Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula in Brussels
July 14, 2008
I recently returned from a Low Country study tour of Amsterdam, Bruges and Brussels – a trip sponsored by The Georgetown Center for Liturgy. This was my second trip to Europe and such a delightful experience! The tour was a wonderful opportunity to explore Christian spirituality behind the most impressive artwork of the greatest Flemish masters and learn more about the Church’s history and tradition.
Our visit included a stop at the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula, a spiritual place overflowing with sacred art and exquisite architecture. The church is nestled between the busy, narrow streets of Brussels’ upper town and is dedicated to St. Michael, the greatest of all angels. The visual magnificence of this pristine church makes the heart sing with love, hope, peace, and joy. It’s a must see for anyone seeking to deepen their understanding of the mysteries of God.
The cathedral has been used for all major ceremonial events since 1312 when John II, Duke of Brabant, was buried there. Since then the cathedral has been the main church for many royal marriages, including Prince Phillip and Mathilde d’Udekem d’Acoz in December 1999.
The original church that was situated in this spot was built in Romanesque style but was transformed in the Gothic style in the 13th century. The exterior is quite remarkable with intricate designs and details, many statues, and twin towers that are exceptionally striking. At the foot of the towers are three doorways with ribbed arches that welcome all to enter and experience the splendor. I found myself completely mesmerized by the beauty of it all. In fact, the front plaza has chairs for those that wish to just sit back and gaze.
The interior is breathtaking with a vaulted nave that is lined with 12 enormous pillars, each bearing a statue of the Apostles. The sculptures were the work of some of the most brilliant artists of the 17th century including: Luc Fayd’Herbe, Jerome Duquesnoy the Younger, J van Meldert and Tobie de Lelis, all of whom are natives to Brussels.
The incredible pulpit is a masterpiece by Henri-Francois Verbruggen, a sculptor from Antwerp. The bottom depicts Adam and Eve as they are chased out of the Garden of Eden, and on the top, the promise of Redemption illustrated by the Virgin Mary of the Immaculate Conception on a crescent moon over the head of a serpent.
Another main attraction of the church is a golden figure of St. Michael slaying a dragon, which is surrounded by votive candles for those who wish to stop, reflect, and send a special prayer.
Perhaps for me, the most outstanding features of the church are the stained glass windows. The colors used are so rich and beautiful. I could have stayed for hours just to study the stories depicted in each window!
For anyone considering a trip to the Low Country, I highly recommend visiting the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula in Brussels. Be sure to give yourself enough time to take in the breadth and beauty of it all and see how this amazing place of spirit speaks to you.
Photos provided by Angie Lien