Sint Pieter (Lions)

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West side of Sint Pieter
Access from the Great Square on the west side of Sint Pieter

The Sint Pieter Church ( Dutch : Collegiale Sint-Pieterskerk ) in Leuven , Belgium , is a cruciform church in the Brabant Gothic style . It is located on the Grote Markt , opposite the town hall. Its unfinished towers are the most striking feature.


Carolingian wooden church

A wooden church stood on the site of today's Sint Pieterskirche early on, although the date of the construction of this first church is put by some sources as early as the 8th to 9th centuries - the age of Christianization of the Löwen region -, but only around by other sources 986 is suspected. Even this Carolingian church was subordinate to the patronage of Simon Petrus , which earned the lions the nickname "Petermannen". There are also different statements about the future fate of the church. It is sometimes assumed that the wooden church was replaced by a stone Romanesque chapter church around the year 1000 , but according to other sources the wooden church did not burn down until 1176 and was then rebuilt around 1190 under Gottfried III. replaced by a stone Romanesque church by lions . According to other sources, this fire is said to have already taken place in 1130.

Romanesque church

The subsequent Romanesque church building was a three-aisled basilica with six bays and a square choir . As excavations have shown, it was expanded twice, once with a westwork with three towers and later with a round crypt , which was added to the choir and was also preserved during later renovations. It was rediscovered after the Second World War and is now open to the public. The number symbolism that was used in the floor plan of the church is particularly interesting . The choir consisted of a square of 8 by 8 meters. Exactly this number was then repeated three times in the ship, because each pair of trusses measured 8 by 8 meters . With six traves, the ship was three times as long as it was wide, which is why the number three appeared again here .

Construction of the Gothic church

The three towers (copy of a plan drawing, around 1514)

In the 15th century, the Romanesque church was gradually replaced from east to west by a more magnificent building in the style of the Brabant Gothic. When exactly this renovation began is uncertain due to the loss of the church registers; construction can be assumed to have started around 1400. In a document from 1410, which is now kept in the Löwener city archive, the “new work by Sint Pieter” is already mentioned Speech, another passage in Scripture speaks of the “new work on the choir”. At this point, the renovation was already in full swing.

As a first step, the Gothic choir was built. Since the Romanesque church building was shorter than the current Gothic church, it was able to remain untouched during the first years of the renovation, while the new choir was built east of the crypt, without any connection to the existing building. The architect Sulpitius van Vorst , who was commissioned with the construction from 1425, could start roofing the choir in 1431. The stones for this came from Affligem and Gobertange (today a sub-municipality of Jodoigne ). According to sources, the main altar was consecrated in 1441. The construction of the choir seems to have been completed by this time.

Then work began on the transept and thus the gradual demolition of the Romanesque church. Van Vorst died in the middle of this construction phase - in 1439. The architect Jan Keldermans - formerly the city architect of Mechelen - continued work on the transept until his death in 1445. It was then the Brabant architect Matheus de Layens who completed the transept and part of the nave , with the stones now being delivered from Leefdaal (now a part of Bertem ), among others . While work was already being carried out on the three eastern travées, the Romanesque westwork still stood at the site of the two western travées. This was damaged by fire in 1458. Obviously, the building was supposed to be preserved as a city tower for the time being, because it was re-roofed in 1464.

De Layens died in 1483. He was followed by the architects Jan de Mesmaeker (1483–1490), Hendrik Van Evergem (1490–1492) and Mathijs Keldermans (1492–1495) in the work on the church building. In 1495 Alard Duhamel took over the reconstruction of the St. Peter's Church. He had previously directed work on the St. John's Cathedral in 's-Hertogenbosch . In Leuven in 1497 he began building a large - still unfinished - portal onto the Grote Markt . In 1499, approx. 100 years after the renovation began, the last part of the Romanesque church, namely the medieval westwork, was demolished. This created space for the construction of the last two remaining traves. After Alard Duhamel left the building in 1502, the new Löwen city architect Mathijs Keldermans - presumably a son of the architect of the same name - took over the supervision of the building. He completed the two western traves and probably completed work on the church building around 1518.

In the meantime, the construction of the towers had also begun under the direction of the architect Joost Massys - brother of the painter Quentin Massys . His plans from 1505 included three towers, of which the middle one should be around 165 m high, the two outer towers each 136 m. Construction of the towers began in 1507. After numerous difficulties, Massys had a maquette made in 1524 so that the towers could be built precisely according to his ideas even after his death. Massys died in 1530. In 1541, further construction of the towers was stopped due to poor soil conditions and poorly worked out construction plans. Not even half of the intended height had been reached. In addition, the stability of the construction, which already showed numerous cracks, left a lot to be desired. A commission set up in 1569 strongly recommended that stabilization work be carried out. But part of the towers collapsed as early as 1570. Further collapses in 1572 and 1603 could not be prevented either. Since this also affected surrounding houses, it was decided in 1613 to demolish the uppermost part of the tower. Nevertheless, there was another collapse even in 1776, which left injuries. How the towers should originally have looked can be read inside the church building from the maquette by Joost Massys on display there, which documents the actual plans for the upper parts of the towers.

