The interior during the Ancien Régime
In the interior the Italian influences are much more prevalent than on the outer façade. However, in the beginning, the inside of the church was marked by modesty and simplicity as well.
In 1628 the first and most influential changes took place. The three Antwerp masters of painting each produced an altarpiece for the Saint Augustine church.
left: In the Saint Augustine chapel the north nave is closed off with the painting The passion of Saint Augustine, by Antoon van Dyck. This alter was not only dedicated to Augustinus, but also to his mother Saint Monica. Wilhelmus, Nicolas, Tolentino, and Cornelius are also honoured.
middle: For the high altar Rubens painted The mystic wedding of Saint Catharina. The high altar itself was dedicated to the patron saints of the Augustine order, Our-Dear-Lady, and all the saints.
right: Jacob Jordaens ‘s The martyrdom of Saint Apollonia decorated the chapel in the south nave. There, the chapel altar, aside from being dedicated to Apollonia, is also in honour of Henricus, Simeon, Lucius and Rochus.
The Augustinus cycle
Remarkably, the alter paintings were created long before the high-choir and discussed chapels were completed. First the middle section would have to be finished.
From 1650 a series of paintings depicting the life of Saint Augustinus was made to measure for the space between the windows and the crown moulding of the colonnade. This “Augustinus cycle” starting at the north end by the high-choir, still exists and will be reinstalled after the restoration is complete. Of the sixteen anonymous paintings, two are accredited to Willem van Herp and two to Cornelis De Vos. No other names are known.
Just beneath the crown moulding is a row of rosettes with underneath it decorative half elevated apostle medallions, floral garlands, and angels in between the arches of the colonnade. These authentic decorations were sculpted by Aert Coens, possibly after a design by master architect Coebergher.
In 1671-1672 the choir seating was placed behind the high altar, in the sacristy! Actually, the fathers admitted their error in this. Even before the construction of the church, the provincial officials decided that the choir had to be built behind the altar. In this manner, the fathers wouldn’t be visible to the laymen in the church. They ignored these instructions, apparently in error.
In 1671 a marble table was also placed in the high altar. This showpiece by Artus Quellin would disappear after the sale of the church in the French period. The still present super structure is a creation of Hendrik Frans Verbruggen). When the baroque enclosure was constructed is unclear. This most likely occurred after 1700. In any case, the accounting records make mention of the gilding of the high altar only in 1728, exactly one hundred years after the Rubens painting was installed.
The marble altar and side bays also appeared much later than the altar paintings: in 1673 in the Augustine chapel and in 1693 in the Apollonia chapel. Few original aspects remain of the first altar built by Arnold Quellin the younger. The second one, however, has been preserved, albeit in an altered form. It was built by Hendrik Frans Verbruggen or employees of his atelier.
In the end, Hendrik Frans Verbruggen contributed even more to the baroque feeling of the interior of the church than Coebergher. In fact, made by his hand were: the pulpit (1697), the missing communion rail (1705), the under the French regime destroyed portal (1712), the relic case of Nicolaas of Tolentino and Thomas of Villanova (both 1721) and- outside the church- the holy water fonts of the sacristy (1690).
In 1718, possibly the period when the high alter was constructed, the high choir was given a vaulted semi circular apse. This detail coordinates visually with the high altar. The central nave got its arch three years later.