Guide Location: Belgium » Brussels
Guide Type: Self-guided city tour
# of Attractions: 7
Tour Duration: 2 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.2 km
Image Courtesy of Wikimedia and Szilas
Brussels is the cultural capital of Belgium, it is also the spiritual home of Belgium's most significant churches. The city has a number of unique religious sites such as the Saint Nicholas Church, the Church of Notre-Dame de la Chapelle and the Sablon Church. Take this tour to visit some of the most impressive churches and cathedrals of Brussels.
Tour Stops and Attractions
1) Church of Saint Jean BaptisteThe Church of Saint Jean Baptiste (St. John the Baptist) is a lovely church tucked away in a quiet part of Brussels. The church is an excellent representation of the French-Baroque style of the 17th century and contains a lot of Italian influence in the church facades. The church was designed by Luc Fayd'herbe, who was a student of Rubens. Heads of winged angels decorate the arch junctions above the large arcades. The interior contains an ornate pulpit as well as a collection of paintings by Van Loon, a noted 17th century Brussels painter. Baroque ornamentation also dots the interior of the church. For hundreds of year, the Beguine convent stood near the church, but it was removed in the 19th century. During the Beguine’s most robust years, it held up to 1,200 nuns. In 2001, a fire struck the church and caused damage; however the church has been carefully restored. The church provides services in both Dutch and French and is open Monday to Saturday for visitors.
Image Courtesy of Wikimedia and Ben2
2) Saint-Nicolas ChurchThe charming Saint Nicolas Church is located amid old houses behind the Bourse and is one of the oldest churches in Brussels. The church dates back over 1,000 years, but very little remains of the original building. The 14th century Gothic style façade covers the lines of the original 11th century Romanesque façade. In the Middle Ages, the church has a tall belfry that served as the city watch tower. However, it collapsed unexpectedly in 1714. The records note that the collapse killed one man and one pig. In 1695 the church was burned completely during the French bombing of Brussels. A remnant of this remains in the form of a cannonball lodged in one of the chapel pillars. The inside of the church holds The Virgin and Child painting by Rubens, as well as a Vladmir Icon dating back from Constantinople in 1131. Additionally, relics of the Martyrs of Gorkum can be observed. The martyrs depicted are Catholic priests that were executed during tumultuous religious times in the late 1500s. Through the years, there were movements to tear down the church to make way for vehicular traffic. However, the new traffic plan was not developed and the Saint Nicolas Church was spared. Equally remarkable is that the old houses surrounding the church have been preserved as well.
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3) Church of Notre-Dame de la ChapelleThe Church of Notre Dame de la Chapelle (Our Lady of the Chapel) is an imposing Romanesque-Gothic church constructed during the 13th and 14th centuries. Architecturally, it represents a transition between the Romanesque and Gothic architectural styles. Its dramatic appearance makes it one of the most interesting churches in Brussels. The church was subject to numerous restorations during the 18th and 19th centuries, but the overall architectural appearance has remained intact. Two important historic figures are commemorated by two interior chapels. The church is perhaps most famous for being the burial site of Francois Anneessens, a historic Brussels individual who was killed for promoting civil rights. In addition, there is a chapel dedicated to the memory of Pieter Breughel the Elder. Sometimes called the “Peasant Bruegel”, he was a Flemish painter and printmaker who created stunning landscape and peasant scenes. He got the name Peasant Bruegel because he would often dress up like a peasant in order to gain access to lower-class weddings and celebrations so he could gather inspiration for future art pieces. There are also several funerary monuments in the church. The Notre Dame de la Chapelle is open year round and is popular with local parishioners as well as visitors.
