St. Rumbold's Cathedral

St. Rumbold's Cathedral
St. Rumbold's towering over the main market square

St. Rumbold's Cathedral (or Sint-Romboutskathedraal, in Dutch) is the Belgian metropolitan archiepiscopal cathedral in Mechelen, dedicated to an assumedly Irish or Scottish Christian missionary and martyr who had founded an abbey nearby.[1][2][3][4] His remains are rumoured to be buried inside the cathedral. State-of-the-art examination of the relics honoured as Saint Rumbold's and kept in a shrine in the retro-choir, showed a life span of about 40 years and a death date between 580 and 655, while tradition had claimed 775 AD.[Note 1][5][6][7][4]

In 1985, on his 65th birthday, Pope John Paul II celebrated a mass at St. Rumbold's. Jo Haazen, then the City's carillon player, heard him state: "Your tower is not complete".[8][9][Note 2]




167 m tower design, as sketched in 1649 by Wenceslaus Hollar
St. Rumbold's Cathedral and 97 m Tower

Building the church itself started shortly after 1200 and it was consecrated in 1312, when a part had become usable. From 1324 onwards the flying buttresses and revised choir structure obtained characteristics that would distinct Brabantian Gothic from French Gothic architecture. After the city fire of 1342, Master Mason Jean d'Oisy managed repairs and continued this 2nd phase that by his death in 1375 had shaped the prototype for that High Gothic style. His successors finished the vaults of the nave by 1437, and these of the choir by 1451.[10][4][11][12]

During the final phase of 1452-1520, the tower was erected, financed by pilgrims and later by its proprietor, the City. Designed to reach 600 Mechlinian feet[Note 3] or about 167 metres, higher than any church tower would ever attain (the Ulm Minster with 161 metres since the 19th century), the very heavy St. Rumbold's tower was being built at earlier wetlands, though with only three metre deep foundations its spot appears to have been well-chosen. After a few years, in 1454, its chief architect Andries I Keldermans construed the Saint Livinus' Monster Tower (or St.-Lievensmonstertoren as it is called in Dutch) in Zierikzee (in the present-day Netherlands), where dreaded leaning or sagging of the tower (now 62 metres but designed for ca. 130) could wreck the church. This concern led to fully separated edifices, a solution as applied in Mechelen. At both places, in the early 16th century the upper part of the tower became forsaken, not for technical but for financial reasons. St-Rumbold's should have been topped by a 77-metre spire but only seven became built, hence the unusual shape. A deliberately weak connection closed the gap with the church upon finishing the construction.[13][14][15][16]

The church functions as cathedral since 1559. In the 18th century, each capitals' surrounding ornament of sculped cabbage leafs that had been an inspiration for numerous Brabantine Gothic churches, was replaced with a double ring of crops. In 2005, after engineers had figured out the support capacity of ground and tower, there was talk of accomplishing the entire spire of the original drawings.[9]

St. Rumbold's Tower

The flat-topped silhouette of the cathedral's tower is easily recognizable and dominates the surroundings. For centuries it held the city documents, served as a watchtower, and could sound the fire alarm.[17] Despite its characteristic incompleteness, this World Heritage monument[18] is 97.28 metres high and its 514 stairs are mounted by thousands of tourists every year, following the footsteps of Louis XV, Napoleon, and King Albert I.

Of the original carillon's set of 49 bells, which are still in working order, each has its own name. Some of the most notable are Salvator, which weighs 8884 kg; Jehsus, which was built in 1460; and the Liberation, which was the newest addition in 1947. Thirty-nine steps above this instrument, there is a second complete carillon on which concerts are played during the summer months. The total weight of both these carillons is over 80 tonnes and there are 98 bells in all.

Many of the region's cities have a nickname for their populace. The Mechlinians are said to have had ancestors running up their great Tower and passing on buckets of water to extinguish a blazing fire behind the perpendicular windows, where it turned out to be mere moonlight through sprightly clouds, hence are called Maneblussers ('Moon Extinguishers').[19][Note 4]

Church interior

Black Madonna painting
Black Madonna window

The main entrance, underneath the tower, leads into the nave of the cathedral (approximately 118 meters long).

