Basilica of Saint Servatius

The Roman catholic Basilica of Saint Servatius, situated in Maastricht (The Netherlands) at the Vrijthof square, is a mainly Romanesque church dedicated to Saint Servatius.


The present-day church is probably the fourth church that was built on the site of the grave of Saint Servatius (c. 310-384), an Armenian missionary who became the first bishop of Maastricht. A small memorial chapel on the saint's grave was replaced by a larger stone church by bishop Monulph in the 6th century. The ever increasing flow of pilgrims made it necessary to build a large pilgrim church in the 9th/10th century. This church was replaced by the present-day Romanesque structure, which was built in several stages. The nave was built in the first half of the 11th century, the transept in the second half of the century, and the choir and westwork in the 12th century. The latter were built during a period in which the chapter of Saint Servatius kept close ties to the emperors of the Holy Roman Empire. Several of the church's provosts were chancellors of the German Empire.

The sculpted Bergportaal, at the south side of the church, was begun around 1180 and can be considered early Gothic. Also in Gothic style are the chapels along the side aisles, which were added in the 14th and 15th centuries, the nave ceiling, and parts of the southern transept. In 1556 a late Gothic spire was added between the two existing westwork towers. In 1770 the entire westwork received Baroque towers. Over the centuries the interior of the church underwent many changes.

In 1797 the chapter was closed down and the church was used as a horse stable by the French troops. In 1804 it became a parish church once again. Between 1866 and 1900 the church underwent two major restorations, led by famous Dutch architect Pierre Cuypers. In 1955 a fire caused Cuypers' Gothic Revival westwork spire to fall through the roof of the church, which made another thorough restoration necessary (1982–1992). During this latter restoration, Cuypers' colourful interior decoration scheme was largely removed.

Art historical significance

The westwork of the Basilica of Saint Servatius is considered one of the most interesting twelfth century constructions in the Meuse valley region. The architectural sculpture in the interior of the westwork belongs to the highlights of Mosan art. The 34 elaborately carved capitals depict scenes from books well-known to the canons, such as Saint Augustine's De Civitate Dei and various Bestiaries. Recurrent themes are: botanical ornaments, animals, humans fighting with animals, humans entangled in plants, and humans engaged in daily activities. A close relationship has been established by art historians between these Maastricht capitals and those in the Rolduc crypt, the Schwarzrheindorf (Bonn) dwarf gallery, and the Wartburg palace near Eisenach.

The choir ceiling shows remnants of ceiling paintings, depicting the visions of Zechariah. This may be the only surviving work by the group of Maastricht painters, who received high praise from Wolfram von Eschenbach in his Parzival.

Religious significance

The grave of Saint Servatius in the church crypt and the many relics in the church treasury, have drawn large numbers of pilgrims throughout the ages. Since the 14th century (but perhaps earlier) a seven-yearly pilgrimage was organized in cooperation with Aachen Cathedral and Kornelimünster Abbey, attracting tens of thousands of visitors to the region. This Heiligdomsvaart tradition continues in our days. The most recent Heiligdomsvaart took place in July 2011.

Nowadays, the Basilica of Saint Servatius is the main church of the Deanery of Maastricht, which is part of the Diocese of Roermond. The church continues to be one of the two principal religious centers of Maastricht (the other one being the Basilica of Our Lady). The church was made a Basilica Minor by Pope John Paul II during his visit in 1985.

  • Elizabeth den Hartog: Romanesque sculpture in Maastricht. Maastricht, 2002
  • A.M. Koldeweij: Der gude Sente Servas. Assen/Maastricht, 1985
  • Aart J.J. Mekking: De Sint-Servaaskerk te Maastricht. Utrecht/Zutphen, 1986

Building Activity

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