Church of Our Blessed Lady of the Sablon is characterized by its late Brabantine Gothic exterior and rich interior decoration including two Baroque chapels.
The history of the church dates to the early 13th century when Henry I (1165-1235), the Duke of Brabant, recognized the Noble Serment of Crossbowmen as a guild and granted them certain privileges, including the right to use a plot at the Sablon/Zavel as an exercise ground. Nearly a century later, in 1304, the guild of the brothers and sisters of Saint John's Hospital ceded to the Guild an area adjacent to the Zavel where the Guild proceeded to build a modest chapel in honor of the Mother of God. This chapel became the chapel of the Crossbow Guild.
The exact date of commencement of the construction of the church that replaced the chapel is not known with certainty. It is generally believed that it was around the turn of the fifteenth century. The whole construction process took about a century. The choir was finished in 1435 as is testified by mural paintings of that date. The works were interrupted because of the troubles after the death of Charles the Bold in 1477 but recommenced by the end of the century. The nave finally had seven bays the last two of which should have been surmounted by a tower that was never completed. The sacrarium built behind the choir dates from 1549. At the end of the 16th century the church was sacked by the Calvinists and the statue of the Virgin that Beatrijs Soetkens had brought was destroyed.
In the 17th century, the prominent family of Thurn und Taxis whose residence was located almost opposite the southern entrance of the church had two chapels built inside the church: the St. Ursula Chapel north of the choir (1651-1676) started by the sculptor-architect Lucas Faydherbe from Mechelen and completed by Vincent Anthony, and the Chapel of Saint Marcouf situated south of the choir (1690).
At the beginning of the French occupation in 1795 the church was saved from the anti-religious zeal of the occupiers and their supporters thanks to the priest swearing allegiance to the Republic. The church remained closed for a few years and was returned to religious service under Napoleon, as a subsidiary of the Chapel Church.
More recently, the city of Brussels undertook a global restoration to restore the church to its former glory. The entire restoration lasted fourteen years.
Striking features of the nave are the pillars that have no capital, contributing to the verticalising effect. The columns of the nave hold twelve statues of apostles, dating from the mid seventeenth century which were sculpted by some of the leading Baroque sculptors of that time. The triforium is remarkable for its rhythmic vesica piscis motifs.
The polychrome murals in the choir date from the first half of the 15th century. There is a magnificent triptych of the Flemish painter Michiel Coxie (1499-1592) on The Resurrection of Christ as well as a Beheading of Barbara formerly attributed to Erasmus Quellinus (1607–1678) but now attributed to Gaspar de Crayer. The stained glass windows are relatively recent and largely the work of the artists Samuel Coucke (1833-1899), Louis-Charles Crespin (1892-1953) and Jacques Colpaert (1923-1998).
The Baroque pulpit is a work of Marc de Vos, executed in 1697 for the Church of the Augustinians in Brussels, which no longer exists. It is decorated with medallions of St. Thomas Aquinas, the Virgin and St. Thomas of Villanova. The base on which the pulpit rests is formed by four sculptures symbolising the Evangelists: the angel, the eagle, the lion and the ox. The church houses several Baroque tomb monuments.
The church is best known for its two magnificent Baroque chapels which the Thurn und Taxis family had built on both sides of the choir in the second half of the seventeenth century. One chapel is dedicated to St. Ursula and was designed by Lucas Faydherbe (1617-1697) and contains ornate sculptures by Gabriël Grupello (1644-1730), Mattheus van Beveren (c. 1630–after 21 January 1696), Jerôme Duquesnoy (II) (1602-1654) and Jan van Delen (c.1625-1703). The other chapel is dedicated to Saint Marcouf who is, amongst others, the patron saint of the pharmacists and drapers. The two chapels are excellent examples of the high baroque sculpture and architecture developed in the Southern Netherlands.
Directly opposite the church, there is a memorial plaque on the location where the Thurn und Taxis family had their residence and as imperial postmasters had founded the first international postal service in 1516.References:
The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood is one of the main sights of St. Petersburg. The church was built on the site where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated and was dedicated in his memory. Construction began in 1883 under Alexander III, as a memorial to his father, Alexander II. Work progressed slowly and was finally completed during the reign of Nicholas II in 1907. Funding was provided by the Imperial family with the support of many private donors.
Architecturally, the Cathedral differs from St. Petersburg's other structures. The city's architecture is predominantly Baroque and Neoclassical, but the Savior on Blood harks back to medieval Russian architecture in the spirit of romantic nationalism. It intentionally resembles the 17th-century Yaroslavl churches and the celebrated St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow.
The Church contains over 7500 square metres of mosaics — according to its restorers, more than any other church in the world. The interior was designed by some of the most celebrated Russian artists of the day — including Viktor Vasnetsov, Mikhail Nesterov and Mikhail Vrubel — but the church's chief architect, Alfred Alexandrovich Parland, was relatively little-known (born in St. Petersburg in 1842 in a Baltic-German Lutheran family). Perhaps not surprisingly, the Church's construction ran well over budget, having been estimated at 3.6 million roubles but ending up costing over 4.6 million. The walls and ceilings inside the Church are completely covered in intricately detailed mosaics — the main pictures being biblical scenes or figures — but with very fine patterned borders setting off each picture.
In the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, the church was ransacked and looted, badly damaging its interior. The Soviet government closed the church in the early 1930s. During the Second World War when many people were starving due to the Siege of Leningrad by Nazi German military forces, the church was used as a temporary morgue for those who died in combat and from starvation and illness. The church suffered significant damage. After the war, it was used as a warehouse for vegetables, leading to the sardonic name of Saviour on Potatoes.
In July 1970, management of the Church passed to Saint Isaac's Cathedral (then used as a highly profitable museum) and proceeds from the Cathedral were funneled back into restoring the Church. It was reopened in August 1997, after 27 years of restoration, but has not been reconsecrated and does not function as a full-time place of worship; it is a Museum of Mosaics. Even before the Revolution it never functioned as a public place of worship; having been dedicated exclusively to the memory of the assassinated tsar, the only services were panikhidas (memorial services). The Church is now one of the main tourist attractions in St. Petersburg.