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St. Peter's Church and the Town Hall

by Claire DEJAEGER

On a very windy day Kristiaan took us to some of the city landmarks, Saint Peter's Church and the Town Hall.

St Peter's Church

Saint Peter's Church situated on the Grote Markt, right across from the Town Hall, was built mainly in the 15th century in Brabantine Gothic style; the church has a cruciform floor plan and a bell tower that has never been completed. The church is built on an older Romanesque church of which only the crypt remains underneath the actual church.

We visited the crypt, turned into a museum in 1998, where we admired a 12th-century wooden head of Christ, being the only remainder of a crucifix of the 12th century that burnt in 1914 in World War I and Nicolaas de Bruyne's 1442 sculpture of the Madonna and Child enthroned on the seat of wisdom (Sedes Sapientiae). The theme is still used today as the emblem of the Leuven Catholic University.

In the crypt we looked at the burial coffin of Hendrik I, the oldest grave in Belgium, dating 1235, together with the grave of Matilda of Flanders, his wife and Maria of Brabant his daughter.

The epitaph of the Irish rector magnificus Stapleton attracted our attention, Stapleton came as an Irish student to the University of Louvain, made it here to rector magnificus and was re-elected 6 times.

Kristiaan evoked the solemn sight of the opening of the academic year with the procession of professors in toga led by the rector magnificus walking from the Drapery Hall to the Church for mass service, a ceremony that Stapleton must have presided as well.

We admired the splendid sculptured preaching sermon chair telling the life and conversion of St. Norbertus - the sermon chair 's origin being the Premonstratenzer Abbey Church in Ninove.

Three works of the so-called Flemish primitives are the real pearls of the church. The most famous panel is undoubtedly The Last Supper by Dirk Bouts, representing the ordinance of the Eucharist.

Outside the church our attention is drawn to the choir with seven radiating chapels. Between two of these chapels the chapel of 'Fiere Margriet' (Proud Margaret), a local popular saint, was built in 1546.

Kristiaan mentioned the damage inflicted by both world wars, (Jules had already shown us his collection of photographs with the shocking evidence of the destruction of Leuven by the fire the Germans started in 1914 in which the roof and nave of the church burnt down, whereas in 1944 the north aisle suffered bomb damage. Fortunately the church could be restored but remains of the fire damage can still be seen in one of the side altars' pillars.

The Leuven people are called the pietermannen, referring to the famous church but also to the guild of the Pieter men in the Middle Ages who had their own privileges and held their own court in the Church.

A very late (1998) addition to the church is the jacquemart, or golden automaton, which rings a bell near the clock on the gable of the southern transept, above the main southern entrance door.

Town Hall

Then we visited the Town Hall, built between 1448 and 1459 by Sulpitius van Vorst, Jan Keldermans, Matheus de Layens, a splendid gothic jewel with four corner turrets, two ridge turrets, the whole building consisting of three floors. Between the windows there are oriels, each with two niches. On the bases of the spires the bible history is displayed in sculptures. These biblical scenes from the Old Testament had a didactic and admonishing function, sin and punishment being the recurring themes. In the niches sculptures (236 in total) have only been added in 1850, the whole set of sculptures representing the Leuven pantheon!

We visited the inside with the three scriptoria where the clerks made up the registers of the Court of Aldermen, three drawing rooms, the mayor's room, the wedding ceremony room, and the empire room. In the splendid Council Room, where the elected councilors, aldermen and mayor still meet today, we looked at paintings from Hennibicq from 1904 depicting the important events of Leuven history, among them a canvas showing Pieter Coutereel, the rebellious deacon of the weavers, tearing apart the City Charter, and the interesting painting of Antonia van Rosmalen and Katarina Metsijs, buried alive on the Great Market because of their non-catholic bible interpretation. Mercator is also on one of the canvasses, he was smarter, he fled to Duisburg to escape prosecution.

We walked up the old stone spiral staircase to the attic, the lapidarium, where old sculptures and moulds are kept, very impressive - the walk up was not very easy, with a bird's nest and feathers all over, and it felt as if we were back in the 15th century.

Thanks to Krisitaan we had a very interesting visit indeed.