Places to visit

Altar-pieces - “retables”

Typical elaborate wood screen behind the altar, using paintings and statues to convey a powerful religious message

Baroque altar screens
These colourful screens were part of the religious revival that swept the Roman Catholic church in the 16th century, when it finally woke up to the fact of the Reformation and the threat of protestants breaking away. Such decoration behind the altar was not new, but the exhuberant form of it was a fashionable “craze” - every church had to have a lavish elaborate wooden screen with pillars, paintings and 3-D statues.

Emotional religious message
Church leaders hoped that vivid art, carrying a simple, powerful message would stir pious emotions in ordinary worshippers. They decorated churches with art representing Christ, the saints and scenes from the Bible. The altar was the focus of attention during a service

The “over-the-top” style in architecture and decoration was termed “baroque”, which was meant at the time as a criticism.

The Catholic church finally woke up to the problems exposed by the Protestants. The Pope called the "Council of Trent" to discuss reform. Many people said the Church was "out of touch" with the people. Bishops and clergy were often corrupt, living too well. Unlike the Protestant churches they kept the bible and services in Latin.

1. Church at Esquelbecq. 2. Church at West-Cassel. 3. A concert in front of one of the area's famous altar-pieces
Many new churches were built called “hall-kirks”, with three naves to bring the congregation closer to the priest and the altar. It was all part of the revival of the catholic church, tackling the corruption and abuses of the Middle Ages.


Places to visit:
Salle des Mays - religious paintings from the period, in the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Arras

Related background information
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