Inside the Cathedral of St Michael and St Gudula

The majority of the churches we visited in Europe in May of 2012 had their origins with the building of Romanesque structures about a thousand years ago. St Michael and St Gudula was no exception. Count Lambert II founded a church in 1047 and dedicated it to the archangel Michael.  St Gudula was the niece of Ste Gertrude of Nivelles and so a member of the royal family that in a couple of generations would produce Charlemagne. Lambert II brought her relics to Brussels and so the church became the Collegial Church of St Michael and St Gudula.


The Cathedral’s north side aisle leading to ambulatory and chapels.

The building of the present Gothic church began in 1226 and took 300 years to complete, just in time for the reigning Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, to dedicate the majority of the stained glass windows to himself and his family.


Nave and main aisle, west to east. Why are there so many people here on a Monday afternoon? They are listening to an organ concert!

The nave with its 12 columns, each adorned with a statue of an Apostle, dates back to the 14th century up to window level. The triforium and clerestory are from the 15th century and the vaulting from the early 16th century. The nave was completely restored from 1983 to 1989.


View of south nave pillars and pulpit.

The Baroque pulpit by Verbruggen was made for the Jesuit Church in Louvain in 1699 but was given to St Gudule when the Jesuits were expelled from Belgium. The base of the pulpit displays Adam and Eve being expelled from Paradise. The Virgin Mary with her infant Jesus stands at the top of the pulpit with a cross crushing the head of the Serpent.


The Verbruggen pulpit between two apostles.

The choir is the oldest part of the church, built form 1226 to 1276. It was restored from 1990 to 1999.


North side of the choir. The north transept is to the left.


Looking through the south choir and ambulatory to the Chapel of Our Lady of Deliverance.

Behind the high altar at the east end of the church is the 17th century hexagonal chapel of St Magdalene, formerly a burial crypt for the  Maes family.


The Chapel of Our Lady of Deliverance. The Baroque marble altar is by Jan Voorspoel (1666).

On the north side of the ambulatory is the 16th century Gothic Chapel of the Holy Sacrament and to the right (south of the ambulatory) is the Baroque Chapel of Our Lady of Deliverance, built on the request of the Infanta Isabella in 1649.


The Grenzing Organ.

The Great Organ, built by Gerhard Grenzing, a German organ-builder based in Barcelona, is nestled among the columns in the north nave. It was installed in March 2000. Click here to listen to an excerpt from Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor.


Another view of the Grenzing Organ.

Major restoration occurred in the 19th century (about half of the stained glass windows date from this time) and again in the last few decades of the 20th century. The new altar of solid granite sculpted by Michel Smolders stands in the middle of the crossing. It was installed in 2000 signifying the completion of the restoration project.


Confessional-box carved in oak by Jean Van Delen (17th century). 


View of south nave from north side of altar at the crossing. 


Gilded copper high altar (1887) by Lambert Van Rijswijck (no longer the main altar).


Painting of The Crucifixion by Michel van Coxie (1499-1592), known as the Flemish Raphael.


Concert attendees in the south side aisle turn their chairs to face the organ. We joined them for awhile.

In 1962 the church obtained cathedral status and is now officially The Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula (French: Co-Cathédrale collégiale des Ss-Michel et Gudule, Dutch: Collegiale Sint-Michiels- en Sint-Goedele-co-kathedraal). Locals still call it Ste Gudule, though.

We will take a close look at the cathedral’s stained glass windows in my next posting. For a preview, take a look at the magnificent north transept.


North Transept.The stained glass window was made by Jan Haeck in 1537 from drawings by Bernard van Orley. It depicts Charles V and his wife Isabella with their patrons Charlemagne and St Elizabeth of Hungary.

About crowcanyonjournal

I am a family man with interests in family history, photography, history and travel.
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2 Responses to Inside the Cathedral of St Michael and St Gudula

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

  2. Mark Landson says:

    I came across your site looking for information on something I saw in a Brussels church about 11 years ago. There was a statue of a monk I believe from the 11th or 12th century who was martyred, and the story was very touching. I’ve been thinking of creating a dramatic work on this story if I can find it after so long. Might you have run across it? Thank you for documenting your travels. It’s been an interesting rabbit hole to go down today!

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