Brussels Historical Churches Walking Tour, Brussels

Brussels Historical Churches Walking Tour (Self Guided), Brussels

As well as being Belgium’s political and cultural capital, Brussels is the spiritual home of its most significant churches. Historically, the city has been predominantly Roman Catholic, especially since the expulsion of Protestants in the 16th century. The pre-eminent Catholic temple here, located just a couple of minutes from the Grand-Place, is the Brabantine Gothic Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula, which sports a striking twin-towered, white stone facade. Begun in 1215, and 300 years in the making, it remains a prominent feature in the skyline of downtown Brussels.

Another gorgeous church, this time down near the Royal Museums area, the medieval Notre-Dame du Sablon has impressive exteriors with ornate decorations and designs. Inside there are some fascinating things to see, such as the sculptures and the altar, but most of your time will be spent looking at the glorious stained glass windows, reminiscent of the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris. After your visit, feel free to spend some time at the antique stalls and shops in the nearby Place Sablon!

Among other highlights in the area are the Saint Nicolas Church, dating back over 1,000 years, and surrounded by similarly old-looking houses, or the Baroque church of Saint Jean Baptiste – the only building left from the Béguine convent founded on the site in the 13th century, whose facade is considered to be one of the most beautiful in Belgium.

Neglecting such treasures is like leaving Brussels without having waffles, so take our self-guided walking tour to catch a glimpse of some exquisite places of worship.
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Brussels Historical Churches Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Brussels Historical Churches Walking Tour
Guide Location: Belgium » Brussels (See other walking tours in Brussels)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 9
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.4 Km or 2.7 Miles
Author: audrey
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Church of Notre-Dame de la Chapelle
  • Church of Saint Jean et Etienne aux Minimes
  • Eglise Notre Dame du Sablon
  • Eglise Sainte Marie-Madeleine
  • St Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral
  • Basilique Notre-Dame de Bon-Secours
  • Saint-Nicolas Church
  • Church Of Notre Dame Du Finistere
  • Church of Saint Jean Baptiste
Church of Notre-Dame de la Chapelle

1) Church of Notre-Dame de la Chapelle

The 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.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Church of Saint Jean et Etienne aux Minimes

2) Church of Saint Jean et Etienne aux Minimes

The 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.
Eglise Notre Dame du Sablon

3) Eglise Notre Dame du Sablon (must see)

The Église Notre Dame du Sablon (Church of 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 guilds-men 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 a year. Eventually, it was returned to the church and in 1348, and it has remained ever since. The church is open daily.

Why You Should Visit:
To be struck by the sense of how grand the structure is, yet at the same time by its intimacy as compared to a more typical cathedral.
Well lighted by MANY beautiful stained glass windows – amongst the most memorable you will see!

Make sure to go early on a Sunday so you can also go to the antique market outside the church!

Opening Hours (free admission):
Mon-Fri: 9am-6:30pm; Sat-Sun: 9am-7pm
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Eglise Sainte Marie-Madeleine

4) Eglise Sainte Marie-Madeleine

This msall gothic Catholic church traces back to the 13th and 15th centuries, and was part of the convent of the Brothers Saccites. The church was destroyed in the French bombardment in 1695 and was rebuilt shortly thereafter after receiving a donation from the baker's guild.

The church is small but calm and peaceful with a sense of tranquility. The church is a few steps from Grand Place where all the buzz is, so visiting the church is a great break from the hustle and bustle outside. There are prayer candles for the faithful available inside the church.
St Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral

5) St Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral (must see)

The dramatic St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral in Treurenberg Hill has been in place since the early 11th century. In 1047, Lambert II, the Duke of Brabant, had the relics of St. Gudula brought to this site, for which purpose a Romanesque-style church was erected. However, the renovation performed in the late 1400s gave the western facade of the cathedral a totally new Gothic look. Glimpses of the original 11th-century church can now be seen only through the viewing glass spots set in the floor.

