The church façade
The narrow, vertical facade of the Saint Augustine church fits remarkably well in the street profile and that was the case in the 17th century as well. According to some, this explains the relative simplicity of the design. Others note the cause of the limited means of the Augustinians. However, maybe the façade displays the fact that baroque in the Low Countries was still in its early stages. The Saint Augustine church seems to alternate between baroque and renaissance.
The soberness is most likely derived from a combination of the reasons summarized. During the construction of the more free standing Saint Carolus Borromeus church-started in the same year- a choice for a complete baroque style, according to southern Low Country norms, was made including a luxuriant façade. What’s also known is that the Jesuits went deep into debt for this monumental piece of construction.
It’s precisely the renaissance characteristics that give the Saint Augustine church something unique. The church architecture in our region made the step from gothic to baroque. The renaissance style was relegated to civil architecture. In this respect, the facade of Saint Augustine stands out, but did set an example for other simple baroque churches like the Saint Barbara church in Diest, also originally from the Augustine Order.
The facade of the Saint Augustine church is a compromise between local tradition and the influence of the architect Coebergher’s long stay in Italy. The variation from local building norms is notable in the combination of light natural stone bands filled in with brick. This decoration is reminiscent of the “bacon pattern” and Whitestone moulding in brick houses. The façade is nearly flat. The segments are visible through colour variation, not through a relief in the pilaster or crown mouldings, as Coebergher, according to Italian examples, previously used in the (no longer existent) Brussels Carmelite church or in the Basilica church of Scherpenheuvel. He found inspiration for Antwerp’s Saint Augustine facade mainly in the architectural books of Hans Vredeman de Vries. This is most obvious in the crowning of the door, windows, and the elegant bowed neck gable embellished with golden candlesticks, urns, and a cross.
It’s not noticeable from the facade, but it encloses a simple slate saddle roof where a whimsical little tower, with a double skylight under a domed roof, peeks through. There are no bells in this tower anymore. There are three statues located in the facade niches. Above the door Saint Augustine is depicted preaching with his mitre and his rulebook, higher up to the left is Saint Appolonia with pliers as a torture instrument, and to the right the holy Augustine monk Nicolaas of Tolentino.