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390: Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekathedrall, Antwerp, Belgium
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Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekathedrall, Antwerp, Belgium
Mystery Worshipper: Leo.
The church: Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekathedrall, Antwerp, Belgium (Cathedral of Our Lady, Antwerp).
Denomination: Roman Catholic.
The building: It is the largest Gothic church in Belgium, built between 1352 and 1521 with a 123m high tower.
The neighbourhood: The cathedral is hemmed in by old houses which give it a picturesque appearance, but which makes it difficult to view the building as a whole.
The cast: The Bishop of Antwerp and eight concelebrants.
What was the name of the service?
Heilige Mis vanmaria Tenhemelopneming – a solemn, pontifical mass for the feast of the Assumption of Our Lady.

How full was the building?
Counting seats per row x number of rows, I estimate there must have been at least 1,500 people.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
I arrived late because I thought it started at 11.00, not 10.30, and a very officious, bearded man with a walkie-talkie thought I was a tourist and would not allow me to stand at the back, but insisted that I either leave or sit in some side aisle. He later tried to move me on again.

Was your pew comfortable?
There were no seats left, so I stood.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
As I missed the start, the opening words I received were those of the man with the walkie-talkie and his unwelcoming attitude.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
A leaflet with details of the music and the words of the hymns.

What musical instruments were played?

Did anything distract you?
A young man went up to communion carrying a rolled-up carpet! This made me feel less guilty about going up with my shoulder bag rather than trusting that it would be there when I got back from communion.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Celebratory without being stuffy. I felt it was of a piece with the jugglers and musicians in the square outside afterwards who were entertaining the citizens of Antwerp on this public holiday. There was a huge, if gaudy, visual aid on display – a dressed, crowned statue of Mary holding the child Jesus.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
I missed it.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
There were a few words in different languages at the end in which the bishop reminded us that Mary's assumption was a foretaste of the destiny of all of us as Christians.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Singing the creed in Latin to Missa de Angelis, because this was the only part of the service I could join in, owing to my lack of Flemish.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The administration of communion in which 29 men and one woman in black gowns took trays of wafers amongst the people. The man who administered to me said no words and made no eye contact, but simply dished out the wafers to his left and right more rapidly than McDonald's could manage.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The seats emptied rapidly, even before the procession of ministers left the sanctuary. The next congregation started to arrive for the noon mass, which was running eight minutes late. This did not make for any conversation.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I had a nice lager on my own in the square outside and watched the jugglers.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
3 – I would have to make friends with the man with the walkie-talkie and appreciate he has a hard job keeping the tourists out.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The carnival atmosphere outside. If Henry VIII hadn't divorced, we'd have more bank holidays in the UK.
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