Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

.

behind, sprang upon the mechanic, and flung him headlong down the steps. The preacher grappled with his enemy as he fell, and both came rolling to the ground. Neither was much injured, but a tumult ensued. A pistol-shot was fired, and the sailor was wounded in the arm. Daggers were drawn, cudgels brandished, the bystanders taking part generally against the sailor, while those who protected him were somewhat bruised and belaboured before they could convey him out of the church. Nothing more, however, transpired that day, and the keepers of the cathedral were enabled to expel the crowd, and to close the doors for the night.

Information of this tumult was brought to the senate, then assembled in the Hôtel de Ville. That body was thrown into a state of great perturbation. In losing the Prince of Orange, they seemed to have lost their own brains, and the first measure which they took was to despatch a messenger to implore his return. In the meantime, it was necessary that they should do something for themselves. It was evident that a storm was brewing. The pest which was sweeping so rapidly

. through the provinces, would soon be among them. Symptoms of the dreaded visitation were already but too manifest. What precaution should they take ? Should they issue a proclamation ? Such documents had been too plenty of late, and had lost their virtue. It was the time not to assert but to exercise authority. Should they summon the wardmasters, and order the instant arming and mustering of their respective companies ? Should they assemble the captains of the military associations ? Nothing better could have been desired than such measures in cases of invasion, or of ordinary tumult, but who should say how deeply the poison had sunk into the body politic; who should say with how much or how little alacrity the burgher militia would obey the mandates of the magistracy? It would be better to issue no proclamation, unless they could enforce its provisions; it would be better not to call out the citizen soldiery, unless they were likely to

prove obedient. Should mercenary troops at this late hour be sent for? Would not their appearance at this crisis rather inflame the rage than intimidate the insolence of the sectaries ? Never were magistrates in greater perplexity. They knew not what course was likely to prove the safest, and in their anxiety to do nothing wrong, the senators did nothing at all. After a long and anxious consultation, the honest burgomaster and his associates all went home to their beds, hoping that the threatening flame of civil tumult would die out of itself, or perhaps that their dreams would supply them with that wisdom which seemed denied to their waking hours.

In the morning, as it was known that no precaution had been taken, the audacity of the Reformers was naturally increased. Within the cathedral a great crowd was at an early hour collected, whose savage looks and ragged appearance denoted that the day and night were not likely to pass away so peacefully as the last. The same taunts and imprecations were hurled at the image of the Virgin ; the same howling of the beggars' cry resounded through the lofty arches. For a few hours no act of violence was committed, but the crowd increased. A few trifles, drifting, as usual, before the event, seemed to indicate the approaching convulsion. A very paltry old woman excited the imagebreaking of Antwerp. She had for years been accustomed to sit before the door of the cathedral with wax tapers and wafers, earning a scanty subsistence from the profits of her meagre trade, and by the small coins which she sometimes received in charity. Some of the rabble began to chaffer with this ancient hucksteress. They scoffed at her consecrated wares; they bandied with her ribald jests, of which her public position had furnished her with a supply; they assured her that the hour had come when her idolatrous traffic was to be for ever terminated, when she and her patroness, Mary, were to be given over to destruction together. The old woman, enraged, answered threat with threat, and gibe with gibe. Passing from words to deeds, she began to catch from the ground every offensive missile or weapon which she could find, and to lay about her in all directions. Her tormentors defended themselves as they could. Having destroyed her whole stock-in-trade, they provoked others to appear in her defence. The passersby thronged to the scene; the cathedral was soon filled to overflowing; a furious tumult was already in progress.

Many persons fled in alarm to the Town House, carrying information of this outbreak to the magistrates. John Van Immerzeel, Margrave of Antwerp, was then holding communication with the senate, and awaiting the arrival of the wardmasters, whom it had at last been thought expedient to summon. Upon intelligence of this riot, which the militia, if previously mustered, might have prevented, the senate determined to proceed to the cathedral in a body, with the hope of quelling the mob by the dignity of their presence. The margrave, who was the high executive officer of the little commonwealth, marched down to the cathedral accordingly, attended by the two burgomasters and all the senators. At first their authority, solicitations, and personal influence, produced a good effect. Some of those outside consented to retire, and the tumult partially subsided within. As night, however, was fast approaching, many of the mob insisted upon remaining for evening service. They were informed that there would be none that night, and that for once the people could certainly dispense with their vespers.

