Welcome to the free area of the Onze-Lieve Vrouwekerk! The Onze-Lieve Vrouwekerk is one of the oldest places of worship in Bruges. The 115.6 metres high tower, built entirely in bricks, is a true landmark in Bruges' cityscape. The Onze-Lieve Vrouwekerk, one of the tallest buildings in Belgium, is actually the second tallest brick building in the world. Let yourself be enchanted by this magnificent piece of architecture and explore the historical works displayed here for you.
Enjoy your visit!
Gaspar de Crayer (1584-1669) is known for his enormous altarpieces. Here he has depicted the shepherds visiting the Infant Jesus in the manger, a popular theme in painting. De Crayer made this work for the now dissolved Cistercian abbey at Florival in Wallonia. The women kneeling on the right are the patrons who commissioned the work: the abbess Joanna Colibrant and a fellow sister. They are worshipping the child. Three saints are seen kneeling in the foreground: St. Benedict of Nursia, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, and St. Helena. God can be seen high above in the clouds. The dove in a halo of light symbolizes the Holy Spirit.
This sculpture of the Virgin and Child originally stood in St. Donatian’s Cathedral, which was situated in Burg Square but was demolished around 1800. It was probably made by the Bruges sculptor, Pieter Pepers.
This used to be the chapel of a chamber of rhetoric called De drie Sanctinnen (the three women saints). Chambers of rhetoric were guilds of playwrights and poets, who competed against each other during spectacular performances. The chamber derived its name from three women saints: St. Mary Magdalene, St. Barbara, and St. Catherine of Alexandria. They are depicted in the painting behind the sculpture of the Virgin Mary. All three suffered for their faith, but were rewarded with sainthood. The inscription at the top of the frame references this: Die lydt, verwint (‘who suffers, overcomes’). It is no coincidence that this is also the motto of chamber of De drie Sanctinnen.
This reliquary contains a piece of arm bone from St. Anthony the Abbot. St. Anthony the Abbot (251-356) is a saint of early Christendom. He retreated to the desert to devote himself to prayer. After a while, he was joined by other hermits, who he began to teach. Hence he is considered the patron saint of monastic life. He is also invoked against infectious diseases such as the plague. In 1531, Bruges chose him as Patron against the Plague, the saint who had to protect the city against this terrible epidemic. You can see a sculpture of him to the left of the reliquary.
On this canvas, the Virgin Mary floats between heaven and earth, surrounded by angels. She mediates between the Holy Trinity above her (God the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit) and the sinners on earth. In the foreground, we see three saints with their characteristic attributes: King David with his crown and sceptre, St. Peter with two keys and St. Mary Magdalene with an oil jar. The choice is not coincidental. The Bible describes how all three sinned and begged God for forgiveness. They eagerly look towards heaven and trust Mary to intercede for them.
Today, we are used to seeing churches with white walls, but in the Middle Ages they were often painted with images of saints and liturgical scenes. These colourful, late-medieval traces were discovered during the church’s restoration, between 2012 and 2020. Above a red curtain with golden motifs you see four angels making music. Around the corner, on a narrower bit of wall, you can recognize Veronica. She is said to have comforted the suffering Christ by wiping the blood and sweat from his face with her veil. You can see how Christ’s features are miraculously preserved on the veil.
In the 16th century, the Protestants seceded from the Catholic Church. In response, the Catholic church initiated radical reform: the Counter-Reformation. Greater emphasis was placed on church teaching and the pulpit was given a prominent place in churches.
This early rococo pulpit is supported by a female figure. She is showing a verse from the Book of Proverbs in the Bible and proclaims faith to the world. The rostrum, where the preacher stands, is decorated with scenes from the New Testament. Angels show the four Gospels. The sounding board that hangs above the pulpit ensures that the faithful could hear the sermon. It is crowned with a sculpture of Truth (‘Veritas’).
The Church of Our Lady has a long construction history. The first Romanesque church was probably built on this site between 850 and 875 CE. All that remains is a foundation wall. An early gothic nave was added in the 12th century, around which an ambulatory and chapels in the classic French gothic style were built. The church was refurbished and the interior renovated during the subsequent centuries.
This painting shows us what the church would have looked like in the 17th century. The rood screen, with the large cross, which separates the nave from the choir, is especially noteworthy. It dates from the end of the 16th century but made way for the current, Baroque rood screen in the 18th century. The pulpit is also different from the one you see today.