The building of the Cathedral (which used to be the collegiate church of St. Michael and St. Gudula) commenced at the beginning of the 13th century on the orders of Henry I, Duke of Brabant. This period coincides with the appearance of the Gothic style in this area. It took about 300 years to complete this gigantic undertaking. It was finished just before the reign of the emperor Charles V. Its architecture shows the different characteristics of the Brabantine Gothic style.
The restoration of the nave from 1983 to 1989 gave the stones, vaults and windows their splendour of former days. It was then possible to uncover important and well-preserved remnants of the Romanesque church of the eleventh century over which the present Gothic church is built (visits to these remains are possible).
With your back to the altar, admire in front of you the stained-glass window of the LAST JUDGMENT (1528) of Renaissance inspiration by its size and the liveliness of its characters (unknown authors).
Stained-glass window by Jean Haeck (master glass-worker from Antwerp) made in 1537 from drawings by Bernard Van Orley, 16th-century painter from Brussels who introduced the first Renaissance features to our provinces. 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.
To the right of the portal: elegant and tender statue "The education of the Virgin by St Anne" by Jérôme Duquesnoy the Younger (17th century) after a painting by Rubens.
Stained-glass window by Jean Haeck (drawing by B.Van Orley) made in 1538 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.
LEFT OF THE CHOIR:
Blessed Sacrament of the Miracle chapel (1534-1539) built in flamboyant Gothic style. It houses the Treasure of the Cathedral.
RIGHT OF THE CHOIR:
Chapel of Our Lady of Deliverance (1649-1655) built in late Gothic style. Baroque altar by Jan Voorspoel (1666). Statue of Our Lady of Deliverance (1592).
BEHIND OF THE CHOIR:
Baroque chapel of St. Mary Magdalen (or Maes chapel) (1675). Marble and alabaster altarpiece (1538) depicting the Passion of Christ (sculptor Jean Mone).
THE ARCHAEOLOGICAL REMAINS
Already before the Second World War, during the research works in connection with the junction North-South, a romanesque "Westbau" was discovered. The Westbau or projecting part is the construction built on the west side of Romanesque churches which served as fortified refuge for the people in the Middle Ages. Its complete foundations as well as those of a Romanesque church preceding the current Gothic church were found during the restoration works (1983-1989).
Thanks to mirrors the visitors can see the foundations of the entrance to the romanesque church (1047), the Westbau (± 1200), the narthex (antechamber) and the foundations of the large arch which separated the nave from the narthex.
The traces of the outside walls, of the transept and of the pillars of the nave as well as of the "Westbau" and its towers have been indicated with lighter-coloured flagstones (white stone originating from Vinalmont) in contrast to the grey flagstones originating from Tournai.
The pavement of the Romanesque church was 1.70 m. below the level of the existing Gothic church.
The foundations of the "Westbau" show clearly the base of the round Romanesque towers, as well as the ground on which the lime for the construction of the Gothic church was prepared. The existence of two burial vaults of the 17th or 18th century attests to the fact that the foundations of the Romanesque church were used as a burial place during the Gothic period.
THE GRENZING GREAT ORGAN:
The great organ of the Cathedral is an impressive instrument, both in its quality and its beauty. You may be surprised by its "bird's nest" position which meets the specific needs of the acoustics of a gothic Cathedral. This is also linked to an old but little known tradition among organ-builders in this part of the world. You will see organs installed in similar places in other famous Gothic Cathedrals such as Chartres, Cologne or Strasbourg.
The instrument has a total of 4,300 pipes, 63 stops, 4 keyboards and the pedal-board. In the middle the organist's console is big enough to accommodate soloists. This versatile instrument is capable of interpreting compositions in numerous styles and from many different musical eras.
The overall impression is one of great lightness and harmonious integration in the surrounding architectural framework, thanks to the inclusion of gothic elements.
This very beautiful instrument has been created by the daring genius of the German organ-builder, Gerhard Grenzing, based in Barcelona, in collaboration with the English architect, Simon Platt.
THE NEW HIGH ALTAR:
This new high altar, placed at the crossing of the transept, marked the end of the restoration work at the Cathedral. It was consecrated by Cardinal Danneels on Ascension Day, 1st June 2000.
The altar is more than a very beautiful object and more than a work of art - it is a mystery, a presence. In fact it takes us as close as possible to the mystery of the person of Christ and his work. It is the sacrificial table, calling to mind both the last supper and the cross. It is the table of the Lord's Eucharistic banquet to which He invites His people and announces to them the eternal wedding feast.
This stone altar was cut by the sculptor, Michel Smolders, in the Avins quarry east of Huy. The three-ton monolith is made of light granite, a very special substance which is grey and white when wrought but which turns black when polished. Its wrought sides therefore have variations in their design, while its polished surface is beautifully black and is marked in its centre and its four corners by the crosses of its consecration. Its predominantly horizontal composition is inspired by the symbol of the tree which has one half pointing upwards and the other downwards. In the tree symbol Heaven and Earth unite.