After our lunch on Sunday, May 27, 2012 my wife and I walked down the hill with our friend George DeCat to visit the Collegiate Church of Ste Gertrude. The tour we received was entirely in French with George acting as our interpreter and took about two and a half hours. In that time we covered the entire ground floor, the crypt underneath, the westwork galleries and the Imperial Room that can only be reached by climbing 132 steps.
The church is recognized as one of the finest examples of Romanesque architecture in all of Belgium. It was completed in 1046 in the Ottonian style and was modified in the late Romanesque style by the end of the 12th century. The cloister dates to the 13th century. Baroque decorations were added in the 17th century and wood panelling was added in the 18th century as well as many sculptures by the famous local artist Laurent Delvaux.
The church was almost completely destroyed in the German air bombardment of May 14, 1940. Excavations during the 1940s and 50s revealed the existence of the largest crypt of any church in Belgium plus evidence of four other churches built on the same location going all the way back to the 7th century. The project to restore the church began in 1948 and was completed in 1984.
George lives on a hill just a few blocks north of the church. Half-way down the hill we got our first view of the north side of the church and its huge westwork.
Western apse and choir.
Woodwork image of Ste Gertrude.
Yes, the crypt was somewhat creepy. OK, I won’t show any more pictures like this!
Ste Gertrude and a replica of her shrine. The original golden shrine was destroyed in the May 1940 bombing.
The shrine replica was made in stainless steel, bronze and silver by Felix Roulin in 1982.
Bust of Ste Gertrude.
Marble and alabaster altarpiece by Jean Thonan Dinant in 1629.
Detail of Nativity scene by Dinant.
Tribute by Delvaux to the Archduke Albert who led the Catholic forces against the Protestants during the 17th century religious wars when this part of Belgium belonged to Spain.
Religious paintings and woodwork, eastern choir.
View of the western choir from the eastern choir.
Banner near altar
Stained glass windows in eastern apse behind altar.
Eastern choir woodwork dates from the 1700s.
I believe this is another Delvaux.
Pulpit by Delvaux (1772). The sculpture shows Christ conversing with the Samaritan Woman at the well.
The cloister is on the north side of the church. The abbey that once adjoined the cloister no longer exists.
The bells that were destroyed in the May 1940 bombing are on display in the cloister garden.
Westwork, northwest transept, north wall and south side of cloister from the east side of the cloister. The central tower, restored in 1984, is now a Romanesque octagon. Before the May 1940 bombing it was a Gothic square with a very tall (about 60 meters) spire.
St James (Jacques).
The chariot (built in 1450) that carries Ste Gertrude’s shrine around town in the annual procession called the Tour Sainte Gertrude.
Another statue of Ste Gertrude (by Laurent Delvaux).
View of nave and eastern choir from the western choir gallery.
Screen prints by the renowned English artist Julia Clegg were displayed in 2003.
One of Julia Clegg’s screen prints showing the church after the May 1940 bombing by German warplanes.
View of Delvaux sculpture in western choir from the gallery above. The work is called The Conversion of St Paul.
Detail of Ste Gertrude shrine.
Statue of Mary in one of two western chapels.
We walked back up the hill to George’s house after the tour and Jacqueline served us a sumptuous dinner. We spent the night in Nivelles and the took the train to Brussels the next day. My next few postings will cover our two days in Brussels.