French Revolution

The St. Peter's Church suffered badly from the French Revolution . On November 14, 1797, it was closed by the military. It was planned to enlarge the Grote Markt and demolish the church. Even if this plan could ultimately be averted, the church lost a large part of its art treasures through looting and, apart from a small preserved fragment in the westernmost chapel of the south aisle, lost every one of its richly decorated church windows. In 1800 the church was reopened by three priests who had sworn the Republican oath. The Archbishop of Mechelen declared Sint Pieter to be the main church of Leuven after 1802.

The two world wars

The crypt (around 1850)

During the First World War, the church suffered badly from a fire during the destruction of Löwen , which destroyed its roof and destroyed many church treasures. In addition, the side chapels were systematically set on fire, which destroyed numerous works of art and altars. A small number of side chapels in the left aisle were only preserved because the arson soldiers were driven away by the bells crashing on the ground . The place where the arson ended can still be recognized today by the sooty balustrade of the second side chapel of the left aisle.

The Second World War also left its mark on the building. A bomb attack destroyed the entire north arm of the transept and with it the famous organ, which was built in the 16th century by Jean Crinon from Mons . The famous statue of Sedes Sapientiae was torn into small pieces and had to be artfully reconstructed from the tiny fragments in the years that followed.


Choir and south transept

The Sint Pieterskirche is an imposing building, but it does not stand out in the silhouette of the city due to the lack of a church tower. It was built mostly from Lediaan sandstone. For more recent restorations, however, preference was given to the more robust Massangis stone , a limestone from the French community of Massangis .

The church building is 93 m long and 27 m wide. The floor plan includes the three-part tower, the three-aisled nave with five bays and numerous side chapels, the transept and the choir with a seven-sided apse and an ambulatory with seven chapels, as well as a chapter house and the sacristy in the corner between the choir and the north transept arm.

The gable roof of the central nave is covered with roof chapels and a wrought iron grille runs over the ridge. The octagonal lantern on the crossing dates from 1726.


The interior of the church is kept rather simple. The late Gothic rood screen , the Calvary group, the late Baroque pulpit and the statue of the Virgin Mary "Sedes Sapientiae" are particularly worth seeing .

Rood screen

The gothic rood screen in the Sint Pieterskerk

The late Gothic rood screen is one of the most impressive works of art inside the St. Peter's Church. It was made between 1488 and 1490, making it the oldest rood screen in Belgium. There is uncertainty about the designer of the rood screen. According to the practice at the time, it was probably the architect who was in charge of the construction of the entire church at that time, which is why the rood screen is mostly attributed to Jan de Mesmaeker, who was in charge of the construction of St. Peter's Church from 1483 to 1490. In terms of style, the rood screen is reminiscent of the filigree construction of Matheus de Layens, as can be seen at the town hall.

The rood screen has the shape of a rectangular grandstand with a vaulted basement, the front of which is opened to the front by three squat pointed arches. The pointed arches rest on slender columns, which are typical of the Brabant Gothic style with their octagonal footsteps and cabbage leaf capitals. There are 18 niches above the arches, which were furnished with figures of apostles , evangelists and saints in 1833 . The back of the rood screen is kept comparatively simple, the lower part is completely without decorations, as the choir stalls used to be attached here. Above it is a single row of niches. Originally the back of the choir stalls was closed, it was only opened in 1833.

Crucifixion group

The crucifixion group is above the rood screen. It probably dates from 1490, so it was made around the same time as the rood screen. The life-size figures of Jesus on the cross, Mary and John were made of oak and still show remnants of the original polychromy . The masterful anatomical accuracy and execution of the robes suggest that the Calvary is the work of no insignificant artist. Today Jan Borreman the Elder is predominantly accepted as the author. He was also involved in the execution of the rood screen.


The imposing pulpit was made in 1742 by the Brussels artist Jacques Bergé for the Premonstratensian Abbey in Ninove . After the original pulpit of Sint Pieter was lost during the French occupation, the current pulpit was purchased after the reopening of the church at the beginning of the 19th century. It is a typical example of the richly decorated pulpits of the Baroque period in the southern Netherlands. Carved from oak, it depicts a rock and two tall palm trees , between which numerous animals and angels are arranged. In front of the rock there is a statue of St. Norbert von Xanten , as he fell from his horse , struck by lightning , and converted to Christianity . At the back is the seated figure of St. Peter. The figure originally represented St. Augustine , who was placed there for the Premonstratensians. After the pulpit was moved to St. Peter's Church, it had to be adapted to the patronage and the figure of St. Augustine was identified as Peter by adding a key and a cock. However, the key and some fingers of the statue were later stolen.

