Visiting Grimbergen Basilica, Grimbergen, Belgium: 17th century Baroque on a huge scale still dominating the town
The sheer weight of the past
While technically since 1796 this has been a parish church building, and in recent years given the status of a Minor Basilica, it was formerly an Abbey associated with the Premonstratensian Order. With its enormous size, the Basilica of Saint Servatius (Dutch: Sint-Servaasbasiliek) thus comes heavily laden with both a physical presence and a long history.
There was, in fact, a church building on this site in 1128, from when the former Abbey dated its foundation. The current building took shape in Baroque style between 1660 and 1700. The French Revolution and subsequent events saw the end of the building's monastic rôle.
With its 58 metre tower, the Basilica dominates both the town and the surrounding countriside: I have supplied photos (right) which demonstrate its local profile. The tower notably houses a carillon comprised of 49 bells.
The architect of the now designated Basilica was Gilbertus van Zinnik (1627-1660) (1)
Features of the building include a conspicuous cupola at the intersection of the nave and the transept roofs, with conical roofing: the cupola is almost as tall as the tower itself. These features, together with many, massive flying buttresses, give the edifice a strong sense of solidity and even monumentality.
The large scale physical presence in Grimbergen of the Basilica may be said to serve also as a metaphorical reminder of the formerly heavy presence of organized religion in the Flanders of the 17th century.
Grimbergen is situated in the Flemish Brabant (Dutch: Vlaams Brabant) province of Belgium's Flemish region (Dutch: Vlaams gewest). I myself walked to Grimbergen from Vilvoorde a few kilometres away; any visitor to the town will be immediately struck by the manner in which this ancient building continues to dominate it, as it has done for centuries. This really encapsulated Belgium as a whole, in the sense that the past and the built environment casts a deep shadow on the present. While much of Europe has been profoundly influenced by the French Revolution, yet in Grimbergen one senses that the signature of the far past is almost overwhelming.
June 26, 2013
(1) The architect was himself a Premonstatensian monk.
Also worth seeing
In Grimbergen itself are situated castles known as the Guldendal (which also contains a craft museum), the Prinsenkasteel. the Overschie, the Lintkasteel, and the Groeneveld.
Vilvoorde (distance: 4.5 kilometres) Onze-Lieve-Vrouw-ten-Troost Basilica dates from the 17th century; there is a monument to the English Bible translator William Tyndale, executed in the town in 1536.
How to get there: Brussels Airlines flies from New York to Brussels Airport (Brussel-Nationaal / Bruxelles-National ), from where car rental is available. There are regular De Lijn bus services (230 & 231) between Brussel-Noord / Bruxelles-Nord stations and Grimbergen. Some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.
MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.
Other of my hubpages may also be of interest
- Visiting Vilvoorde, Belgium, and its William Tyndale monument: remembering an English Bible translat
- Visiting Mechelen and its Cathedral: which came first? Belgium or the church of the Primate?
- Visiting Antwerp, Belgium, and its Cathedral: a 16th century skyscraper tower looming over the Schel
- Visiting Bruges, Belgium: dizzyingly high towers and powerful, Medieval memories
- Visiting the remarkable Cathedral of Brussels, Belgium: with strong, royal associations
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