A holiday in any European city would be incomplete without visiting a church or two. Many are as grand on the inside as they are outside and the churches in Brussels are no exception: there are 14 major churches and many more which aren’t so well-known. Two of the largest and most beautiful are The Cathedral of Saint Michael and Saint Gudula and The National Basilica of the Sacred Heart.
The Cathedral of Saint Michael and Saint Gudula is a short walk from the Grand Place in the centre of the city.
There has been a church on this site since the 9th century. Many additions, both Gothic and Baroque in style, were made before the church was finally completed in 1519. Its gothic spires tower above the surrounding buildings and the carved stonework of its façade, complete with elaborate portals and gothic gables, is intricately detailed.
Like the outside the lavish interior is in parts Gothic and elsewhere Baroque in style.
Saint Michael and Saint Gudula are the patron saints of Brussels and both are portrayed inside the church.
Saint Gudula lived in the 8th century and devoted her life to serving the poor. This left her little time for prayer during the day so every night she would walk to church for Midnight Mass. The story goes that the devil, angered by her good works and piety, tried night after night to trap her by blowing out her lantern. Each time, Gudula would pray and the lantern would be relit by God. Her relics have been preserved in the church since the 1100s.
By contrast, construction on the National Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Koekelberg began in 1905. With each World War work was further delayed and the Basilica was only finished in 1969. It is the fifth largest Church in the world and the largest Art Deco building ever constructed.
With its massive green copper dome and its two attendant Art Deco towers the Basilica can be seen from the centre of Brussels.
Inside there is an atmosphere of serenity, enhanced by the vast spaces beyond the altar and chapel.
An elevator takes visitors to the panorama, a gallery walk around the outside of the dome. From a height of 52 metres the view to the outer suburbs of Brussels is expansive. Inside at this level, a mezzanine floor wraps around three sides of the cathedral, with views down into the central space and across to the eight stained glass windows illustrating the life of Jesus. A gallery of modern religious art on this floor also showcases paintings and sculptures depicting the image of Jesus Christ.
Allow at least a couple of hours to visit each of these magnificent churches. While they are very different, both are splendid examples of religious architecture and historical storytelling. Your time will be well spent.