ANTWERP, Belgium (AP) — Religious storytelling still takes twists and turns at St. Charles Borromeo Church in the Belgian port city of Antwerp.

Three times a year, the Roman Catholic church switches the huge painting behind its main altar using an antique, yet effective system of cranks, pulleys, ropes and many helping hands to highlight religious themes according to the season.

The Baroque church was full after Easter when the 13-by-17 foot "The Raising of the Cross" by Flemish painter Gerard Seghers began to shift and tilt backward. After five minutes, the painting had been lowered into a slot and disappeared.

Just as quickly, the crowd watched as "Our Lady of Mount Carmel" by Flemish artist Gustave Wappers emerged.

In 15 minutes, the changeover was complete. The next will take place ahead of the Assumption in August, when another painting of Mary will get central billing.

Church steward Dimitri De Hert said St. Charles Borromeo's archives do not have much information about the origins of the high altar's seasonal adornment or the mechanism used to carry it out.

There is evidence of the practice from as far back as 1841, though it might have been in use before then, he said.

"There used to be a lot of illiterate people around here. And the paintings told a story they understood. It was like a cartoon," De Hert said.

The magnificent church was built in the early 1600s. Renowned Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens had a hand in designing the top of the church steeple, as well as the facade decorations and elements of the altar.

Rubens also contributed more than 30 paintings for the church ceiling that were destroyed by a fire in 1718, as well as two paintings for the altar that were requisitioned by Habsburg Empress Maria Theresa of Austria more than a half-century later.

Beginning next month, Antwerp is hosting a year of events to celebrate the city's Baroque influences and Rubens' contributions to it.


Raf Casert contributed from Brussels.