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 (Church of Our Lady of the Sablon)
  • Chapelle de la Madeleine (Mary Magdalene Chapel)
  • St Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral
  • Eglise Notre-Dame de Bon Secours (Church of Our Lady of Assistance)
  • 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 (Church of Our Lady of the Sablon)

3) Eglise Notre-Dame du Sablon (Church of Our Lady of the Sablon) (must see)

The name "Sablon" originates from the sandy marshland that once occupied the area until the 17th century. The Place du Grand Sablon serves as a hub for antiques and is renowned for housing leading chocolate makers such as Pierre Marcolini and Wittamer; it's also a great spot for a satisfying lunch. In contrast, the Place du Petit Sablon park is adorned with statues representing the medieval guilds of Brussels. Between these two areas stands this 15th-century church of the Guild of Crossbowmen (or archers), a splendid example of Brabantine Gothic architecture. The church is illuminated by expansive and colorful stained glass windows that are uniquely lit from behind, making them visible from the exterior at night.

Interestingly, the structure initially served as a place of worship for the guild members in the 1300s; however, a century later, it had to undergo significant enlargement to accommodate the influx of pilgrims drawn by the purported healing powers of its Madonna statue. The statue was acquired in 1348 through a daring theft from a church in Antwerp, reportedly carried out by a husband-and-wife team motivated by a vision, using a rowing boat. Although the statue is no longer present, a boat behind the pulpit commemorates this curious event.

Featuring a lofty nave and chapels adorned with sculptures created by some of the most renowned artists of the 17th century, the church was traditionally frequented by Brussels' elite. Until the late 1700s, it also served as a burial ground for affluent community members, who constructed their own funeral chapels.

Why You Should Visit:
To be awed by the grandeur of the structure, yet simultaneously feel the intimacy that sets it apart from more conventional cathedrals. The church is exceptionally well-lit thanks to its numerous and striking stained glass windows – some of the most memorable you'll ever encounter!

Visit early on a Sunday to explore the antique market outside the church, adding to the overall experience.
Chapelle de la Madeleine (Mary Magdalene Chapel)

4) Chapelle de la Madeleine (Mary Magdalene Chapel)

Just a few steps away from Grand Place where all the buzz is, this small Gothic Catholic church has its origins dating back to the 13th and 15th centuries when it was associated with the convent of the Brothers Saccites. Unfortunately, it suffered destruction during the French bombardment in 1695, but thanks to a generous donation from the baker's guild, it was swiftly reconstructed. Today, its interior features captivating arches that provide a striking contrast to the contemporary lines of its stained glass windows.

On the same street, at No. 55, you'll find Galerie Bortier, a covered market located near Mont des Arts. The beautiful neo-Renaissance building with a baroque facade is now home to a collection of antique bookstores. While most of the books are in French or Dutch, you may discover English books if you take the time to explore the shelves.
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.
Eglise Notre-Dame de Bon Secours (Church of Our Lady of Assistance)

6) Eglise Notre-Dame de Bon Secours (Church of Our Lady of Assistance)

This 12th-century chapel underwent a carefully planned and thoughtfully executed renovation in 1669, resulting in a blend of Baroque-Flemish and Italian architectural styles on its exterior. The renovation project also included the demolition of surrounding walls and an expansion of the chapel's space to its present configuration. Notably, the façade proudly displays the coat of arms of Charles of Lorraine, an enlightened governor of the Austrian Netherlands in the 18th century.

However, the most striking aspect of this chapel lies within its unique interior, characterized by a soaring hexagonal choir that reaches up to a domed ceiling. In addition to the primary altar, there are two others dedicated to Saint Joseph and Saint James. One particularly remarkable feature is a dramatic hammered copper piece depicting the resurrected Christ.

The chapel remains an active place of worship for parishioners, and visitors have the opportunity to appreciate its distinctive design and religious art objects. Adjacent to one side, there is a charming pedestrian street lined with outdoor cafes, providing a delightful setting to savor a cup of coffee while admiring the chapel's exterior at leisure.

Why You Should Visit:
Conveniently located close to the Grand Place, making it easily accessible in just a few minutes, yet far enough to offer a peaceful and serene escape from the crowds. This chapel is a hidden architectural gem in the heart of Brussels, humble but very pleasant and tranquil.
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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