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Rising prominently over Ghent’s historic city center, St. Nicholas’ Church is one of the famous “Three Towers of Ghent.” With its grand scale and elaborate design, St. Nicholas' Church looks more like a cathedral than a church. Observe its remarkable Scheldt Gothic architecture and careful restoration work that disguises its somewhat turbulent history.
The church was built in the 11th century in Romanesque style and was rebuilt in the 13th century after being severely damaged by two large fires. More damage occurred in the 16th century, when Protestant Reformation iconoclasts destroyed its religious images. During the French Revolution, it was repurposed as a horse stable. By the 18th century, a number of shops and houses had been built against its exterior walls.
See today’s church, the result of extensive restoration work, which began in the 19th century. Admire its ornate exterior, which is constructed with blue-gray stone sourced from the city of Tournai. The use of this type of stone distinguishes the church’s Scheldt Gothic style from the later Brabantine Gothic style. For a more comprehensive view of the church’s façade, head to the top of the equally famous belfry nearby.
Notice that the church’s tower is constructed above the crossing of the nave and transepts, rather than above the entrance. Another characteristic element of the Scheldt Gothic style of architecture, this design allows light to shine into the transept from the tower. This central toweronce served as a watchtower and carried the town bells until the belfry was completed in the 14th century.
The church’s interior has been beautifully restored to highlight its handsome Gothic stonework. Look for the striking 19th-century organ, which was designed by French organ builder, Aristide Cavaillé-Coll. Don’t miss the two large stained-glass windows created by Jean-Baptiste Capronnier in the mid-19th century.
You’ll also see the church’s beautiful altar screen, which was added during the Baroque period in recognition of the growing Counter-Reformation Movement. Inspect the numerous life-sized statues of various apostles, as well as the intricately carved pulpit.
St. Nicholas' Church is open daily, with shortened hours on Mondays. Admission is free.
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