Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula

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Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula
French: Cathédrale des Saints Michel et Gudule
Dutch: Kathedraal van Sint-Michiel en Sint-Goedele
Saints-Michel-et-Gudule Luc Viatour.jpg
St. Michael and St. Gudula's Cathedral
50°50′52″N 4°21′37″E / 50.84778°N 4.36028°E / 50.84778; 4.36028Coordinates: 50°50′52″N 4°21′37″E / 50.84778°N 4.36028°E / 50.84778; 4.36028
LocationParvis Sainte-Gudule / Sinter-Goedelevoorplein
B-1000 City of Brussels, Brussels-Capital Region
DenominationRoman Catholic
(Cathedral status from 1962)
Functional statusActive
Heritage designationProtected[1]
Architectural typeCathedral
Years built11th–15th centuries (church)
1485 (facade and towers)
Groundbreakingc. 9th century (chapel)
Number of towers2
Number of spires2
Spire height64 metres (210 ft)
ArchdioceseBlason de l'Archidiocèse de Malines-Bruxelles (Belgique).svg Mechelen–Brussels
ArchbishopJozef De Kesel
(Primate of Belgium)
DeanClaude Castiau
Organist(s)Xavier Deprez

The Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula (French: Cathédrale des Saints Michel et Gudule, Dutch: Kathedraal van Sint-Michiel en Sint-Goedele[2]) is a medieval Roman Catholic cathedral in central Brussels, Belgium. It is dedicated to Saint Michael and Saint Gudula, the patron saints of the City of Brussels, and is considered to be one of the finest examples of Brabantine Gothic architecture.

The church's construction began in the 11th century and was largely complete by the 16th, though its interior was frequently modified in the following centuries. The church was given cathedral status in 1962 and has since been the co-cathedral of the Metropolitan Archdiocese of Mechelen–Brussels, together with St. Rumbold's Cathedral in Mechelen.[2] Since the mid-20th century, following the construction of the North–South connection, it is situated on the Parvis Sainte-Gudule/Sinter-Goedelevoorplein, east of the Boulevard de l'Impératrice/Keizerinlaan. This area is served by Brussels Central Station.


Early history[edit]

Detail of Pastoral Instruction, showing the church with the north tower still incomplete, c. 1480

A chapel dedicated to Saint 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.[3] In 1047, Lambert II, Count of Leuven, and his wife Oda of Verdun, founded a chapter in this church, and organised the transportation to it of the relics of the martyr Saint Gudula, which were housed before then in Saint Gaugericus' Church on Saint-Géry Island. The patron saints of the church, Saint Michael and Saint Gudula, are also the patron saints of the City of Brussels.

In the 13th century, Henry I, Duke of Brabant ordered two round towers to be added to the church. His son, Henry II, Duke of Brabant instructed the building of a Brabantine Gothic collegiate church in 1226. The choir was constructed between 1226 and 1276. The nave and transept date from the 14th and 16th centuries. The entire church took about 300 years to complete. The main structure was finalised just before Emperor Charles V's reign began in 1519.[4]

Some chapels were added in the 16th and 17th centuries; the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament of the Miracle (1534–1539), the Chapel of Our Lady of Deliverance (1649–1655) and the Chapel of St. Mary Magdalen (also called the Maes Chapel) (1672–1675).[5] On 6 June 1579, the collegiate church was pillaged and wrecked by Protestant Geuzen ("Beggars"), and Saint Gudula's relics were disinterred and scattered.

19th century–present[edit]

The church was designated a historic monument on 5 March 1936.[1] In the mid-20th century, it was narrowly spared during the building of the North–South connection. On that occasion, a large forecourt, known as the Parvis Sainte-Gudule/Sinter-Goedelevoorplein, was built in front of it. It was not until 1962, with the creation of the Archdiocese of Mechelen–Brussels, that the collegiate church was promoted to the rank of co-cathedral, when it became the seat of the Archbishop, together with St. Rumbold's Cathedral in Mechelen.[6]

Restoration work was carried out in the 19th century under the direction of the architect Tilman-François Suys who, from 1839 to 1845, restored the towers and portals, and again in the 20th century under the direction of Jean Rombaux, then Victor Gaston Martiny, chief architect-town planner of the Province of Brabant and member of the Royal Committee for Monuments and Sites. The cathedral was once again thoroughly restored between 1983 and 1999. On that occasion, remains of the Romanesque church and crypt were discovered underneath the current choir.[6][3]


The cathedral is built of stone from the Gobertange quarry, which is located in present-day Walloon Brabant, approximately 45 km (28 mi) south-east of the site of the cathedral. The building's external length is 114 metres (374 ft) and its internal length is 109 metres (358 ft). The choir's exterior is 57 metres (187 ft) wide and its interior 54 metres (177 ft) wide.

