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:
Les Invalides is a complex of buildings containing museums and monuments, all relating to the military history of France, as well as a hospital and a retirement home for war veterans, the building"s original purpose. The buildings house the Musée de l"Armée, the military museum of the Army of France, the Musée des Plans-Reliefs, and the Musée d"Histoire Contemporaine, as well as the burial site for some of France"s war heroes, notably Napoleon Bonaparte.
Louis XIV initiated the project in 1670, as a home and hospital for aged and unwell soldiers: the name is a shortened form of hôpital des invalides. The architect of Les Invalides was Libéral Bruant. The enlarged project was completed in 1676, the river front measured 196 metres and the complex had fifteen courtyards. Jules Hardouin Mansart assisted the aged Bruant, and the chapel was finished in 1679 to Bruant"s designs after the elder architect"s death.
Shortly after the veterans" chapel was completed, Louis XIV commissioned Mansart to construct a separate private royal chapel referred to as the Église du Dôme from its most striking feature. Inspired by St. Peter"s Basilica in Rome, the original for all Baroque domes, it is one of the triumphs of French Baroque architecture. The domed chapel is centrally placed to dominate the court of honour. It was finished in 1708.
Because of its location and significance, the Invalides served as the scene for several key events in French history. On 14 July 1789 it was stormed by Parisian rioters who seized the cannons and muskets stored in its cellars to use against the Bastille later the same day. Napoleon was entombed under the dome of the Invalides with great ceremony in 1840. In December 1894 the degradation of Captain Alfred Dreyfus was held before the main building, while his subsequent rehabilitation ceremony took place in a courtyard of the complex in 1906.
The building retained its primary function of a retirement home and hospital for military veterans until the early twentieth century. In 1872 the musée d"artillerie (Artillery Museum) was located within the building to be joined by the Historical Museum of the Armies in 1896. The two institutions were merged to form the present musée de l"armée in 1905. At the same time the veterans in residence were dispersed to smaller centres outside Paris. The reason was that the adoption of a mainly conscript army, after 1872, meant a substantial reduction in the numbers of veterans having the twenty or more years of military service formerly required to enter the Hôpital des Invalides. The building accordingly became too large for its original purpose. The modern complex does however still include the facilities detailed below for about a hundred elderly or incapacitated former soldiers.