Sedes sapientiae

The statue of Maria Sedes sapientiae was made in 1442 by the Brussels artist Nicolaas de Bruyne after an older Romanesque original from limewood. It depicts Mary sitting on a throne and holding the Child Jesus on her lap, who - turned slightly to one side - blesses the believers with one hand. Stylistically, the work seems to belong to the Romanesque, but the fine execution of the faces makes it clear that it was created later. Until May 1944, the statue stood in the north arm of the transept and was destroyed there by a bomb that destroyed the entire building. After the Second World War it was reassembled from the various fragments and restored by the artist Jos Van Uytvanck from Löwen .

Since 1909 the Sedes Sapientiae has been the emblem of the Catholic University of Leuven - today the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven and the Université catholique de Louvain . It therefore appears in all official university documents and every academic year in Leuven starts with a mass in St. Peter's Church.


Dierick Bouts: "The Last Supper"

In the choir is the treasury of the church, which gathers numerous treasures. These include two works by Dierick Bouts - the triptychs The Last Supper and “The Martyrdom of St. Erasmus” , as well as a tabernacle by Matheus de Layens from the 15th century.

The tombs of Henry I of Brabant , his wife Mathilde von Boulogne and their daughter Maria von Brabant are in the Sint Pieterskirche .

The modern altar was donated by survivors of the concentration camps of World War II.

In the westernmost side chapel of the south aisle hangs a copy of the painting “Carolus Borromeo among the plague sufferers of Milan” by Gaspar de Crayer . The original was stolen during the French occupation and is still in a museum in Nancy today . A 19th century copy burned during the First World War. The third copy on display today was donated to the church by the city of Nancy after the First World War.


View of the organ

The organ was built in 1935 by the organ builder Maurice Delmotte (Doornik) for the "van het Katholieke leven" pavilion at the Brussels World Exhibition, and after the World Exhibition was first privately owned by the Belgian Prince Karel (Oostende). In 1951 the instrument was bought by the parish of the Sint-Pieterkerk and installed in the church. The instrument initially had 30 registers on three manuals and a pedal . In 2019/2020 the organ building company Verschueren Orgelbouw (Ittervoort) restored the instrument and added two stops; the reed register Trompette 16 'in the pedal has been replaced by a Bombarde 16'. Today the organ has 32 stops (including 4 transmissions) on three manual works and a pedal.

I Grand Orgue C – c 4
1. Bourdon 16 ′
2. Montre 08th'
3. Flûte harmonique 0 08th'
4th Prestant 04 ′
II Positif expressif C – c 4
5. Flute 8th'
6th Salicional 8th'
7th Flute 4 ′
8th. Fittings III
9. Basson-Hautbois 0 8th'
10. Cromorne 8th'
III Récit expressif C – c 4
11. diapason 08th'
12. Bourdon 08th'
13. Viol 08th'
14th Voix Céleste (from c 0 ) 08th'
15th Flute 04 ′
16. Fifth 02 23
17th Octave 02 ′
18th Tierce 01 35
19th Cornet V 08th'
20th Trumpets 16 ′
21st Trumpets 08th'
22nd Voix Humaine 08th'
23. Clairon 04 ′
Pedale C – g 1
24. Soubasse 0 32 ′ 0 (2020)
25th Flute 0 16 ′ (2020)
26th Contrebasse 0 16 ′
27. Soubasse (= No. 1) 16 ′
28. Flûte (= No. 3) 08th'
29 Flute 04 ′
30th Bombard 16 ′ (2020)
31. Trumpet (= No. 21) 08th'
32. Clairon (= No. 23) 04 ′
  • Couple:
    • Normal coupling: II / I, III / I, III / II, I / P, II / P, III / P
    • Sub-octave coupling: II / I, II / II, III / I, III / III
    • Super octave coupling: I / I, II / I, II / II, III / I, III / III, I / P, III / P
  • Playing aids: Register crescendo, typesetting system, two free combinations


  • David Mellaerts: De Sint-Pieterskerk te Leuven - Architectuur en kunstpatrimonium , Uitgeverij Acco, Leuven 1998, ISBN 90-334-3879-8
  • Pierre Diriken: Geogids Leuven , Georeto, Kortessem, ISBN 90-75224-50-8

Web links

Commons : Sint Pieter (Lions)  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. a b Mellaerts , De Sint-Pieterskerk te Leuven - Architectuur en kunstpatrimonium, p. 12.
  2. a b Information brochure of the St. Pieters parish. ( Memento from June 15, 2009 in the Internet Archive )
  3. Torf s, JA , Geschiedenis van Leuven van den vroegsten tijd tot op heden , Löwen 1899, pp. 76-77.
  4. More information on the organ ( Memento of the original from December 27, 2014 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link has been inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  5. Information on the organ

Coordinates: 50 ° 52 '46.1 "  N , 4 ° 42' 4.8"  E