Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula
History and museums
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) is a Roman Catholic church in Brussels, Belgium. The church was given cathedral status in 1962 and has since been the co-cathedral of the Archdiocese of Mechelen-Brussels, together with St. Rumbold's Cathedral in Mechelen.
A chapel dedicated to St. Michael was probably built on the Treurenberg hill as early as the 9th century. In the 11th century it was replaced by a Romanesque church. In 1047, Lambert II, Count of Leuven founded a chapter in this church and organized the transportation of the relics of the martyr St. Gudula, housed before then in Saint Gaugericus Church on Saint-Géry Island. The patron saints of the church, St. Michael and St. Gudula, are also the patron saints of the city of Brussels.
In the thirteenth century, Henry I, Duke of Brabant ordered two round towers to be added to the church. Henry II, Duke of Brabant instructed the building of a Gothic collegiate church in 1226. The choir was constructed between 1226 and 1276. It took about 300 years to complete the entire church. It was completed just before the reign of the emperor Charles V commenced in 1519.
The dimensions of the building are: exterior length 114 metres (374 ft), interior length 109 metres (358 ft), exterior width at the choir 57 metres (187 ft), interior width 54 metres (177 ft) and height of towers 64 metres (210 ft).
The cathedral is built of stone from the Gobertange quarry which is located approximately 45 km south-east of the site of the Cathedral. The western façade with its three portals surmounted by gables and two towers are typical of the French Gothic style, but without rose window, which was replaced by a large window in the Brabantian Gothic style. The two towers, the upper parts of which are arranged in terraces, are attributed to the Flemish architect Jan Van Ruysbroeck (1470-1485), who also designed the tower of the Town Hall of Brussels.
The south tower contains a 49-bell carillon by the Royal Eijsbouts bell foundry on which Sunday concerts are often given. The Salvator bell was cast by Peter van den Gheyn.
The choir is gothic and contains the mausoleums of the Dukes of Brabant and Archduke Ernest of Austria made by Robert Colyn de Nole in the 17th century. Left of the choir is the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament of the Miracle (1534-1539) built in a flamboyant Gothic style. It now houses the Treasure of the Cathedral, where the famous Drahmal Cross (also known as the Brussels Cross), an Anglo-Saxon inscribed cross-reliquary of the early 11th century, is stored. Right of the choir is the Chapel of Our Lady of Deliverance (1649-1655) which is built in a late Gothic style and has a Baroque altar by Jan Voorspoel (1666). Behind the choir is a Baroque chapel dedicated to St. Mary Magdalen (also called the Maes Chapel) dated 1675 and a marble and alabaster altarpiece depicting the Passion of Christ by Jean Mone dated 1538.
The nave has all the characteristics of the Brabantine Gothic style: the four-part vaults are moderately high and the robust cylindrical columns that line the central aisle of the nave are topped with capitals in the form of cabbage leaves. Statues of the 12 apostles are attached to the columns. These statues date from the 17th century and were created by sculptors Lucas Faydherbe, Jerôme Duquesnoy the Younger, Johannes van Mildert and Tobias de Lelis, all renowned sculptors of their time. The statues replaced those destroyed by iconoclasts in 1566.
The nave has a Baroque pulpit from the 17th century, made by Antwerp sculptor Hendrik Frans Verbruggen in 1699. The base represents Adam and Eve expelled from the Garden of Eden after plucking the forbidden fruit. At the top, the Virgin and Child piercing the serpent symbolize redemption.
The big organ in the nave was inaugurated in October 2000. The organ has 4300 pipes, 63 stops, four manuals and one pedal. This instrument is the work of the German organ builder Gerhard Grenzing and his Spanish assistants from Barcelona.
The northern and southern transepts have a stained-glass window by Jean Haeck from Antwerp made in 1537 after drawings by Bernard van Orley. To the right of the portal of the northern transept is an elegant 17th century sculptured depicting The education of the Holy Virgin by Saint Anna by Jerôme Duquesnoy the Younger after a painting by Rubens.
The side aisles contain 17th-century confessional-boxes in oak by Jan van Delen.
At the end of the nineties, Brussels ornithologists discovered a couple of peregrine falcons hibernating on top of the towers of the St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral in the centre of Brussels. In 2001, ornithologists of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences (RBINS) in association with the Fonds d’Intervention pour les Rapaces installed a laying-nest on the edifice in an attempt to encourage nest-building. This laying-nest was never used, but in the spring of 2004, a pair of falcons nested on a balcony on top of the cathedral’s northern tower. At the beginning of March, the female laid three eggs.
As a result of watching the three chicks perform acrobatic feats on the cathedral’s gargoyles at the end of May 2004, the project “Falcons for everyone” was developed by the RBINS in association with the Commission Ornithologique de Watermael-Boitsfort. The project installed cameras with a live video stream on their website.
It serves as the co-cathedral of the Archbishop of Mechlin-Brussels, the Primate of Belgium, who is currently Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard. Due to this importance and its location in the national capital, it is often used for Catholic ceremonies of national interest, such as royal marriages and state funerals. For example, in 1999 it was the setting for the wedding of Prince Philippe and Mathilde d'Udekem d'Acoz.