Saint Charles Borromeo’s Church

Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640)

The Return of the Holy Family
Sint-Carolus Borromeuskerk in Antwerpen (interieur)

Hendrik Conscienceplein, Antwerpen

The Sint-Carolus Borromeuskerk and Peter Paul Rubens are often mentioned in the same breath. Discover this marble and gold temple and explore the spirit of one of the 17th century’s greatest artists.

De terugkeer van de Heilige Familie van Peter Paul Rubens

Saint Charles Borromeo’s Church

In the square housing this triumphant Baroque church you might well imagine yourself to be in Italy. The Antwerp Jesuits built it between 1615 and 1621, during the Counter-Reformation. Contemporaries considered it ‘heaven on earth’ and even today the church still feels like that, with its dynamic façade, refined interior, two storeys and the sublime Rubenskapel (Rubens Chapel). In addition to quite a few paintings, the church comprises a remarkable collection of lace and textiles. The Community of Sant’Egidio, which is also committed to looking after the poor and to promoting dialogue and peace, celebrates liturgy here. A special tradition is the Artists’ Mass on a Sunday featuring choirs and musicians. You can visit the Mariakapel (Our Lady Chapel), Sacristy and ancient crypts and descend into a secret passageway in The Ruien (a hidden underground system of vaults, canals, bridges, sewers and sluices) accompanied by an experienced guide.

The Return of the Holy Family

The former mayor and friend of Peter Paul Rubens, Nicolaas Rockox, donated The Return of the Holy Family to the Sint-Carolus Borromeuskerk in 1620, when it was under construction to become a Jesuit church. The return of the Holy Family was chosen as a subject because it is one of the few scenes in which Saint Joseph is more prominent. It is set in the time following the exile from Egypt when danger had passed and the family was able to return to Nazareth. The little boy Jesus is already a few years old and walks in between Mary and Joseph. In the clouds at the very top God the Father appears with his hands resting on a globe. It depicts the dual nature of Jesus, as the son of God in the heavenly trinity on the vertical axis, and as the human child in the earthly trinity of Mary, Joseph and Child on the horizontal axis. In 1777, when the Jesuit order was abolished, the painting was sold for 1,350 guilders. Having been frequently moved from place to place, it ended up in the Metropolitan Museum in New York in 1872. In 2017, it was returned to its original location in the Sint-Jozefkapel (Saint Joseph’s Chapel) when it was repurchased by the Kerkfabriek (church governance council) of Sint-Carolus Borromeus. The painting was restored at the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage in Brussels.

Practical information

Address

Hendrik Conscienceplein z/n
2000 Antwerpen
Belgium
View directions

Opening hours

  • Open Monday to Saturday from 10.00 to 12.30 hrs and from 14.00 to 17.00 hrs.

  • Open for worship only on Sundays from 10.30 to 12.30 hrs and from 16.30 to 18.00 hrs.

Accessibility

  • Easy access for people with disabilities.

Good to know

  • Entrance fee: € 5.00 standard rate

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