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Archeologische vondst in de tuin van Rubenshuis: Calvinistische tempel

Calvinist temple from 16th century discovered in Rubens House

At the beginning of this year, we started rebuilding the garden. During the groundwork, archaeologists made a curious discovery. They found remains of a Calvinist temple from the religious era. For decades, the existence of that temple has been something of an urban legend, which has now finally been confirmed. Earlier, archaeologists also found a goat tannery from the 14th century.

Calvinist temple

In the southern area of the garden, four brick pillars in 16th-century masonry came to light. The pillars are square, 1 by 1 metre, and were still preserved to a height of 1.30 - 2 metres. They were equally spaced and formed a semicircle. It was soon clear that these were the remains of a Calvinist temple.

The temple dates back to 1566 when the Calvinist iconoclasm broke out in Antwerp. To calm tempers, Protestants were given permission to erect six temples within the city walls. One of them was located on the grounds behind the Wapper, on the site of the later Ruben garden. The temples had an octagonal ground plan and were built mainly of wood. Brick pillars carried the roof.

Barely a year later, in 1567, governess Margaret of Parma ordered that the Protestant churches be demolished and all traces of the reformation erased. So it happened, and nothing was seen of the temples for a long time. Until, in 1939, Emiel Van Averbeke redid the Ruben garden and saw four brick pillars. He made a sketch and assumed they were the remains of the Calvinist temple. For a long time, the authenticity of his find and record was doubted, but current excavations were able to confirm this theory. So the brick pillars of the Calvinist temple were indeed preserved in the subsoil of the Ruben Garden. A remarkable find that makes a tumultuous piece of history tangible again.

Tekening van de Calvinistische tempel (gemaakt door Joris Snaet)

Drawing: Joris SnaetĀ 

14th-century goat tannery

Earlier this year, excavations were carried out in the central, eastern and northern areas of the garden. There, archaeologists found a 19th-century masonry cellar, a 16th-century dividing wall and a large number of archaeological layers and pits to a reasonable depth. These are late medieval pits with a high concentration of waste material and remains of burning. They indicate artisanal activities in this area during the late medieval period.

One pit was remarkable. The fill contained hundreds of horn pits and legs of goats. This find indicates that a tanner was working at this site during the late medieval period. Indeed, animal hides were delivered from the countryside to the tanners in the city with the horns and legs still attached, this functioned as a quality label. The tanner would leave these protrusions on until he was done with the hides, then he would remove them, sell the horn to the horn worker and throw the horn pits and legs into a waste pit. Because these are goats, we know they are the finer, white leather. It is an extraordinary find for our knowledge of late medieval Antwerp, until now no tanneries could be located in the city. It is also important for the broader knowledge of the late Middle Ages, tanneries with goat leather are rare and have never been found on this scale in an urban context in Flanders.