Several persons now manifesting an intention of leaving the cathedral, it was suggested to the senators that if they should lead the way, the population would follow in their train, and so disperse to their homes. The excellent magistrates took the advice, not caring, perhaps, to fulfil any longer the dangerous but not dignified functions of police-officers, Before departing, they adopted the precaution of closing all the doors of the church, leaving a single one open, that the rabble still remaining might have an opportunity to depart. It seemed not to occur to the senators that the same gate would as conveniently afford an entrance for those without as an egress for those within. That unlookedfor event happened, however. No sooner had the magistrates retired than the rabble burst through the single door which had been left open, overpowered the margrave, who, with a few attendants, had remained behind, vainly endeavouring by threats and exhortations to appease the tumult, drove him ignominiously from the church, and threw all the other portals wide open. Then the populace flowed in like an angry sea.

The whole of the cathedral was at the mercy of the rioters, who were evidently bent on mischief. The wardens and treasurers of the church, after a vain attempt to secure a few of its most precious possessions, retired. They carried the news to the senators, who, accompanied by a few halberdmen, again ventured to approach the spot. It was but for a moment, however, for, appalled by the furious sounds, which came from within the church, as if invisible forces were preparing a catastrophe which no human power could withstand, the magistrates fled precipitately from the scene. Fearing that the next attack would be upon the Town House, they hastened to concentrate at that point their available strength, and left the stately cathedral to its fate.

And now, as the shadows of night were deepening the perpetual twilight of the church, the work of destruction commenced. Instead of vespers rose the fierce music of a psalm, yelled by a thousand angry voices. It seemed the preconcerted signal for a general attack. A band of marauders flew upon the image of the Virgin, dragged it forth from its receptacle, plunged daggers into its inanimate body, tore off its jewelled and embroidered garments, broke the whole figure into a thousand pieces, and scattered the fragments along the floor. A wild shout succeeded, and then the work, which seemed delegated to a comparatively small number of the assembled crowd, went on with incredible celerity. Some were armed with axes, some with bludgeons, some with sledge-hammers; others brought ladders, pulleys, ropes, and levers. Every statue was hurled from its niche, every picture torn from the wall, every painted window shivered to atoms, every ancient monument shattered, every sculptured decoration, however inaccessible in appearance, hurled to the ground. Indefatigably, audaciously-endowed, as it seemed, with preternatural strength and nimbleness, these furious iconoclasts clambered up the dizzy heights, shrieking and chattering like malignant apes, as they tore off in triumph the slowly-matured fruit of centuries. In a space of time wonderfully brief, they had accomplished their task.

A colossal and magnificent group of the Saviour crucified between two thieves adorned the principal altar. The statue of Christ was wrenched from its place with ropes and pulleys, while the malefactors, with bitter and blasphemous irony, were left on high, the only representatives of the marble crowd which had been destroyed. A very beautiful piece of architecture decorated the choir—the “repository,” as it was called, in which the body of Christ was figuratively enshrined. This much-admired work rested upon a single column, but rose, arch upon arch, pillar upon pillar, to the height of three hundred feet, till quite lost in the vault above. It was now shattered into a million pieces. The statues, images, pictures, ornaments, as they lay upon the ground, were broken with sledge-hammers, hewn with axes, trampled, torn, and beaten into shreds. A troop of harlots, snatching waxen tapers from the altars, stood around the destroyers, and lighted them at their work. Nothing escaped their omnivorous rage. They desecrated seventy chapels, forced open all the chests of treasure, covered their own squalid attire with the gorgeous robes of the ecclesiastics, broke the sacred bread, poured out the sacramental wine into golden chalices, quaffing huge draughts to the beggars' health;

« PreviousContinue »