Page images

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 passers

by 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;

burned all the splendid missals and manuscripts, and smeared their shoes with the sacred oil, with which kings and prelates had been anointed. It seemed that each of these malicious creatures must have been endowed with the strength of a hundred giants. How else, in the few brief hours of a midsummer night, could such a monstrous desecration have been accomplished by a troop, which, according to all accounts, was not more than one hundred in number. There was a multitude of spectators, as upon all such occasions, but the actual spoilers were very few.

The noblest and richest temple of the Netherlands was a wreck, but the fury of the spoilers was excited, not appeased. Each seizing a burning torch, the whole "herd rushed from the cathedral, and swept howling through the streets. "Long live the beggars! resounded through the sultry midnight air, as the ravenous pack flew to and fro, smiting every image of the Virgin, every crucifix, every sculptured saint, every Catholic symbol which they met with upon their path. All night long they roamed from one sacred edifice to another, thoroughly destroying as they went. Before morning they had sacked thirty churches within the city walls. They entered the monasteries, burned their invaluable libraries, destroyed their altars, statues, pictures, and, descending into the cellars, broached every cask which they found there, pouring out in one great flood all the ancient wine and ale with which those holy men had been wont to solace their retirement from generation to generation. They invaded the nunneries, whence the occupants, panic-stricken, fled for refuge to the houses of their friends and kindred. The streets were filled with monks and nuns, running this way and that, shrieking and fluttering, to escape the claws of these fiendish Calvinists. The terror was imaginary, for not the least remarkable feature in these transactions was, that neither insult nor injury was offered to man or woman, and that not a farthing's value of the immense amount of property destroyed

« PreviousContinue »