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Saint Peter's Church (Sint-Pieterskerk)

Church

BE |

Public | Dutch

Saint Peter's Church is the oldest church in Leuven. It was presumably founded in 986. The first church burnt down in 1176. A new Romanesque church was built with a crypt, an extension, at the back of the choir. The Westwork was flanked by two towers as can be seen in the old town seal. The construction of the present Gothic building, much larger than the Romanesque church, started in 1425. Work began at the choir, under the supervision of architect Sulpicius van Vorst. Several architects succeeded him. Jan Keldermans II and Matthew de Layens played an important part in this respect. The church was practically completed in 1497. Of the three towers that were planned, one of which was to have reached a height of 170 meters, only the bases remain. In 1541 when the height of 50 meters was reached, work was stopped. The subsoil was not stable enough to support a higher tower. After some collapses, the tower was lowered to its present level. The successive architects did not change the original plans and this brought about a fine example of pure Brabantine Late Gothic Style. The outside of the church, our attention is fixed on the choir with seven radiating chapels. Between two of these chapels the chapel of "Fiere Margriet" (Proud Margaret), a local popular saint, was built in 1546. The church was severely damaged in both World Wars. In 1914 the roof and nave burnt down and in 1944 the north aisle suffered bomb damage. The Treasury of Saint Peter is housed in the church. Two masterpieces (15 C.) of the Flemish Primitive Dirk Bouts, i.e. The Last Supper and The Martyrdom of Saint Erasmus are on display. The chancel and presbytery of the Saint Peter's Church house the treasury. Here you will not only find a number of rare religious objects in precious metals. In the radiating chapels there are also many paintings and sculptures, like the less well known masterpieces of Jodocus van der Baren, Jan van Rillaer and Pieter-Jozef Verhaghen. They had been ordered by the guilds and fraternities between the 15th and the 18th century when they took over the care of the chapels. Three works of the so-called Flemish primitives are the real pearls of the crown. The Nobleman triptych is the most contemporary and hence the oldest copy of the Descent from the Cross which Rogier van der Weyden made for a Leuven chapel. The most famous panel is undoubtedly The Last Supper by Dirk Bouts. In 1464 this Leuven town painter was commissioned by the Brotherhood of the Holy Sacrament to paint a triptych for their chapel in the Saint Peterºs Church representing the ordinance of the Eucharist. Bouts made this his absolute masterwork. The Martyrdom of Saint Erasmus located in the adjoining chapel was also made by Dirk Bouts at the request of the Brotherhood. The sacrament tower opposite the chapel with The Last Supper constitutes a unit with the storage space for the hosts. Finally, there are two striking tombs: the tomb of Henry I of Brabant in the presbytery and the double tomb of Matilda ofFlanders, his wife, and Maria of Brabant, their daughter.

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