What does Antwerp have with mothers and why are sinjores dying out? 10,000 steps past ‘the mothers of the city’ (Antwerp)

What does Antwerp have with mothers and why are sinjores dying out? 10,000 steps past ‘the mothers of the city’ (Antwerp)
What does Antwerp have with mothers and why are sinjores dying out? 10,000 steps past ‘the mothers of the city’ (Antwerp)

Start and end:Cathedral of Our Lady, Glove Market, 2000 Antwerp Info:www.beroepsbelg.be

1. Cathedral of Our Lady

© Jan Van der Perre

“My goal is to open a birthplace in the city in a few years,” says city guide Tanguy Ottomer.

“My goal is to open a birthplace in the city in a few years,” says city guide Tanguy Ottomer. — © Jan Van der Perre

“Our Lady is the patron saint of our city. The cathedral is named after her and is therefore literally the ‘Notre Dame’ of Antwerp. Compared to that of Paris we have completed at least one tower (laughs). The original plan was for the cathedral to have three towers, and then even five. In the end it was just one.”

At 123 meters, the cathedral is the tallest building in the city. “No buildings should ever be built higher in Antwerp,” says Tanguy Ottomer. “The cathedral is not only named after Mary, there is also a very beautiful statue of her inside. In 2021, the statue wore a green dress designed by Natan for a while. Today she is once again wearing her familiar white face.”

“In addition to the Virgin Mary in the cathedral, there are more than a hundred statues of Mary on city facades that watch over our city. They protect the city and are in turn maintained and protected by the non-profit organization Voor Kruis en Beeld.”

2. Pieter van Hobokenstraat

© Jan Van der Perre

“I was born here,” says Tanguy in the Pieter van Hobokenstraat. “I was just in time. A few years after my arrival, the motherhouse that used to be here closed. For the last twenty years before its closure, it was called the Our Lady of Antwerp Clinic. Today the OLV Antwerp residential care center is located here.”

The motherhouse at Pieter van Hobokenstraat 3 opened in 1921. It closed in 1985. This was partly due to a change in hospital legislation, which meant that hospitals with only one specialization were no longer allowed to exist. “The maternity clinic was converted into a residential care center. The buildings of the former mother house have now disappeared and made way for the complex that now stands here.”

“Did you know that this used to be called the ‘kinnekes factory’,” smiles Tanguy. “I once spoke to doctor Verkinderen, who worked here at the time as a gynecologist and who says he has given birth to more than 10,000 children.”

3. City walls

© Jan Van der Perre

“Anyone who talks about mothers and motherhouses in the city must also talk about Sinjoren,” says Tanguy. “After all, only those born within the former walls of the Spanish Fortress – between the Leien and the Scheldt – can officially call themselves Sinjoor. In principle it is even stricter and your parents and grandparents must also have been born within the city wall.”

Since the reconstruction of the Operaplein, you can see part of the ramparts at the Kipdorpvest. It dates from the period when the Spanish occupied the city in the 16th century. “Hence the name sinjoor: it comes from the Spanish word señor, which means dignified gentleman.”

Sinjoren are a dying breed. “Because there are no longer any maternity wards in that part of the city, new mothers can only be born during home births. A pity. I am therefore actively committed to changing that. My goal is to be able to open a birthplace in the city in a few years.”

4. Foundling slide

© Jan Van der Perre

Antwerp also has a place for mothers who see no other way out than to leave their child in safe hands. In 2000, a foundling shelter opened in Borgerhoutse Helmstraat.

When the hatch is opened, a silent alarm goes off and volunteers are informed that a child has been placed in the crib provided. Someone will be there within fifteen minutes to catch the baby.

For children who end up in the foundling hatch, a foster family is sought who can later adopt the child. Just like with any other adoption, the birth mother still has six months of reflection time if she wants to reconsider her decision. The biological mother can always identify herself using the envelope located on the inside of the hatch and which she can take with her when she leaves her child.

The foundling hatch is managed by the non-profit organization Mothers for Mothers. Since the opening, more than twenty children have been abandoned.

5. Vinkenstraat

© Jan Van der Perre

The maternity clinic in Vinkenstraat in 1925.

The maternity clinic in Vinkenstraat in 1925. — © Photo collection Maagdenhuis Museum/Felix Archives

Just like in the Pieter van Hobokenstraat, there used to be a mother house at the end of the Vinkenstraat, which has since been converted into a residential care center. Next to the Vinkenpark you can still see the original buildings from 1909. “The design is by Walter Van Kuyck, who also built In the marriage boat signed a building on the Grote Markt that today houses the catering business De Zeven Schaken. During the interwar period, Van Kuyck also built the Colonial College in Middelheimlaan.”

“This motherhouse closed its doors in 1968,” says Tanguy. “I think it is a great pity that there are no more mother houses in the city today. The atmosphere in a mother’s home must have been very different from that in a general hospital. Women were cared for and held in high esteem. After all, you came here to celebrate new life, not to be ill.”

“Do you know why we only celebrate Mother’s Day here in Antwerp on August 15,” Tanguy asks as he says goodbye. “We are the only province in Flanders that does that. We owe this to the liberal Antwerp alderman Frans Van Kuyck, who created the holiday in 1913. Although, as far as I’m concerned, mothers should be celebrated every day. So we are also happy to participate in the ‘commercial’ Mother’s Day on May 12 in Antwerp.”

Nice stops nearby?

A. Eleventh Commandment

In the Eleventh Commandment restaurant we continue with the Marian theme: the restaurant is decorated with numerous statues of saints. There are two branches near the cathedral. The well-known one on the Torfbrug and the brand new one on the Suikerrui, which opened a few months ago. You can be amazed by both cases.

Suikerrui 1 and Torfbrug 10, 2000 Antwerpelfdegebod.com

© Jan Van der Perre

B. Barbarella

Delicious pizzas on the Grote Markt. In this small, cozy shop, white pizzas are the bestsellers.

Grote Markt 58, 2000 Antwerp, barbarellapizza.be

C. Copain

Coffee and beer bar Copain is located in the middle of the student area, on the popular Ossenmarkt. When the weather is nice, it is always pleasant to sit here on the terraces and look around.

Ossenmarkt 30, 2000 Antwerp, bar-copain.be

© Jan Van der Perre

D. Bar Bakelite

Brown pub owned by Tim Mouling and Julie Vrijens, in the middle of Borgerhout. The owners are big vintage fans, and that shows in the interior of their popular neighborhood café.

Laar 11, 2140 Antwerpwww.facebook.com/BarBakeliet

© Jan Van der Perre

E. The Finch

Only open for a few years, it has already become a permanent fixture in Antwerp. Chef Aiko Linssen conjures up the tastiest portion dishes with an Asian twist on your plate. Please note: if you want to eat here in the evening, do not forget to make a reservation.

Vinkenstraat 1, 2018 Antwerp, www.thefinch.be

© Jan Van der Perre

Participate in the 10,000 steps clash of the city of Antwerp

During the entire month of May, the city of Antwerp will compete against Beveren, Genk, Kortrijk and Sint-Niklaas. Every resident and sympathizer of the city can participate. Register for free at www.10000stappen.be or download the ‘10,000 steps’ app and become a member of the Antwerp group. Connect your Google Fit, iHealth, Garmin or Fitbit to 10,000 steps or manually enter your daily steps on the 10,000 steps website or app. You also have a chance to win a nice prize.


Tags: Antwerp mothers sinjores dying steps mothers city Antwerp


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