Even if you see nothing else in Ghent, you shouldn't miss this massive cathedral. Don't be put off by its rather unimpressive exterior, an uncertain mixture of Romanesque, Gothic, and baroque architecture, which lacks a certain fluidity of form. The interior is filled with priceless paintings, sculptures, screens, memorials, and carved tombs. About midway along the vaulted nave is a remarkable pulpit (1741) in white marble entwined with oak, reminiscent of Bernini. The baroque organ from 1653 is the biggest in the Low Countries, and it sure sounds like the loudest when it's in full voice.
St. Bavo's showpiece is the 24-panel altarpiece The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, completed by Jan van Eyck in 1432. Van Eyck's luminous use of oils and naturalistic portrayal of nature and people represented a giant step away from the rigid style of Gothic religious art. But besides its importance in the history of art, the Mystic Lamb is spellbinding in its own right. The work was commissioned for this very chapel by a wealthy alderman in 1420. The original artist was Jan's brother Hubert van Eyck, but the piece was completed by Jan after Hubert's death in 1426.
Other art treasures include Rubens's recently restored The Conversion of St. Bavo (1623), in the Rubens Chapel on the semicircular ambulatory behind the high altar. The Romanesque crypt holds a wealth of religious antiquities, vestments, sculptures, and paintings. Look for faint frescoes still on some of the arches (some frescos were cleaned away entirely during previous restorations). Though the church was constructed in the 14th and 15th centuries, the crypt contains traces of the earlier 12th-century Church of St. John.
During the period of closure of the city's Museum of Fine Arts , Hieronymus Bosch's painting The Bearing of the Cross will be displayed in the crypt.
- © Frommer's 2013
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Ask Ghent Locals about Sint-Baafskathedraal (St. Bavo's Cathedral)
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- Cathedral and Crypt: Apr-Oct daily 8:30am-6pm; Nov-Mar daily 8:30am-5pm. Mystic Lamb chapel: Apr-Oct Mon-Sat 9:30am-4:45pm, Sun 1-4:30pm; Nov-Mar Mon-Sat 10:30am-3:45pm, Sun 1-3:30pm
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