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4) Church of Saint Jean et Etienne aux MinimesThe Church of Saint Jean et Etienne aux Minimes, often just called the Church of Minimes, sits at a busy crossroads. It is located within walking distance from two districts: the upscale Sablon and working class Marolles, so it draws a diverse range of parishioners. Constructed in the beginning of the 18th century, the church exhibits an architectural style representative of the period where styles transitioned from Flemish-Baroque to Neo-Classical. The interior of the church feels particularly serene due the whitewashed walls and the extensive amount of natural light that pours in. It is often noted that this church feels like churches designed by the Italian architect Palladio. Notable works of art in the interior are worth a look, including paintings by Jan Cosiers, a 15th century Christ figure, and the decorative pulpit. The interior and exterior proportions of the church are often noted as being visually pleasing. The church regularly hosts lecture series as well as a popular classical concert series which take advantage of the great acoustics in the building. These are popular with both locals and visitors. The church is open all year for parishioners and visitors.
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5) Église Notre Dame du SablonThe Élglise Notre Dame du Sablon (Church or our Lady of the Sablon) is a late-Gothic style church in the upscale Sablon area. The original chapel on the site dates back to 1304 and was funded by the Guild of Crossbowmen. Upon completion of the chapel, the guildsmen used it as their place of worship. Later, the church was used by the monarchs; including Emperor Charles V. Up until the late 1700s the church was a burial ground for the rich community members, who would construct their own funeral chapels. The church was expanded through the years and was renovated in a neo-Gothic style between 1864 and 1934. The real beauty of the church is in the interior, with impressive and colorful stained-glass windows. These windows provide a contrast to the churches generally gray and white features. They are lit from behind and visible from the exterior of the church at night. The statue of St. Hubert is notable due to its interesting history. It was stolen from Brussels and spirited away to Antwerp where it stayed for year. Eventually it was returned to the church and in 1348, and it has remained ever since. The church is open daily.
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6) Church of Saint-JacobHistorically, this site supported a medieval abbey church. However, the original church was destroyed in the mid 1700s in favor of a new church that would be more consistent with the overall urban planning efforts that were underway by Prince Charles Alexander of Lorraine. The new church location was proposed so it would be in line with rue Montage de la Cour. The current church was constructed over a 14-year period, from 1776 to 1780, with the addition of the nave, transept, choir and sacristy constructed in the years 1785 and 1786. Following its consecration, it was used as both an abbey and parish church. During the French Revolution, the abbey was suspended and the church became a Temple of Reason and later a Temple of Law. Temple of Reason was a temple for a new belief system created to replace Christianity during the French Revolution. The church was put back into Catholic control in 1802. The building features neoclassical architecture, though some of the neoclassical appearance was diminished with the addition of a 19th-century bell tower and placement of colored frescos on the pediment by artist Jean Portaeles. The building is topped with three sculptures depicting Saint Andrew, Saint James, and Saint John. The interior of the church is rather simple compared to that of other churches built at this time; however, it does have some notable features including large paintings located on each side of the transept. These were painted by Portaeles and are called The Crucifix and the Spear Blow, on the left, and the Cross of Salvation, on the right. The vault of the cupola is decorated with octagonal caissons full of roses.
Image Courtesy of Wikimedia and Paul Hermans
7) Saint Michael and Saint Gudula CathedralThe dramatic St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral is located at Treurenberg Hill. The presence of a church at this location dates back to the beginning of the 11th century. In 1047, Lambert II, the Duke of Brabant, had the relics of St. Gudula transferred to this site. The original St. Gudula church was constructed in a Romanesque style; however, a renovation in the 13th century resulted in a Gothic style appearance. Glimpses of the 11th century church can be seen through glass viewing areas set into the floor. The western façade of the cathedral was complete in the late 1400s. The large staircase leads to three gates by which visitors can enter. The interior is dominated by twelve pillars and detailed stained-glass windows accentuating the Gothic style. The window at the bottom of the nave, The Last Judgment, is illuminated from within in the evening. A dramatic baroque pulpit depicts Adam and Eve being chased out of paradise. It was created by Verbruggen in 1699 and has ornate detail. Ongoing renovations occurred throughout much of the 20th century. The renovations were completed in December 1999, just in time for the marriage of the Belgian Crown Price, Philippe, to his bride, Princess Mathilda. The south tower includes a carillon composed of 49 bells, which are often played during Sunday concerts.
Image Courtesy of Wikimedia and Luc Viatour
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