Apart from small heraldic shields[Note 5] dating from the Thirty Knights of the Golden Fleece chapter meetings presided in the church by young Philip the Handsome while his Burgundian inheritance was still under guardianship of his father, few original movables survive. Forty preciously decorated Gothic altars and all other furniture disappeared during the religious troubles of 1566-1585: Though the cathedral was spared in the 1566 Iconoclasm, Mechelen was sacked in the 1572 three-days Spanish Fury by slaughtering troops under command of Alva's son Fadrique, and suffered the English Fury pillaging by rampant mercenaries in the service of the States General in 1580.

The interior features a Baroque high altar and choir by Lucas Faydherbe (with twenty-five paintings illustrating the life of Saint Rumbold), as well as paintings by Anthony van Dyck, sculptures by Lucas Faydherbe, Michiel Vervoort, and stained-glass windows,[20] including one depicting —though with a white face— the Black Madonna painting in the church.[citation needed][Note 6]


In 2010, prior to the construction of an undergound parking lot by Saint Rumbold's north side, 3,200 skeletons were unearthed during archeological excavations of the long bygone cemitary.[21]

External links


  1. ^ The abbey founded by St. Rumbold in the 6th, 7th or 8th century and a 9th century St. Rumbold's abbey church subordinate to the bishops of Liège are assumed to have been located in the Holm, higher grounds a little outside the later city walls of Mechelen. A 9th century St. Rumbold's Chapel in the city centre stood till 1580, was rebuilt in 1597 and demolished in 1798. After Prince-Bishop Notger's founding of the St. Rumbold's Chapter around 1000, an adjacent collegiate church was built and its parish title was handed to the chapter in 1134. Most likely on its spot, already from around the next turn of the century onwards the wellknown St. Rumbold's Church was built, consecrated in 1312, and promoted to cathedral in 1559. This edifice never belonged to the abbey.
  2. ^ The papal visit of Mechelen in 1985 included also the Church of Our Lady of Hanswijk, which John Paul II granted the title of basilica in 1987.
  3. ^ The original designer of St. Rumbold's tower may have been Jan II Keldermans, Andries I Keldermans, or Wouter Coolman. (Source retrieved 25 July 2011). The now obsolete local foot came to 27.8 centimetres, roughly an inch shorter than the 30.48 cm long current British and American measure.
  4. ^ The full moon of 27 January 1687 caused all the stirr about the presumed tower fire, reported as a 'happy-ending tragedy'. According to an 1808 sale's list "item 4242". Catalogue des livres de la bibliothèque de feu monsieur Gaspar-Joseph de Servais (in French). List: Hanicq, 1808 (Original from the Bavarian State Library online by Google books, 2011). Retrieved 28 July 2011. "4242. Maan - suchtigen Brand - sticht of Mechelsche beroerte. Bly-eyndend Treur-spel op St.-Rombouts Tooren den 27 january 1687, in volle maen, in-8°. met platen. V."  (in outdated Dutch)
  5. ^ The small painted shields at St. Rumbold's should not be confounded with the armour remnants in the Large Church of The Hague where (as in the Knights Hall there) the earliest Thirty Knights of the Golden Fleece had convened in 1456. (Source retrieved 31 July 2011)
  6. ^ The texts above and below the madonna in the stained glass indicate portraying the Black Madonna painting in the cathedral; details of painting and its frame decoration however, are dissimilar.


