was paid to moor Abram in Brussels for the ropes that he had bought in Antwerp by order of His Royal Majesty to measure a large tower in Antwerp.” 

So, on April 2/13, 1717, Peter went up to the top of the bell tower. He “looked at the surroundings of the town” from the tower of the cathedral (according to Ivan Golikov). The Tsar was amazed with the size of the cathedral. He wanted to check whether the tower was indeed the tallest in the Netherlands and asked his orderly, moor Abram (to be later known as Abram Gannibal) to find a rope to measure the height of the cathedral. The measurements taken by Peter showed that the tower was 82 straight fathoms (124.6 meters) tall — this is almost in line with the currently recorded height of 123 meters.

During the French occupation in 1798–1799, the cathedral was saved by architect Jan Blom who also restored its interiors design later. One of the neighboring streets is named “Jan Blomstraat” in his honor.

The Antwerp Cathedral is on the UNESCO World Heritage List.


Cathedral of Our Lady in Antwerp (Onze-Lieve-Vrouwe Kathedraal)


Groenplaats 21 (Green square), 2000 Antwerp, Belgium
Groenplaats 21, 2000 Antwerpen, België