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:
German crusaders known as the Livonian Brothers of the Sword began construction of the Cēsis castle (Wenden) near the hill fort in 1209. When the castle was enlarged and fortified, it served as the residence for the Order's Master from 1237 till 1561, with periodic interruptions. Its ruins are some of the most majestic castle ruins in the Baltic states. Once the most important castle of the Livonian Order, it was the official residence for the masters of the order.
In 1577, during the Livonian War, the garrison destroyed the castle to prevent it from falling into the control of Ivan the Terrible, who was decisively defeated in the Battle of Wenden (1578).
In 1598 it was incorporated into the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and Wenden Voivodship was created here. In 1620 Wenden was conquered by Sweden. It was rebuilt afterwards, but was destroyed again in 1703 during the Great Northern War by the Russian army and left in a ruined state. Already from the end of the 16th century, the premises of the Order's castle were adjusted to the requirements of the Cēsis Castle estate. When in 1777 the Cēsis Castle estate was obtained by Count Carl Sievers, he had his new residence house built on the site of the eastern block of the castle, joining its end wall with the fortification tower.
Since 1949, the Cēsis History Museum has been located in this New Castle of the Cēsis Castle estate. The front yard of the New Castle is enclosed by a granary and a stable-coach house, which now houses the Exhibition Hall of the Museum. Beside the granary there is the oldest brewery in Latvia, Cēsu alus darītava, which was built in 1878 during the later Count Sievers' time, but its origins date back to the period of the Livonian Order. Further on, the Cēsis Castle park is situated, which was laid out in 1812. The park has the romantic characteristic of that time, with its winding footpaths, exotic plants, and the waters of the pond reflecting the castle's ruins. Nowadays also one of the towers is open for tourists.