  1. ^ "H. Rumoldus van Mechelen (gedachtenis)" (in Dutch). Dagelijks Evangelie service ©, the Netherlands. Retrieved 25 July 2011. 
  2. ^ Dries van den Akker s.j. (10 August 2010). "Fredegand van Deurne" (in Dutch). Retrieved 9 July 2011. 
  3. ^ "St Rumbold". Catholic Online. ©2011. Retrieved 5 Jul 2011. 
  4. ^ a b c "Sint-Romboutskerk (ID: 74569)" (in Dutch). De Inventaris van het Bouwkundig Erfgoed. Vlaams Instituut voor het Onroerend Erfgoed (VIOE). Retrieved 15 July 2011. 
  5. ^ "Lezing over Sint-Rombout in Mechelen – Sint-Rombout: waarheid of legende? (Presentation for a 20 May 2010 lecture)" (in Dutch). Persdienst Aartsbisdom (Archbishopric Press Service), Mechelen / Vrienden van de Sint-Romboutskathedraal vzw. 2010. Retrieved 5 Jul 2011. 
  6. ^ Mark van Strydonck, Anton Ervynck, Marit Vandenbruaene and Mathieu Boudin, (2006) (in Dutch). Relieken, echt of vals?. Davidsfonds, Leuven. ISBN 9789058264206. 
  7. ^ "De relieken van Sint-Rombout" (in Dutch). Torens aan de Dijle vzw (Cooperation between representatives of 8 historical churches at Mechelen, and the City). Retrieved 5 Jul 2011. 
  8. ^ Smets, Jan. "Sint-Romboutskathedraal". Retrieved 25 July 2011. "deze plaat herinnert aan het bezoek van Paus Johannes Paulus II aan Mechelen, in 1985, nét op zijn 65ste verjaardag. Hij sprak toen de 'gevleugelde woorden' uit over de Grote Markt: '...Mechelaars, uw toren is niet af...'" 
  9. ^ a b "Mechelen droomt van extreem hoge kerktoren" (in Dutch). RKKerk, blad voor Katholiek Nederland, Netherlands. 09 June 2005. Retrieved 25 July 2011. 
  10. ^ "Strategisch beleidsplan voor het toerisme in Lier" (in Dutch). WES vzw. Study ordered by City of Lier. Retrieved 15 July 2011. "Sint-Romboutskathedraal in Mechelen, koorsluiting vanaf 1335, wellicht door Jean d'Oisy (ambulatory from 1335 onwards, probably by Jean d'Oisy)" 
  11. ^ "Gotische bouwkunst – Het gotische bouwprincipe" (in Dutch). Stedentips voor Trips, Netherlands. 15 April 2011. Retrieved 9 July 2011. 
  12. ^ "Sint-Romboutstoren – De architectuur" (in Dutch). 'Sint-Romboutstoren': Toerisme Mechelen/Torenbalie/Stedelijke Musea Mechelen, Mechelen. Retrieved 25 July 2011. 
  13. ^ "Sint-Romboutstoren Mechelen — History". 'Sint-Romboutstoren': Toerisme Mechelen/Torenbalie/Stedelijke Musea Mechelen, Mechelen. Retrieved 25 July 2011. 
  14. ^ "Sint-Lievensmonstertoren (Sint-Liviniustoren of Dikke Toren) Kerkplein (Zierikzee)" (in Dutch). Nederlands Architectuurinstituut (NAI), Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Retrieved 16 July 2011. 
  15. ^ Stenvert, Ronald ; van Ginkel-Meester, Saskia; Stades-Vischer, Elisabeth; Kolman, Chris; van Cruyningen, Piet. "Monumenten in Nederland. Zeeland" (in Dutch) (Pdf). Rijksdienst voor de Monumentenzorg, Zeist / Waanders Uitgevers, Zwolle, the Netherlands (2003) (republished © 2010 Stichting dbnl, the Netherlands). p. 276. Retrieved 16 July 2011. 
  16. ^ "Den toren staat op koeievellen." (in Dutch). Christophe Netels (active e.g. at Mechelen's magazine Nieuwe Maan). Retrieved 27 July 2011. 
  17. ^ "St Rumbold's Tower". Tourism Mechelen. City of Mechelen. Retrieved 9 July 2011. 
  18. ^ UNESCO World Heritage, see its list of sites in Europe; rather misleadingly categorized with other kinds of bell-towers under Belfries of Belgium and France [ref. ID 943 016 St. Rumbolds Tower]
  19. ^ "Sint-Romboutstoren Mechelen — Torenweetjes" (in Dutch). 'Sint-Romboutstoren': Toerisme Mechelen/Torenbalie/Stedelijke Musea Mechelen, Mechelen. Retrieved 25 July 2011. 
  20. ^ (Dutch) Sint-Rombouts (incl. a few photographs)
  21. ^ "Opgravingen Sint-Romboutskerkhof" (in Dutch). Dienst Archeologie, City of Mechelen. 11 January 2011. Retrieved 9 July 2011. 

Coordinates: 51°01′44″N 4°28′42″E / 51.02889°N 4.47833°E / 51.02889; 4.47833

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