Vixxie sets foot on Holy Ground (in Antwerp)

Vixxie sets foot on Holy Ground (in Antwerp)

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During the Yule holidays, I took some time out to visit Rome, Mecca and Jerusalem. All-in-one!

I’m talking about the stunning exhibition on the pilgrimage and sacred books of Judaism, Christianity and Islam in Museum Aan de Stroom (and in Hendrik Conscience Library). My ABSOLUTE favourite museum in Belgium. It truly never disappoints. On top of the cultural goodness, all exhibitions are for free on every last Wednesday of the month. So if you are even remotely interested in religion or basically in understanding the world around you (and you SHOULD be. This topic of discussion is extremely actual and relevant), you really can’t miss this.

Having lived most of my life in a somewhat Christian tradition, I thought it would entice a great dialogue if I went together with Nir. Especially with him, who comes with a solid Jewish heritage, and happened to be spending some quality time with me. Two birds, one stone! As an all round globetrotter, fan-girl of ethnic art history and aspiring visitor to Jerusalem, I LOVED this exhibition.

About the MAS

Going to this museum is much like going to a candy store. You don’t just get ONE sweet. You go home with a bag full of it. Even before you have entered the building, you are already given much more eye candy than you could ever chew.

The modern building is located in the middle of a renovated old-town neighbourhood (‘t Eilandje) which is loaded with nautical heritage. It’s located in between Antwerp’s oldest Port docks: Bonapartedok (1811) and Willemdok (1813). The Bonaparte dock, once built by order of Napoleon, is now a museum on itself and home to well-preserved historical sailing ships (when they sail into Antwerp for example during the Tall Ships Races event). It exhibits a lot of maritime objects as well, including the typical giant floating cranes that are a famous part of the Antwerp skyline. In this neighborhood you can take relaxing strolls over the Nassau and London Bridge, past the Montevideo Warehouses whose interiors are currently being renovated into modern shopping halls and offices, the Port House, etc… but we didn’t, because the winter chill had crept into our bones. The Willem dock and Kempisch dock are two lively marinas within hailing distance. Nearby is the famous Antwerp Red Light District as well, or as we like to call it ‘t schipperskwartier. Do you remember I once wrote about retro cadix (here)?  Cadix, the vintage old town district is located here as well !

Most of the photo’s here-under are kindly borrowed from the web, due to “too-cold-to-hold-the-camera-with-bare-hands”.
(E-mail me if you want to be credited for them.)
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Anyway, I just started writing and I already got sidetracked, I didn’t really have the intention of writing about ‘t Eilandje, so if you’re interested, I will leave you with a very nice brochure about the past and the future of this hipster area. Here!

The Museum aan de Stroom itself stands tall on the exact location where the Hansa House used to be. This former extraordinary warehouse, built in 1564, used to be the largest business center of the city and its beating heart, but it got destroyed by a fire in 1893. Today, the permanent collection of the new museum tells the story of the city, its residents, the river and the international port (One entire floor of the museum is devoted to the history of the port itself.). The layered shape and the red bricks of the building make it look like one of the old warehouses but don’t let that fool you. It was built in 2006 by the Dutch Architects Neutelings-Riedijk and opened for public in 2011. 2006 is also the year I decided to officially settle in Antwerp and build a future here. I thus witnessed the construction first hand !

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Hey look, even Malthael (from Diablo III) turned up for a little showdown! That man and his gaming hoodies, I could dedicate a whole blog about it =)

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The MAS grew to be an eye-catching building with galleries stacked up like ‘boxes’ creating a spiral tower upwards with large expanses of curved glass. As you go up on the escalators from the ground floor to +9, you have a constantly changing view of Antwerp: city, port and river in a single glance.

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There are always some smaller sub-expositions along the MAS boulevard which are free to visit, and before visiting the actual exhibition, we took a climb to the roof terrace. Magnificent view over Antwerp and the port. Very windy also, especially cold when you travel with a 20°C winter kind-of-guy 🙂

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PART I: Sacred Places

“Sacred Places, Sacred Books” is a small but rather different exhibition with an intimate and respectful view on religious history. It builds bridges between the three biggest monotheistic religions in our world. After all, way more than half of the world population is Christian, Muslim of Jewish. And despite their obvious differences, there are also striking similarities (that I suspect most have forgotten). The exhibition has collected over 200 priceless objects and books to take you on an imaginary pilgrimage to the Promised Land. It aims to create a greater understanding of what these religions have in common and what they don’t but especially why they do (not). It doesn’t just explain about the religious shrines but also about the why these destinations are intertwined. At the end of the day, most of the historical locations overlap, hence why religious wars often still rage on those holy grounds.

All the pictures below are property of the official exhibition website.
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Another thing I liked a lot were the video corners. They didn’t always cater to English-only speaking public, because some of them were in Dutch but there were amazing interviews with actual Antwerp people. They share with you personal stories about their pilgrimage, their search for the Divine, their holy books/places and their opinions on why those have exerted a magnetic attraction for centuries. You know, from a charming human perspective, and not so much from a theistic and historical point of view. You can follow their journey, their search for the ultimate power of God, and relive their feelings of hope, ecstasy and purification.

PART II: Sacred Books

Fortunately, I had visited the smaller part on sacred books alone two weeks earlier because I don’t think we would have ever gotten out of that Library. There is something very amusing about an enthusiastic companion who insists on reading out loud every line on every bit of parchment, spontaneously translating all the Hebrew writings to you ! Charming 🙂

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This second part of the exhibition focuses on the holy books of all three religions and how they give meaning to the relationship between God and man: the Tanakh, Bible and Quran. I was very happy to have a  museum guide booklet. It must be said: it explains pretty much everything you need to know and (unless you’re already an expert ) it’s indispensable because you’d still be seeing all the rare documents but you’d be missing the info behind the drop-dead gorgeous first printed bibles by Gutenberg, or the Anjou bible, or original fragments of the dead sea scrolls, or the pretty Ottoman Quran,…  This part is perhaps a bit less approachable than its “sacred places” counterpart but I guess that is the nature of the compex matter: the divine fabric connecting the three books and what these mean for billions of believers. In the past and in the present.

In conclusion

Both parts are well composed in an educational display. If you enter this exhibition with an empty cup, leaving all your prejudices at the front door, and allow yourself to stroll from one artifact to the next, I promise you, you won’t regret it. Hey, maybe you could even be tempted to visit one of Antwerp’s finest churches, synagogues or mosques afterwards. There’s some architectural jewels to be discovered in this melting-pot of a city.

I also discovered the most absurd artifact in the collection. Thinking about selling air… you can rest assured the Jews are way ahead of you 🙂

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Another lovely museum just a few feet away is the Red Star Line Museum, where visitors can follow in the footsteps of the many emigrants who embarked here for a new life in the New World.

Between 1873 and 1934 the legendary Red Star Line carried more than two million passengers from Antwerp to the USA and Canada. The vast majority of them were emigrants from all over Europe who went in search of the “American dream.” For a very large number of European migrants the crossing to the USA or Canada started in the Red Star terminal in Antwerp. It was here on the Rijnkaai, just before the bend of the Scheldt, that the would-be emigrants embarked. The old buildings have now been renovated and converted into a museum, vividly recalling the emotions of these times and making the past visible and tangible. (From the official Red Star Line Museum website)

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Next time!

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