St. James' Church is 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 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. Fifteen years later, in 1491, construction of the late Gothic church started. It was not completed until 1656, when Baroque architecture was in vogue. Fortunately throughout all those years the architects closely followed the original Gothic design, hence the consistent Gothic exterior. 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 150m tall. 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.
In the 17th and 18th century St. James' Church was the parish church of Antwerp's prominent citizens, several of whom built private burial chapels in the church. The most famous is that of Antwerp's renowned painter Peter Paul Rubens, completed five years after his death in 1640. The painting above Rubens' tomb is by the master himself.
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 Willemssens. The organ, built by J.B. Forceville in 1727, is also original, including the still functioning mechanical action.References:
The Externsteine (Extern stones) is a distinctive sandstone rock formation located in the Teutoburg Forest, near the town of Horn-Bad Meinberg. The formation is a tor consisting of several tall, narrow columns of rock which rise abruptly from the surrounding wooded hills. Archaeological excavations have yielded some Upper Paleolithic stone tools dating to about 10,700 BC from 9,600 BC.
In a popular tradition going back to an idea proposed to Hermann Hamelmann in 1564, the Externsteine are identified as a sacred site of the pagan Saxons, and the location of the Irminsul (sacral pillar-like object in German paganism) idol reportedly destroyed by Charlemagne; there is however no archaeological evidence that would confirm the site's use during the relevant period.
The stones were used as the site of a hermitage in the Middle Ages, and by at least the high medieval period were the site of a Christian chapel. The Externsteine relief is a medieval depiction of the Descent from the Cross. It remains controversial whether the site was already used for Christian worship in the 8th to early 10th centuries.
The Externsteine gained prominence when Völkisch and nationalistic scholars took an interest in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This interest peaked under the Nazi regime, when the Externsteine became a focus of nazi propaganda. Today, they remain a popular tourist destination and also continue to attract Neo-Pagans and Neo-Nazis.