The Reformation in Antwerp: Its Rise and Impact

Angelo Serrentino


The city of Antwerp, on the eve of the Protestant Reformation, was a thriving centre of commercial and cultural exchange. The opening of trade with English wool merchants, who had been boycotted in Brabant and Flanders, and the establishment of the annual fair had brought Antwerp economic prosperity.Merchants and wealthy bankers from the whole of Europe flocked to the city on the Scheldt, which by 1501 had gained the economic favour of the Portuguese crown and was awarded a monopoly on spice trade. The expanding wealth of Antwerp was matched by its demographic and cultural development; by the mid-sixteenth century, Antwerp’s population had risen to 100,000 and its markets were renowned for their splendid art.It was in this economic state of bliss that the Protestant Reformation took hold in Antwerp. Martin Luther (1483-1546) and his nailing of the “Ninety-Five Theses” on the doors of the castle church in Wittenberg (1517) ushered in an era of unprecedented religio-political strife in Antwerp and Europe. As the Catholic Church struggled to maintain the reins of power, Luther and other Reformers utilized increasingly modern techniques to popularize their religions, such as the printing of vernacular bibles and texts.The channels of international trade and commerce soon brought Protestantism into Antwerp, initiating sweeping religious changes within the city. The rise of the Reformation in Antwerp may be attributed to the city’s pre-existing tensions with the Catholic Church, as well as its prominence as a centre of printing and exchange. Following its rise, the Reformation transformed the societal landscape of Antwerp, as represented by changes in government and iconoclasm.



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