St Nicholas Church in Brussels

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.

You have to zig-zag up Rue au Beurre when you get to St Nicholas Church.

You have to zig-zag up Rue au Beurre when you get to St Nicholas Church.

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.

Tower, clock and front stained glass window of St Nicholas.

Tower, clock and front stained glass window of St Nicholas.

Main entrance, west side of St Nicholas.

Main entrance, west side of St Nicholas.

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.

The Milkmaid (De Melkboerin) by Mark de Vos (1645-1717) is just past the entrance to the church.  Since the milkmaid is more than 300 years old I suspect she was cleaned at about the same time as the church. De Vos is also famous for his many statues on the buildings that make up the Grand Place.

The Milkmaid (De Melkboerin) by Mark de Vos (1645-1717) is just past the entrance to the church. Since the milkmaid is more than 300 years old and without any grime  I suspect she was cleaned at about the same time as the church. De Vos is also famous for his many statues on the buildings that make up the Grand Place.

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.

View of pulpit and main altar from inside the main entrance.

View of pulpit and main altar from inside the main entrance.

A crowded corner of the church.

A crowded corner of the church.

The St Nicholas side altar with statue of St Nicholas and the Vladimer icon from the 12th century.

The St Nicholas side altar with statue of St Nicholas and the Vladimer icon from the 12th century.

Another view of the St Nicholas side altar.

Another view of the St Nicholas side altar.

This stained glass window is from the 1950s restoration.

This stained glass window is from the 1950s restoration.

There are many religious paintings in the church.

There are many religious paintings in the church, mostly from the 17th century.

St Anthony was a Portuguese Franciscan who was born in Lisbon and died in Padua, Italy. He is the patron saint for lost articles and people.

St Anthony was a Portuguese Franciscan who was born in Lisbon and died in Padua, Italy. He is the patron saint for lost articles and people.

This side chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary was added in the 15th century.

This side chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary was added in the 15th century.

Virgin Mary with Sleeping Child by Peter Paul Rubens, famous Flemish artist and diplomat. Rubens was knighted by King Charles V of Spain in x.

Virgin Mary with Sleeping Child by Peter Paul Rubens, famous Flemish artist and diplomat. Rubens was knighted by both King Phillip IV of Spain and King Charles I of England.

Another view of the pulpit.

Another view of the pulpit.

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.

The south wall of the church along the Petite Rue au Beurre. The house on the left is called de Goude Huyve (Golden Bonnet).

The south wall of the church along the Petite Rue au Beurre. The house on the left with the orange bricks is called de Goude Huyve (the Golden Bonnet).

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.

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About crowcanyonjournal

I am a family man with interests in family history, photography, history and travel.
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One Response to St Nicholas Church in Brussels

  1. Pingback: Twenty Churches in Twenty Days | Crow Canyon Journal

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