On Monday May 28, 2012 we arrived in Brussels (Bruxelles in French; Brussel in Dutch) on the train from Nivelles, settled in at our hotel on Place de Brouckere and then decided to go out and explore the old central part of the city.
So we walked up Rue au Beurre (Boterstraat) on our way to the Grand Place (Grote Markt) and soon came across a quaint-looking church right across from the Brussels Stock Exchange (La Bourse). It’s called Saint Nicholas Church (Eglise St-Nicolas in French; Sint Niklaaskerk in Dutch), named after the patron saint of traders, and is one of the oldest churches in Brussels.
The church started out with a Romanesque design in the 12th century and then Gothic additions were implemented in the 15th and 16th centuries. It received considerable war damage in the 16th and 17th centuries and in the 18th century its high bell tower collapsed. The church was completely restored in the 1950s and I suspect the outside walls have been cleaned since then as they were sparkling in the mid-day sun.
We found a few treasures inside along with some intricate woodwork (the pulpit). There’s a painting (Virgin and Sleeping Child) by the Flemish Baroque artist Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), a 12th century icon of St Nicholas from Constantinople and an impressive marble side altar dedicated to the Virgin Mary that was added in the 15th century. There’s also a bronze shrine that contains relics from the Martyrs of Gorcum, Catholic priests who refused to convert to Protestantism and so were executed in 1572.
The foot traffic outside the church is rather heavy as tourists walk up the Rue au Beurre to the Grand Place, the Grasmarkt and the St Hubert Galleries. So there were many people like us who just dropped by for a quick visit.
What makes the church so quaint are the small houses /shops that are backed onto the walls on three sides of the church. The first house on the south wall along the Petite Rue au Beurre is called de Goude Huyve or The Golden Bonnet and is well known for its Baroque style.
In 1929 the wise leaders of Brussels considered demolishing the church because they thought it was hindering the traffic on Rue au Beurre. Fortunately they changed their minds and the little 900-year-old church surrounded by little houses about half as old still stands on the corner of Rue au Beurre and Petite Rue au Beurre allowing tourists a break as they prepare for the final onslaught of shops, bars and restaurants they will encounter in the next few blocks: go inside the church and rest your weary feet for a few moments and say a few prayers if you are so inclined or just gaze at the statues and paintings or if you prefer sit on the steps of La Bourse and people-watch for a while. Or you can do both! The church is directly across from the east or back entrance of the Bourse, however. You will have to walk down the block to the west or main entrance on the Boulevard Anspach to find the people-watching steps.
St Nicholas was the 19th of 20 churches we visited on our European vacation. We also visited the Cathedral of St Michael and St Gudula later on that same day but that will be the subject of a future posting.