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St Peter’s Church Leuven. Reaching for the sky, and a crowing cockerel

This almost became the world's tallest building!

A monumental presence on the Grote Markt (market square) of Leuven is St Peter’s Church.

St Peter's Church LeuvenThe first church on the site was made of wood and dated back to 986, but was burnt down in 1176. It was replaced by a Romanesque stone church, of which only the crypt remains. Construction of the present church began in 1425, and took over 50 years to complete, despite a fire in 1458 which delayed matter somewhat.

Amazingly, in 1505 plans were put in place to construct three colossal towers and a spire that would have made St Peter’s the world’s tallest structure! (How did they know that, I wonder?).

Unfortunately, the money ran out and the ground was too soft, so the plan was abandoned after the central tower reached only a third of its projected height. A maquette of the original design can be seen (below).

P1040292And an interesting animation of what the church should have looked like is here:

The church suffered severe damage in both world wars. In 1914 a fire caused the collapse of the roof and in 1944 a bomb destroyed part of the northern side. The jacquemart, or golden automaton (below), which periodically rings a bell near the clock on the gable, was added in 1998.

P1040289

Also in 1998 a small museum was opened in the church where you can view a collection of sculptures, paintings and metalwork. Of note are two paintings by the Flemish Primitive Dirk Bouts, the Last Supper (1464-1468) and the Martyrdom of St Erasmus (1465).

I find that the most striking object in the church is an absolutely massive and elaborate oak pulpit.

St Peter's church pulpitIt looks rather out of place, as if it’s been added later and stuck just about anywhere, which seems to be near the truth. It was carved in 1742 by Jacob Bergé for Ninove Abbey, to the west of Brussels. However, the abbey found itself in dire financial straits and so sold the pulpit to St Peter’s in 1805. (Does anyone know how much for, I wonder?).

On one side it portrays the betrayal of Jesus by Peter, with a rather dapper cockerel chiselled in full crow.

Peter's betrayal

The other side portrays someone falling off a horse and seemingly shielding his eyes from a bright light.

P1040302Ha, I thought, I know who this is! It’s Saul being converted on the road to Damascus! But I am completely wrong. Apparently it’s a life-size representation of a 12th century bishop called Norbert of Xanten. As I have never heard of this gentleman, I much prefer my version.
Saint Peter's Church Leuven

4 comments on “St Peter’s Church Leuven. Reaching for the sky, and a crowing cockerel

  1. abelard15451

    What a beautiful building!! I would like to ask how high is the interior of the church, as well as regarding its width and length, please. Thanks in advance!

    Like

    • Let me get back to you on that; I need to do some research. In the meantime, I found an interesting video on what the church would have looked like. I have added it to the post.

      Like

      • abelard15451

        I’ve seen the video-clip many times by now (extremely fascinating and actually a lovely-simulation!!) – the result would truly have been a masterpiece of Flamboyant-Gothic architecture anywhere in the world. It’s a GREAT PITY that it didn’t come to fruition – is there any way to harden the bedrock under the soil so it could eventually take the weight of all the masonry required? [Obviously it wasn’t possible then – the question is if it’s possible nowadays…]

        Now I’m awaiting whatever data you’re able to find…

        Like

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