This is the
cathedral of the city. As you know, there’s only one in Bruges. This may be
known, but the difference between a church and a cathedral is only one little
detail. This detail can’t be seen from the outside, but you need to go inside
to find it.
Inside there’s the “cathedra” or the seat of the Bishop. When a Bishop is
seated (and sometimes does services) in a church, this is considered as a
cathedral.
So size had nothing to do with it!

No, this
cathedral is about 80 meter high, while the close-by Church of Our Lady is
about 120 meter!

Saint Eligius

According
to legend the founder of this church was Saint Eligius… He is born in Frnace
around 588 and died on December 1st 660. He’s the patron of
goldsmiths, metalworkers, mechanical engineers and coin collectors. Most of his
life he lived in France, but started out as a goldsmith. When he made a throne
of gold, decorated with jewels kind Clotaire II paid a royal salary to Eligius
who… donated the money to the man who learned him the profession of goldsmith.
Eligius became mint master and later most influential advisor of the French
kings Clotaire II and Dagobert

In 632
Eligius had a monastery built and lived a devoted life. When Dagobert died
Eligius was ordained, in 640 he became Bishop. When we go inside, I’ll show you
a sculpture of Eligius with his miter (of being Bishop), but also you’ll find
another attribute of a bishop: a crosier (kromstaf).
One nice legend about the life of Eligius is the one of “the removable
horse-leg”. Yes, I know!

At young
age Eligius already knew how to work as a metalworker. He worked for a
blacksmith boss who was really full of himself. This man had a sign that said
“Master of masters” at his workshop. One day, a resistive horse was brought in
the workshop, but even the master of masters couldn’t handle this feisty
animal. Eligius however walked up to the horse, took off the leg of the animal,
brought the leg to the anvil and put on a new horseshoe. Then returned to the
animal with his leg, attached it back where it should be and the animal quietly
walked out the workshop.

The
blacksmith boss didn’t want to be lesser than his apprentice so when a next
difficult animal came in, he tried this little trick himself… The poor animal
started bleeding severely and the master didn’t know what to do and turned to
Eligius. He said that the boss really should remove the sign… When this was
done, the bleeding stopped, Eligius returned the leg at its place and the horse
could leave the workshop unharmed. The blacksmith was learned a lesson and
didn’t consider himself a master of masters any more.

But, why
Eligius? Well, I told you the legend says he was the founder of this church…
But the first church that stood here was erected around 850. That’s about, oh…
190 years after he died. So he couldn’t have been the founder. But you do find
some of his images in the cathedral, still today.

St Salvators church in 1802

Something
else is strange, two churches this close to one another… Some brochures will
tell that the canal was the border between the two dioceses, but then the
Church of our Lady is on the wrong side!

There were
several fires in this building. The first was in 1116 and a new building is
erected after this. You can still see some of the first stones on the lower
levels at the front gate.

Unfortunately
in 1183 a second fire hits the church, so they restore the church and build a
first tower that is about 45 meter high.

In 1358 a
third fire strikes and the tower is heavily damaged. Parts of this tower were
covered in the renovations then.

Throughout
the ages the church expands, a choir is built, later an ambulatory is needed.
In 1580 the Iconoclastic Fury comes to our regions and several works of art are
destroyed.
When they restore the church afterwards, the brilliant plan of painting the
interior of the church in white! So the paintings and polychrome are lost.

The end of
the 17th century the rood screen (doksaal) is built, but where it
should be, between the choir and transept.

With the
French period the church is sold publicly, parishioners buy the building and
use a nice trick… They ask to postpone the payment over and over again. Until
there is the treaty of Amiens, ending the war between French and English. So
the church was never paid for!

In 1834 the
church gets the title of cathedral. When the French sold the St
Donatiuscathedral on the Burg square, this couldn’t be saved so the diocese
(bisdom) of Bruges ceased to exist then. But in 1834 it was refounded and we
needed a new cathedral.
There’s always been a competition between St Salvators and the Church of Our
Lady. St Salvators won because it’s the oldest… It won with only 25 years!

But, the
new cathedral didn’t have the grandeur it should have.
The fire in 1839

Can we
speak of a divine intervention? It’s a strange one maybe, because in 1839 a
fourth fire breaks out and destroys the larger part of the building. Roofs came
down, a part of the tower came down, several works of art lost… But, we could
build a “new” cathedral.

End of the
19th century there are neo-gothic wall decorations painted, and in
1935-36 the rood screen is moved to its current location.

In 1989
renovations begin on the outside, finished in 2009. In that same year the
renovations inside are started. They were supposed to be ready in 2012… but
just so you know, inside it took them 5 years longer than planned.

If you
want, we can go inside. I can show you the mural paintings of angels (1480),
Peter (1500) and the neo-gothic decorations from the 19th century.

Also the
rood screen from 1679 in marble is really impressive. You see a God that has
motion in it.

The rood screen

The pulpit
(preekstoel) is a nice piece as well, where you see St Eligius as bishop with
his tools. This work is from 1777.
The pulpit

Today, the
renovations –that took over 5 years- inside are almost finished. A cathedral
well worth a visit.