The western facade with its three portals surmounted by gables and two 64-metre-high (210 ft) towers are typical of the French Gothic style, but without a rose window, as it features instead a large window in the Brabantine Gothic style. The whole structure is supported by sturdy flying buttresses with double spans, influenced by Soissons Cathedral, crowned by pinnacles and gargoyles.

From the transept, on each side of the choir, two large late-Gothic chapels, added in the 16th century (for the northern Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament of the Miracle), and the 17th century (for the southern Chapel of Our Lady of Deliverance), protrude. The large proportion of these chapels gives the impression that the building has three choirs. Behind the apse, on the central axis of the church, the Chapel of St. Mary Magdalen (also called the Maes Chapel), in Baroque style, was inserted in 1672–1675 between the buttresses, with an octagonal plan with dome and lantern.[5]

The two towers, built between 1470 and 1485, the upper parts of which are arranged in terraces, are attributed to Jan Van Ruysbroeck, the court architect of Philip the Good,[7] who also designed the tower of Brussels' Town Hall and the Collegiate Church of St. Peter and St. Guido in Anderlecht. They are unfinished and were meant to be much higher, in a style close to the Town Hall's tower or the north tower of the Cathedral of Our Lady in Antwerp.

The monumental staircase in front of the cathedral, designed by Pieter Paul Merckx, was placed in the period 1702–1707. This staircase, a gift from the city of Brussels, was originally built against the city walls to provide access to the promenade on the stretch between the Laeken Gate and the Schaerbeek Gate.

In the centre of the gardens located in front of the cathedral's square stands a bust of King Baudouin. It is the work of the sculptor Henri Lenaerts [nl]. The bust was completed on 6 June 1996, and remained at the administrative centre of the City of Brussels until road works on the Rue Sainte-Gudule/Sinter-Goedelestraat were completed. It was integrated into its current environment in 2003–04, as part of the renovation of this green space.



The nave of the cathedral possesses all the characteristics of Brabantine Gothic; 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 twelve apostles are attached to the columns. These statues date from the 17th century and were created by 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 also contains a Baroque pulpit from the 17th century, made by the 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 symbolise redemption.[4]

To the right of the portal of the northern transept is an elegant 17th-century sculpture depicting The education of the Holy Virgin by Saint Anna by Jerôme Duquesnoy the Younger after a painting by Rubens.[4] The side aisles contain 17th-century oak confessionals formerly attributed to the sculptor Jan van Delen.

The cathedral contains the unmarked burial place of Dermot O'Mallun, the last Irish-born chief of the name of the O'Moloney sept of Thomond.[8]

Choir and chapels[edit]

The choir of the cathedral is Gothic and has three rectangular bays and a five-sided apse. It also contains the mausoleums of the Dukes of Brabant and Archduke Ernest of Austria made by Robert Colyn de Nole in the 17th century. Its elevation is on three levels; large arcades communicating with the ambulatory, triforium and high windows.

Left of the choir is the Flamboyant Gothic Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament of the Miracle (1534–1539).[9] It now houses the Treasure of the Cathedral, where the famous Drahmal Cross (also known as the Brussels Cross), an early 11th-century Anglo-Saxon inscribed cross-reliquary, is stored. Jean Micault, receiver general of Charles V, and his wife, Livine Cats van Welle, were buried there, and an altarpiece, probably commissioned by their son Nicolas, was dedicated to them. It was made by the Renaissance painter and upholsterer Jan Cornelisz Vermeyen. This triptych is now in the collections of the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium.

Right of the choir is the Chapel of Our Lady of Deliverance (1649–1655) which was built in a late Gothic style and contains a Baroque altar by Jan Voorspoel (1666).[4] Behind the choir is a Baroque chapel dedicated to St. Mary Magdalen (also called the Maes Chapel) dated 1672–1675,[5] and a marble and alabaster altarpiece depicting the Passion of Christ by the sculptor Jean Mone dated 1538.[4]

Stained glass[edit]

