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Visiting Saint-Jacques-sur-Coudenberg / Sint-Jacob-op-Koudenberg, Brussels, Belgium: amazing historical associations

Updated on August 26, 2011
Flag of Belgium
Flag of Belgium | Source
Saint Jacques-sur-Coudenberg / Sint-Jacob-op-Coudenberg, Brussels
Saint Jacques-sur-Coudenberg / Sint-Jacob-op-Coudenberg, Brussels | Source
The Coudenberg Palace, the Brussels palace of the Duke of Brabant
The Coudenberg Palace, the Brussels palace of the Duke of Brabant | Source
Map location of Brussels, Belgium
Map location of Brussels, Belgium | Source

Replete with religious, royal, secular republican and pre-Belgian associations

On the steps of this church, King Leopold I took his oath as the first King of the Belgians in 1831.

Previously, the church already had some surprising historical associations.

While the cupola was added in the 19th century, the striking portico which is a major Brussels landmark today actually dates from 1780, over 50 years before the foundation of Belgium as a separate kingdom, and before the upheavals of the French Revolutions which swept across so much of Continental Europe. When the Revolutionaries arrived at this church, they decided it should no longer be identified as a church building; instead, they turned it into a secular temple of reason (as was Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris, similarly).

But go back further and for an amazing 700 years the site of the current church hosted a monastery and the castle and subsequently palace of Coudenberg, where the long succession of rulers of the Duchy of Brabant were based. Until 1731, that is.

So why is 1731 so important? Because in 1731 the Coudenberg Palace burnt down.

Indeed, the flames did such a destructive job, that the ruins lay almost untouched for 40 years. It was when the current structure of the Coudenberg church was built on the site of the ruins that the noteworthy portico came into being. The church building's architect was Gilles-Barnabé Gumard (1734-1805), who followed designs by Jean Benoît Vincent Barré (c.1732-1824).

Linguistic note

The word 'Coudenberg' refers to the hill on which the various notable structures have been built over many centuries; 'Coudenberg' is the usual French spelling; the usual Dutch spelling is: 'Koudenberg'. Thus also, the church which is built on this hill. St Jacob-on-Coudenberg is known in French as Saint-Jacques-sur-Coudenberg and in French as Sint-Jacob-op-Koudenberg .

Multiple identities

So the structure is strongly identified as a church building; it is strongly identified as a past centre for secular, revolutionary propaganda, it is strongly identified with royal dynasty of Belgium, but it is also strongly identified with 700 years of the previous rulers of the region.

So which identity prevails?

You decide.

Also worth seeing

Brussels has numerous visitor attractions, which cannot be adequately summerized here, but among these the following would be included: The Royal Palace and the adjacent BELvue museum of the dynasty; the Grand' Place; the Erasmus House Museum, Anderlecht; the Royal St Hubert Galleries; St Michael's Cathedral.


How to get there: Brussels Airlines flies from New York to Brussels Airport (Brussel Nationaal / Bruxelles-National ), from where car rental is available. However, the Metro is a very convenient way of getting around Brussels . For up to date information, please check with the airline or your travel agent.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.


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