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