The cathedral has stained glass windows from the 16th, 17th and 19th centuries. Particularly noteworthy is the large window in the west facade representing the Last Judgement. It was made by the Antwerp glassmaker Jan Haeck based on drawings by Bernard van Orley. Haeck and Van Orley were also responsible for the windows adorning the northern and southern transepts. The northern window dates from 1538 and represents Charles V and his wife Isabella of Portugal in adoration for the Holy Sacrament and accompanied by their patron Saints Charlemagne and Elizabeth of Hungary. The southern window dates from 1538 and represents Charles' brother-in-law Louis II of Hungary with his wife Mary of Hungary in adoration for the Holy Trinity and accompanied by Saint Louis and the Virgin Mary. Also worth mentioning are the impressive series of fifteen stained glass windows from the 19th century in the aisles, produced by Jean-Baptiste Capronnier.[10] They were created in 1870 for the celebration of the fifth centenary of the Sacrament of Miracle, an antisemitic canard of host desecration.[6] In 1977, Cardinal Leo Joseph Suenens installed a plaque in the cathedral disavowing the 1370 events.


The Grenzing organ

The large pipe organ in the nave was inaugurated in October 2000. It has 4300 pipes, 63 stops, four manuals and full pedal. This instrument is the work of the German organ builder Gerhard Grenzing and his Spanish assistants from Barcelona.


Both towers contain bells. The south tower contains a 49-bell carillon from 1966 by the Royal Eijsbouts bell foundry, on which Sunday concerts are often given. Out of all the bells in the carillon, only seven of them can ring. They are, from heaviest to lightest; Fabiola, Maria, Michael, Gudula, Philippe, Astrid, and Laurent. Fabiola, Philippe, Astrid and Laurent are named after members of the Belgian royal family.

The north tower contains a single bourdon called Salvator, it was cast by Peter van den Gheyn in 1638. There is also another empty space where a second bourdon used to be. The bourdon has a deep crankshaft, but counterweights have already been removed. There are plans to hang it again on a straight axis with a flying clapper.

Nr. Name Mass (kg) Note Tower
1 Salvator 6645 G0 North
2 Fabiola 3164 B0 South
3 Maria 2298 C1 South
4 Michael 1628 D1 South
5 Gudula 1332 E1 South
6 Philippe 975 F1 South
7 Astrid 690 G1 South
8 Laurent 485 A1 South


Falcons in the cathedral[edit]

At the end of the 1990s, Brussels ornithologists discovered a couple of peregrine falcons hibernating on top of the towers of the cathedral. 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.[11]


The Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula serves as the co-cathedral of the Archbishop of Mechelen–Brussels, the Primate of Belgium, who is currently Archbishop Jozef De Kesel. Due to its 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.[12] For example, in 1999, it was the setting for the wedding of Prince Philippe and Mathilde d'Udekem d'Acoz. Other official ceremonies organised in the cathedral include the Te Deum on Belgian National Day, attended by the King and other dignitaries.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b "Bruxelles Pentagone - Cathédrale des Sts Michel et Gudule - Parvis Sainte-Gudule". Retrieved 12 May 2019.
  2. ^ a b Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula on
  3. ^ a b Brigode 1938, p. 185–215.
  4. ^ a b c d e History and architecture overview Archived 2012-07-21 at on the official site of the Cathedral
  5. ^ a b c Mardaga 1994, p. 352.
  6. ^ a b c "History | Brussels Cathedral". Retrieved 25 January 2020.
  7. ^ De Vries 2003, p. 32.
  8. ^ Moloney, Gerry (3 September 2014). "Resurrecting an ancient chief". History Ireland. History Publications Ltd. Retrieved 13 November 2019.
  9. ^ De Bruyn 1870.
  10. ^ Mardaga 1994, p. 354.
  11. ^ "Falcons for everyone - Peregrine falcons on the cathedral". Retrieved 15 August 2016.
  12. ^ National events in the Cathedral Archived 2012-07-24 at on the official site of the Cathedral


  • Brigode, Simon (1938). "Les fouilles de la collégiale Sainte-Gudule à Bruxelles : découverte de l'avant-corps occidental de l'époque romane". Annales de la Société royale belge d'archéologie de Bruxelles (in French). 27.
  • De Bruyn, Abbé H. (1870). Histoire de l'église de Sainte-Gudule et du très-saint sacrement de miracle à Bruxelles (in French). Brussels: Goemare. ISBN 978-0-37170-772-2.
  • De Vries, André (2003). Brussels: A Cultural and Literary History. Oxford: Signal Books. ISBN 978-1-902669-46-5.
  • Mignon, Jacques (1970). "La cathédrale Saint-Michel". Brabant (Quarterly Review of the Tourist Federation) (in French). 5.
  • Le Patrimoine monumental de la Belgique: Bruxelles (PDF) (in French). Vol. 1C: Pentagone N-Z. Liège: Pierre Mardaga. 1994.

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