St Bavo's Cathedral

Ghent, Belgium

The Saint Bavo Cathedral is based upon the Chapel of St. John the Baptist, a primarily wooden construction; it was consecrated in 942 by Transmarus, Bishop of Tournai and Noyon. Traces of this original structure are evident in the cathedral's crypt.

The chapel was subsequently expanded in the Romanesque style in 1038. Some traces of this phase of expansion are still evident in the present day crypt. In the subsequent period from the 14th through 16th centuries, nearly continuous expansion projects in the Gothic style were executed on the structure. A new choir, radiating chapels, expansions of the transepts, a Chapterhouse, nave aisles and a single tower western section were all added during this period. Construction was considered complete June 7, 1569.

In 1539, as a result of the rebellion against Charles V, the old Abbey of St. Bavo was dissolved. Its abbot and monks went on to become canons in a Chapter that was attached to what then became the Church of Saint Bavo. When the Diocese of Ghent was founded in 1559, the church became its Cathedral. The church of Saint Bavo was also the site of the baptism of Charles V.

The cathedral is noted for the Ghent Altarpiece, originally in its Joost Vijd chapel. It is formally known as The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb by Hubert and Jan van Eyck. This work is considered Van Eyck's masterpiece and one of the most important works of the early Northern Renaissance, as well as one of the greatest artistic masterpieces of Belgium. Several of the painting's wings were bought in 1816 by the English collector in Berlin, Edward Solly. They were bought in 1821 by the King of Prussia, Frederick William III and continued to be kept in Germany. During World War I, other panels were taken from the cathedral by Germany. As part of mandated compensation in the Versailles Treaty after the end of the war, Germany returned the pilfered panels along with the original panels that had been legitimately bought by Solly, to help compensate for other German 'acts of destruction' during the war.

The Germans 'bitterly resented the loss of the panels', and at the start of another conflict with Germany in 1940, a decision was made in Belgium to send the painting to the Vatican to keep it safe. The painting was en route to the Vatican, in France, when Italy declared war as an Axis power alongside Germany. The painting was stored in a museum in Pau for the duration of the war, as French, Belgian and German military representatives signed an agreement which required the consent of all three before the masterpiece could be moved. In 1942, Adolf Hitler ordered the painting to be seized and brought to Germany to be stored in a Bavarian castle. After Allied air raids made the castle too dangerous for the painting, it was stored in a salt mine. Belgian and French authorities protested the seizing of the painting, and the head of the German army's Art Protection Unit was dismissed after he disagreed with the seizure.

The cathedral is home to works of other artists of note. It holds the painting Saint Bavo enters the Convent at Ghent by Peter Paul Rubens. The Calvary Triptych is a 15th-century work attributed to Justus van Gent. There are also works by or after Lucas de Heere, one of which is a View of Gent. Frans Pourbus the Elder painted 14 panels representing the History of Saint Andrew (1572) and a Triptych of Viglius Aytta (1571). Caspar de Crayer is represented by paintings of St Macarius of Gent, The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist and The Martyrdom of Saint Barbara. The church also holds works by Antoon van den Heuvel including the Christ and the Adulterous Woman and the Resurrection of Christ. There are also works by Lucas van Uden and Jan van Cleef.

Highlights of the interior decoration of the cathedral include the Baroque high altar (1702–1782), in white, black and red flamed marble, the rococo pulpit (1741–1745), made in oak, gilded wood and white and black marble by Laurent Delvaux, with wrought iron fence by J. Arens, the tomb monuments of Ghent bishops, including that of Antonius Triest, in white and black marble (1652–1654), a major work of Jerôme Duquesnoy (II), finally, a valuable collection of silverware and liturgical vestments.

There are also chairs designed by the contemporary designer Maarten Van Severen.

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Address

Limburgstraat 8, Ghent, Belgium
See all sites in Ghent

Details

Founded: 11-16th century
Category: Religious sites in Belgium

Rating

4.6/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Anne und Martin Prokoph (13 months ago)
What a building! Absolutely amazing what people were able to build. You could spend hours here and still discover new and interesting things. A big Rubens painting is to be found and in the catacombs is an exhibition of clerical clothing. I would love some signs for explanations. If possible one should visit with a guide. Great place!
Isaac Herszenhorn (13 months ago)
Nice church in the centre of Ghent in which of course is the famous alter piece. It is worth a visit as it is quite beautiful, both the church and the alter piece. The markets and shops and cafes surrounding are also very nice. I would recommend going there, it’s a very pleasant visit and also educational.
Ruwan Prasad (2 years ago)
A historical and sacred place of worship for Catholics. Very beautiful and amazing architectural design of the church attracts tourists from not only Belgium but also around the world. Sad part is that this holy place has become just a tourist attraction because of its interior and outer beauty... many visitors do not recognize or seek the presence of LORD JESUS... I pray that the LORD may bless everyone who come to this Cathedral.
Mitr Friend (2 years ago)
The organ here has 3000 pipes and 5 keyboards. I was really lucky to actually listen to how amazing the sound was, with a man playing music on this! It was just magical. I got so engrossed in the music that it totally slipped my mind to take video of it!
Gerard Fleming (2 years ago)
The cathedral is free, except it's €4 to see The Ghent Altarpiece. I say that because some churches we have visited in Belgium had a cover charge, Antwerp for example. There is a replicate of The Ghent Altarpiece in one of the side chapels that you can see through the bars. The guides use it to explain the detail and access is only with a guide. There is also a small one to view in another chapel. There was also an explanation of the Monument Men and how they saved The Ghent Altarpiece among other artifacts after the war. You could easily spend a day here. There really is so much to see. The construction and art is fantastic. The stain glass windows let in fantastic light. The vault was a real bonus and I loved the detail that went into all the vestments and chalices, 100's of years old. People don't have that much time anymore and anyway it would cost a fortune. It would have been lovely to have more written detail. The seating was not fitting to the cathedral but that is minor thing. It's well worth a visit
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