The Cathédrale Saints-Michel-et-Gudule dates back as early as the 9th century. Originally constructed as a chapel dedicated to St. Michael in the 9th century, it was replaced by a Romanesque church in 1047. In 1047, Lambert II, Count of Leuven founded a chapter in this church and organized the transportation of the relics of Saint Gudula, housed before then in Saint Gaugericus Church on Saint-Géry Island. The patron saints of the church, archangel St. Michael and the martyr St. Gudula, are also the patron saints of the city of Brussels. Saint Gudula dedicated her life to the poor and sick in her home place of St. Gery's Island, her relics were brought to the Church and she was venerated for 500 years. Strangely, she lost her status in 1962 when the second Vatican Council removed her along with many other saints. St. Gudula was reinstated in 1993 and continues her double dedication today. In the thirteenth century, the cathedral was renovated in the Gothic style. The choir was constructed between 1226 and 1276. The façade was completed in the mid-fifteenth century. The two front towers were the last part to be completed in the early 16th century under Charles V. The Cathedral Saints Michel et Gudule is the national church of Belgium, although it was only granted cathedral status in 1962. It is the finest surviving example of Brabant Gothic architecture.
The cathedral sits atop the ruins of an 11th century Romanesque chapel the remains of which can be viewed in the crypt. Saints Michael and Gudule are the male and female patron saints of Brussels. All Royal weddings take place here and many concerts are held throughout the year. On Sundays a concert is played on the carillon of 49 bells. The church is a little unusual since there is no rose window on the west facade. In front, a statue of the late King Baudouin, who was loved as a symbol of national unity in a country divided by ethnic and linguistic strife between Flemings and Walloons.
The entrance has the usual three doors with beautifully carved tympanum. The central doorway is elegantly decorated with the Three Magi (Melchior, Gaspard and Balthazar) on the central pillar whereas the tympanum contains six statues of the Apostles. The remainder of the series can be seen to each side of the central doorway. This decoration undoubtedly has a great deal in common with the altarpieces, consisting of a central panel flanked by side panels.
The nave of the church is lined with twelve pillars each bearing a statue of the Apostles, the nave dates back to the 17th Century. Statues of the apostles on the columns are Baroque style and are works of the 17th century by great Brabantine sculptors of that time, Jérôme Duquesnoy the Younger, Luc Faid'herbe, J van Meldert and Tobie de Lelis (known as Tobias), some of the most brilliant artists of the century and all of them natives of Brussels, to refurbish the collegiate church sacked by the iconoclasts during the 16th century. The interior is light and airy but almost bereft of decoration due to plundering, first by the Protestants between 1579-80 and later by the French revolutionists in 1783. The capitals of the pillars are decorated with curled row-foliage cabbage leaves linked by crosswise ribbons – typical features of the Brabantine style. To the left are Simon the Zealot, Bartholomew, James the Less, John the Evangelist, Andrew and Peter: to the right, Thaddeus, Matthew, Philip, Thomas, James the Great and Paul.
The highlight of the cathedral's stained glass windows is the great west window in the facade. It depicts the Last Judgment and dates from 1528 but it is not certain who was responsible for its construction. However, it was offered by Evard de la Marck, Prince-Bishop of Liege (1506-38) to celebrate an alliance with Charles V in 1518. Another notable window is the one depicting the Emperor Charles V and his wife Isabella of Portugal by Jean Haeck from Antwerp made in 1537 in the north transept. It was made from drawings by Bernard Van Orley, 16th-century painter from Brussels who introduced the first Renaissance features to Belgium. It depicts Charles V and his wife Isabelle of Portugal in adoration in front of the Holy Sacrament; they are accompanied by Charlemagne and Elisabeth of Hungary. The window in the south transept depicting Louis II of Hungary and his wife Maria of Hungary, sister of Charles V, kneeling in front of a vertical Trinity with St Louis and the Virgin with Child is also by Haeck and dates from 1538.
The stained glass windows, some designed by Bernard van Orley, a 16th-century court painter, are spectacular. François I of France, Philippe le Beau of Burgundy, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, Philip II of Spain have been among those who donated the richly colored stained glass windows.
One of the highlights of the cathedral's interior is this marvelous Baroque oak pulpit that was built in 1699 by the Antwerp sculptor Hendrik-Frans Verbruggen (1665-1724). It was originally intended for the Jesuit church of St Michael in Leuven but it was donated to the cathedral after the closure and dissolution of the Jesuit Order in 1773. The pulpit's design is based on the Fall to Redemption from the bible and features life-size figures of Adam and Eve being driven out of Paradise. The top depicts the Redemption symbolized by the Virgin (as described by Saint John in his Apocalypse: standing on a crescent moon, her head crowned with twelve stars) and the Infant piercing the head of the serpent with a long cross.
When in 1999 the St. Michael and St Gudule cathedral was restored on the occasion of the wedding of Prince Philippe and Princess Mathilde, a new Swallow organ, built in Barcelona by German organ maker Gerherd Grenzing and English architect Simon Platt, was installed in 2000. We were fortunate to hear a concert by a choral group in the cathedral while we were visiting.
There a set of four beautiful confessional-boxes carved in oak by Jean Van Delen from the 17th century. They are not used now but a woman at the gift shop told me they were still in use when she was a girl.
I cannot find anything about this lovely sculpture ensemble.
The Brussels coat of arms consists of a golden figure of St Michael slaying a black dragon on a red background. The shield is supported by two yellow lions, one of which is holding a banner bearing the coat of arms of Brabant and the other the city’s coat of arms. The coat of arms was not designed until 1844 in accordance with a decree from King Leopold I. A statue of St Michael the archangel has, however, been on the top of the tower of the Town Hall since 1455. The saint has also featured on the town’s seal since 1229. Legend has it that Lambert II, Count of Leuven and Governor of Brussels (1041-63), was sentenced to death by his father, Henry I for having kidnapped his father’s fiancée. In order to escape his fate, Lambert II prayed to St Michael who enabled him to miraculously escape. The Count is then said to have proclaimed the archangel patron saint of the town.
Under a dome at the end is the Baroque chapel of St. Mary Magdalen (or Maes chapel) from 1675. The marble and alabaster altarpiece by sculptor Jean Mone from 1538 depicts the Passion of Christ. I am going to stop here, I have more pictures of the side chapels and tombs which I will put in a separate post.
There are a family of peregrine falcons that live in the towers. They have been there for at least ten years. The blog below has streaming video feeds of them.
Brussels Pictures: http://www.brusselspictures.com/churches/saints-michel-et-gudule/
Peregrine Falcons: http://www.falconsforeveryone.be/fotoboek.jsp?lang=en#