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Visiting the ornate church of Saint-Jacques, Liège, Belgium: thinking of prince-bishops 1000 years ago

Updated on August 14, 2012
Flag of Belgium
Flag of Belgium | Source
Central nave, Saint-Jacques church, Liège
Central nave, Saint-Jacques church, Liège | Source
Former abbey church of Saint-Jacques, Liège
Former abbey church of Saint-Jacques, Liège | Source
Map location of the Liège area
Map location of the Liège area | Source

Outstanding stonework seemingly emerging from the mists of time

This church building was started over 1000 years ago. In 1015, to be precise. Its founder was someone known as the Prince-Bishop (French: prince-évêque), by the name of Balderic II (1). At the time, and for hundreds of years, the local bishop in Liège, in what is now Belgium's Walloon region (French: Région wallonne) was also the local secular ruler. (An arrangement not unlike that of the former Papal States, in fact.) North Americans may find it hard to visualize such an arrangement (2).

The church building was connected for many years to a former Benedictine Abbey, which did not survive the 18th century. It is known as a Collegiate church (French: Eglise collégiale).

Its striking Gothic elements date mainly from the 16th century, but some Romanesque features from the 11th century have survived.

The nave is in particular an outstanding, crowning feature of the building. The vault of the nave is colourful and finely detailed. Its ornate tracery and expansive windows could be described as more impressive than those of some churches with cathedral status.

The principal architect of the 16th century, Gothic elements of the building was Arnold van Mulken. Impressive stained glass windows were worked on by the 19th century master glazier Joseph Osterrath. Works by 17th/18th century sculptor Jean Del Cour are also housed in the building.

The church of Saint-Jacques is adjacent to Place Emile Dupont, Liège.

August 14, 2012


(1) Balderic II died in 1018 and is buried at Saint-Jacques church.

(2) It would be exceedingly difficult to imagine, for example, President Lyndon Johnson, in robes, officiating at Washington Cathedral, or an Orthodox rabbi sitting in the Oval Office. But such was the degree to which religious and temporal affairs used to be combined and blurred in Medieval Europe.

Also worth seeing

In Liège itself, visitor attractions include: various other excellent expressions of ecclesiastical architecture; the Perron steps; the Fragnée Bridge; the Zénobe Gramme Monument; the Bueren Mountain; the former Prince-Bishops' Palace; and many others.


How to get there: Brussels Airlines flies from New York (JFK) to Brussels Airport, where car hire is available (distance from Brussels Airport to Liège : 94 kilometres). The Belgian railroad company SNCB maintains a service from Brussels to Liège . Some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. You are advised to check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. Please to refer to appropriate consular sources for any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities.

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

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