Leading to the three gates of the cathedral is a large staircase passing through which visitors can enter the interior dominated by twelve pillars and the detailed stained-glass windows accentuating Gothic style. The window at the bottom of the nave, depicting The Last Judgment, gets illuminated in the evening from within. A standalone attraction inside the cathedral is the dramatic Baroque-style pulpit with ornate detail, featuring Adam and Eve Banished from Paradise, created by Hendrik Verbruggen in 1699. Multiple renovations to the temple occurred throughout much of the 20th century were completed in December 1999, just in time for the marriage of the Belgian Crown Price, Philippe, to his bride, Princess Mathilda. The southern tower of the cathedral carries a carillon made up of 49 bells which are often played during Sunday concerts.

Why You Should Visit:
A monumental piece of architecture complete with outstanding stained glass windows and a relatively new organ perched above everyone's heads to maximize the acoustics.

When you first walk in, take a leaflet providing info about the cathedral's origin and details. This way, you will have more appreciation for what you're actually looking at.
There's no admission fee but there is a tiny fee if you want to see the archaeological site beneath the existing floors inside the building.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Basilique Notre-Dame de Bon-Secours

6) Basilique Notre-Dame de Bon-Secours

The Basilique Notre-Dame de Bon-Secours (The Church of Our Lady of Assistance) is a 12th-century chapel. In 1669, the chapel underwent a well-planned and thoughtfully-executed renovation by the architects Cerckx and Corvrindt. The exterior shows a mix of Baroque-Flemish and Italian styles. The walls surrounding the church were demolished and the space expanded to reflect the current footprint. The building facade includes a cross of the Teutonic Order.

The interior of the church is unique with its hexagonal form, short naves and overall layout. In addition to the main altar, there is an Altar of St. Joseph and an Altar of St. James. A dramatic hammered copper piece depicting a resurrected Christ is particularly stunning. The church is still used by parishioners. Visitors are able to view the interior of the church to see its unique design and religious art objects. Along one side of the church is a quaint pedestrian street that features outdoor cafes. These provide a lovely setting to enjoy a coffee and admire the exterior of the church for an extended period.

Why You Should Visit:
Close enough to the Grand Place to be reached in a few minutes, but far enough to enjoy some peace and serenity if you need a break from the crowds.
A hidden, little architectural gem in the heart of Brussels – humble but very pleasant and tranquil.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9am-11:30am / 2-5pm
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Saint-Nicolas Church

7) Saint-Nicolas Church

The Saint Nicolas Church is one of the oldest churches in Brussels. It dates back over 1,000 years, and is located behind the Bourse (Brussels Stock Exchange) surrounded by similarly old-looking houses. Charming in appearance, the building in fact has very little left from the original. Its 14th century Gothic facade now covers the primordial 11th century Romanesque lines, and a tall belfry once present in the Middle Ages which used to serve as the city's watch tower, is now gone after collapsing unexpectedly in 1714 killing one man and a pig. In 1695, the church completely burned down during the French bombardment of Brussels. A remnant of that event is a cannonball still lodged in one of the chapel's pillars.

Inside the church there is “The Virgin and Child” painting by Rubens, as well as the Vladimir Icon from Constantinople dating back to 1131. Relics of the Martyrs of Gorkum – Catholic priests executed during tumultuous religious period of the late 1500s – are also kept within the church. In recent years there have been attempts to tear down this temple in a bid to make way for vehicular traffic. However, none of these materialized and the Saint Nicolas Church has been spared, much as the surrounding cute ancient architecture.
Church Of Notre Dame Du Finistere

8) Church Of Notre Dame Du Finistere

Church Of Notre Dame Du Finistere is argubly one of the finest Gothic churches in Brussels. It was built in the 18th century featuring a marvelous Baroque architecture with white marble sculptures and large figurines. The church is in active service and as a matter of fact, it is one of the few churches in Brussels where people come for worshipping the Gothic virgin, Notre-Dame du Bon Succès.

The church is located on a busy street. But once stepped inside the church, you are immediately overwhelmed by its beauty, calmness and serenity.
Church of Saint Jean Baptiste

9) Church of Saint Jean Baptiste

The 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.

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