Saint Bavo Cathedral
church in Ghent, Belgium



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Arty Fact

Saint Bavo Cathedral
church in Ghent, Belgium
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A Frankish noblewoman, who would later become a nun, gave birth fourteen hundred years ago to a child named Bavo, the namesake of two St. Bavo Cathedrals, one in Ghent, Belgium, and the other in Haarlem, the Netherlands.

Our story focuses on the Ghent Cathedral. If they wanted to avoid confusion, you'd think they'd choose different names for the cathedrals, but people in the region are big fans of this Bavo guy. His story mirrors that of Gautama Buddha: inheriting vast material wealth and having no particular ethical position, squandering his parents' money on champagne and good times, then recognizing the inherent emptiness and meaninglessness of material sense gratification, abandoning his life of excessive aristocratic pleasures and entitlements, becoming devoted to a monastic spiritual order, and giving his money to the poor. Aside from the spiritual awakening towards the end, it's the story of Donald Trump.

Irony of ironies! For all of its breathless odes to the spiritual virtue of poverty, for all of its penniless saints, the Roman Catholic "look" is pure floss and unalloyed bling. The St. Bavo Cathedral would put to shame the most extravagant art collectors with its astonishingly gaudy collection. Familiar with the golden ornamentation of the original Hebrew Temple in Jerusalem, destroyed first by the Babyonians and then by the Romans, Catholics sometimes see themselves as divinely ordained to build the most ostentatious and theatrical altarpieces available. 

The museum concept grew from the "mystery religions" of the Greeks and Romans, especially in connection with the ceremonies and lifeways of the Pythagoreans. As a group at constant historical odds with the conquering Greeks and Romans, Jewish legal decisors, such as Rabbi Moshe Feinstein זצ״ל, ruled that museums and theaters could be forbidden, as places of ill moral repute. This ruling was partly to prevent Jews from converting to Catholicism, dazzled by the sheer magnificence of places like the St. Bavo Cathedral, with their priceless artworks, free admission, and scenes gory enough to rival a Tarantino film.



  1. Bergsma, John. Bible Basics for Catholics: A New Picture of Salvation History. Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 2015.
  2. Bland, Kalman P. The Artless Jew: Medieval and Modern Affirmations and Denials of the Visual. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001.
  3. Harbison, Craig. Jan van Eyck: the play of realism. London: Reaktion books, 1991.
  4. Kemperdick, Stephan, and Johannes Rössler. The Ghent Altarpiece by the Brothers Van Eyck: history and appraisal. Berlin: Gemäldegalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, 2014.
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Here is what Wikipedia says about St Bavo's Cathedral, Ghent

The Saint Bavo Cathedral (also known as Sint-Baafs Cathedral, or in Dutch Sint Baafskathedraal) is an 89-meter-tall Catholic, Gothic cathedral in Ghent, Belgium. It is the seat of the diocese of Ghent, is named for Saint Bavo of Ghent, and contains the well-known Ghent Altarpiece.


The building is built on the site of the former Chapel of St. John the Baptist, primarily of wooden construction that was consecrated in 942 by Transmarus, Bishop of Tournai and Noyon. Traces of a later Romanesque structure can be found in the cathedral's crypt. Construction of the Gothic church began around 1274.

In the subsequent period from the 14th through 16th centuries, nearly continuous expansion projects in the Gothic style were executed on the structure. A new choir, radiating chapels, expansions of the transepts, a chapter house, nave aisles and a single-tower western section were all added.

In 1539, as a result of the rebellion against Charles V, who was baptized in the church, the old Abbey of St. Bavo was dissolved. Its abbot and monks went on to become canons in a Chapter that was attached to what then became the Church of Saint Bavo. When the Diocese of Ghent was founded in 1559, the church became its cathedral. Construction was considered complete on June 7, 1569.

In the summer of 1566, bands of Calvinist iconoclasts visited Catholic churches in the Netherlands, shattering stained-glass windows, smashing statues, and destroying paintings and other artworks they perceived as idolatrous. However, the altarpiece by the Van Eycks was saved.

Check out the full Wikipedia article about St Bavo's Cathedral, Ghent.