Saints-Michel-et-Gudule, Cathédrale Des/Sint-Michiels en Sint-Goedeleskathedraal
(Church) (Place Sainte-Gudule)
   The Cathédrale des Saints-Michel-et-Gudule serves as one of the two central churches of the archdiocese of Brussels-Mechelen, a rank it has shared with the Cathedral of Saint-Rombaut in Mechelen since 1962, when it was promoted to cathedral status by the Vatican.
   In Merovingian times a small baptistery dedicated to Saint Michael the Archangel was built on the site of the present cathedral, but no remains of this little church have survived. In 1047, Count Lambert II founded a college of 12 canons and a church on the Treurenberg hill, which was dedicated to Saint Michael. In the same year, the relics of Saint Gudule, which lay in the royal chapel dedicated to Saint Géry near the castrum built by Charles of France, were transferred to the collegiate church of Saint Michael. Remains of this Early Romanesque church, which featured two round towers built around 1200, have been uncovered during archaeological digs beneath the nave that began in the 1980s.
   The present church was begun in the early 13th century. In 1226, Duke Henry I founded a second college of 10 canons, which necessitated enlarging the church. The Romanesque structure was torn down in stages in constructing the larger edifice. The choir was constructed from 1215 to 1265; the south transept from the late 13th to the early 14th centuries; the south aisle, north transept, and nave completed up to window level in the 14th century; and the north aisle in the 15th century. In 1481, the twin towers were finished. Jan van Ruysbroeck worked on the cathedral's construction, most likely commissioned to design the spires. In 1649, the Lady Chapel replaced radiating chancels on the south side of the building, and, in 1678, the baroque style Maes chapel replaced the medieval chapel behind the main altar.
   The edifice exhibits a range of architectural styles following completion of different segments—transitional between Romanesque and Gothic in the ambulatory and choir, High Gothic (14th c.) in the south aisle, and Flamboyant Gothic (early 15th c.-early 16th c.) in the north aisle, transept, and towers.
   The building exemplifies medieval church design in Brabant in featuring a nave, two aisles, and an ambulatory with radiating chapels, but it departs from local architecture, which usually displays a single tower, in exhibiting two towers in the French style.
   The emphasis on the west front is given to delicate articulation in place of decorative sculpture, and the interior is noteworthy for the extensive stained glass, depicting approximately 1,200 scenes in its 16 windows, much of it dating from the 16th century. Between 1579 and 1585, iconoclasts during the wars of religion destroyed much of the interior's original works of art. Depictions of Michael and Gud-ule, in stone, wood, and glass, are much in evidence. The flight of steps leading to the entrance date from 1860.
   In addition to the 12 canons major or the canons of the first foundation, there were 10 canons minor or canons of the second foundation, who were subject to a stricter rule than the first, earlier group. There were also chantry priests, who were paid to celebrate masses at one of the many altars in the church. Vicars (vicarii) were poor priests who earned occasional money by celebrating offices of a richer cleric who did not wish to stand before the altar himself and so sold the service of doing so to a vicar. The latter were thus often called mercenaries (mer-cenarii). Churchwardens, a priest and two wealthy laymen, were responsible for the maintenance and decoration of the church. The body was first recorded in 1220 as the fabrica ecclesia. The wardens managed the rich heritage of the church, which included the tithes of Hofstade, near Aalst, as well as Saint-Gilles-op-Brussel, Boendael, and Uccle, among others. The income earned from these continued to grow substantially over the centuries. Boys between nine and 12 (bonifan-ten) lived in a house on rue de Schaerbeek and served as altar boys.
   The collegiate church laid claim to being the senior church of Brussels soon after its founding, and the church of Saint-Géry was demoted to that of subordinate chapel. As the oldest institution in Brussels (1047) it has been used for all major ceremonial events since 1312 when Duke John II was interred in the church. Marriage and death services for the Belgian royal family take place here. The exterior has been restored to its original whiteness following refurbishment in the 1990s.
   The Vatican has been unable to find definitive proof of the canonization of Saint Gudule and, consequently, the cathedral is referred to as Saint Michael's, although popular opinion has retained the addition of Saint Gudule.

Historical Dictionary of Brussels. .

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