Saint Peter's Church is situated on the Leuven Grote Markt (main market square), right across the ornate Town Hall. Built mainly in the 15th century in Brabantine Gothic style, the church has a cruciform floor plan and a low bell tower that has never been completed. It is 93 meters long.
The first church on the site, made of wood and presumably founded in 986, burned down in 1176. It was replaced by a Romanesque church, featuring a west end flanked by two round towers. Of the Romanesque building only part of the crypt remains, underneath the chancel of the actual church.
Construction of the present Gothic edifice, significantly larger than its predecessor, was begun approximately in 1425, and was continued for more than half a century. It was built in a remarkably uniform style, replacing the older church progressively from east (chancel) to west. Its construction period overlapped with that of the Town Hall across the Markt, and in the earlier decades of construction shared the same succession of architects as its civic neighbor: Sulpitius van Vorst to start with, followed by Jan II Keldermans and later on Matheus de Layens. In 1497 the building was practically complete, although modifications, especially at the West End, continued.
In 1458, a fire struck the old Romanesque towers that still flanked the West End of the uncompleted building. The first arrangements for a new tower complex followed quickly, but were never realized. Then, in 1505, Joost Matsys forged an ambitious plan to erect three colossal towers of freestone surmounted by openwork spires, which would have had a grand effect, as the central spire would rise up to about 170 m, making it the world's tallest structure at the time. Insufficient ground stability and funds proved this plan impracticable, as the central tower reached less than a third of its intended height before the project was abandoned in 1541. After the height was further reduced by partial collapses from 1570 to 1604, the main tower now rises barely above the church roof; at its sides are mere stubs. The architect had, however, made a maquette of the original design, which is preserved in the southern transept.
Despite their incomplete status, the towers are mentioned on the UNESCO World Heritage List, as part of the Belfries of Belgium and France.
The church suffered severe damage in both World Wars. In 1914 a fire caused the collapse of the roof and in 1944 a bomb destroyed part of the northern side. The reconstructed roof is surmounted at the crossing by a flèche, which, unlike the 18th-century cupola that preceded it, blends stylistically with the rest of the church. A very late (1998) addition is the jacquemart, or golden automaton, which periodically rings a bell near the clock on the gable of the southern transept, above the main southern entrance door.
Despite the devastation during the World Wars, the church remains rich in works of art. The chancel and ambulatory were turned into a museum in 1998, where visitors can view a collection of sculptures, paintings and metalwork. The church has two paintings by the Flemish Primitive Dirk Bouts on display, the Last Supper (1464-1468) and the Martyrdom of St Erasmus (1465). The street leading towards the West End of the church is named after the artist. The Nazis seized The Last Supper in 1942. Panels from the painting had been sold legitimately to German museums in the 1800s, and Germany was forced to return all the panels as part of the required reparations of the Versailles Treaty after World War I.
An elaborate stone tabernacle (1450), in the form of a hexagonal tower, soars amidst a bunch of crocketed pinnacles to a height of 12.5 meters. A creation of the architect de Layens (1450), it is an example of what is called in Dutch a sacramentstoren, or in German a Sakramentshaus, on which artists lavished more pains than on almost any other artwork.
In side chapels are the tombs of Duke Henry I of Brabant (d. 1235), his wife Matilda (d. 1211) and their daughter Marie (d. 1260). Godfrey II of Leuven is also buried in the church. A large and elaborate oak pulpit, which is transferred from the abbey church of Ninove, is carved with a life-size representation of Norbert of Xanten falling from a horse. One of the oldest objects in the art collection is a 12th-century wooden head, being the only remainder of a crucifix burnt in World War I. There is also Nicolaas de Bruyne's 1442 sculpture of the Madonna and Child enthroned on the seat of wisdom (Sedes Sapientiae). The theme is still used today as the emblem of Katholieke Universiteit Leuven.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.