St. Charles Borromeo Church (Sint-Carolus Borromeus Kerk)

The Church was built by the Jesuits in 1614–1621 to honor St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of their order called the Society of Jesus.  The church implements the ideas of the Counter-Reformation and the triumph of Catholicism both architecturally and artfully. It is built in the Baroque style, partially relying on the drawings by Rubens. The bell tower is 58 meters tall.

In 1773, the Jesuit Order was abolished and in 1779, the church was renamed in honor of the counter-reformation activist, an Italian Bishop Carlo Borromeo. Paintings by Rubens and Van Dyck that were used to decorate the interior of the church were brought to Vienna.

39 plafond paintings created by Rubens and young Anthony van Dyck were destroyed in a big fire in 1718.  Adjacent  to the church was a residence of Jesuits — the headquarters of the Order in the Southern Netherlands at the time, which boasted a wonderful collection of Latin and Greek books.

The 1717 Travel Journal of Peter I (known as “Jurnal”) says: “April. On the 1st day, early in the morning, namely just after 7 o’clock, he went to the Exchange and then to a Jesuit church which has a very rich building and is decorated with marble and also with superior paintings.”

The Detailed Voyage Journal (for April 1717, prepared by scrivener Ivan Yuriev) adds that “<...>His Majesty visited <...> another Jesuit monastery and viewed a church which has a very rich building and is decorated with marble and also with superior paintings.”

Peter was lucky to see the “main church of Rubens” still at its finest, i.e. before the fire of 1718, and, as can be seen, the Tsar appreciated the quality of the paintings. The local newspaper Relations Veritables wrote that “His Majesty visited the church of Jesuit fathers, which he then admired, and he also visited a library and walked around the garden.”

A particular point of interest in the church is a peculiar mechanism for alternating the paintings behind the altar.  Built in the 17th century, it has survived in operating condition and is still functioning.

St. Charles Borromeo Church (Sint-Carolus Borromeus Kerk)


Hendrik Conscienceplein 6, 2000 Antwerp, Belgium
Hendrik Conscienceplein 6, 2000 Antwerpen, België