St. Rumbolds Cathedral

St. Rumbold's Cathedral (or Sint-Romboutskathedraal, in Dutch) is the Belgian metropolitan archiepiscopal cathedral in Mechelen, dedicated to an assumedly Irish or Scottish Christian missionary and martyr who had founded an abbey nearby. His remains are rumoured to be buried inside the cathedral. State-of-the-art examination of the relics honoured as Saint Rumbold's and kept in a shrine in the retro-choir, showed a life span of about 40 years and a death date between 580 and 655, while tradition had claimed 775 AD.

In 1985, on his 65th birthday, Pope John Paul II celebrated a mass at St. Rumbold's. Jo Haazen, then the City's carillon player, heard him state: "Your tower is not complete".


Building the church itself started shortly after 1200 and it was consecrated in 1312, when a part had become usable. From 1324 onwards the flying buttresses and revised choir structure obtained characteristics that would distinct Brabantian Gothic from French Gothic architecture. After the city fire of 1342, Master Mason Jean d'Oisy managed repairs and continued this 2nd phase that by his death in 1375 had shaped the prototype for that High Gothic style. His successors finished the vaults of the nave by 1437, and these of the choir by 1451.

During the final phase of 1452-1520, the tower was erected, financed by pilgrims and later by its proprietor, the City. Designed to reach 600 Mechlinian feet or about 167 metres, higher than any church tower would ever attain (the Ulm Minster with 161 metres since the 19th century), the very heavy St. Rumbold's tower was being built at earlier wetlands, though with only three metre deep foundations its spot appears to have been well-chosen. After a few years, in 1454, its chief architect Andries I Keldermans construed the Saint Livinus' Monster Tower (or St.-Lievensmonstertoren as it is called in Dutch) in Zierikzee (in the present-day Netherlands), where dreaded leaning or sagging of the tower (now 62 metres but designed for ca. 130) could wreck the church. This concern led to fully separated edifices, a solution as applied in Mechelen. At both places, in the early 16th century the upper part of the tower became forsaken, not for technical but for financial reasons. St-Rumbold's should have been topped by a 77-metre spire but only seven became built, hence the unusual shape. A deliberately weak connection closed the gap with the church upon finishing the construction.

The church functions as cathedral since 1559. In the 18th century, each capitals' surrounding ornament of sculped cabbage leafs that had been an inspiration for numerous Brabantine Gothic churches, was replaced with a double ring of crops. In 2005, after engineers had figured out the support capacity of ground and tower, there was talk of accomplishing the entire spire of the original drawings.

St. Rumbold's Tower

The flat-topped silhouette of the cathedral's tower is easily recognizable and dominates the surroundings. For centuries it held the city documents, served as a watchtower, and could sound the fire alarm. Despite its characteristic incompleteness, this World Heritage monument is 97.28 metres high and its 514 stairs are mounted by thousands of tourists every year, following the footsteps of Louis XV, Napoleon, and King Albert I.

Of the original carillon's set of 49 bells, which are still in working order, each has its own name. Some of the most notable are Salvator, which weighs 8884 kg; Jehsus, which was built in 1460; and the Liberation, which was the newest addition in 1947. Thirty-nine steps above this instrument, there is a second complete carillon on which concerts are played during the summer months. The total weight of both these carillons is over 80 tonnes and there are 98 bells in all.

Many of the region's cities have a nickname for their populace. The Mechlinians are said to have had ancestors running up their great Tower and passing on buckets of water to extinguish a blazing fire behind the perpendicular windows, where it turned out to be mere moonlight through sprightly clouds, hence are called Maneblussers ('Moon Extinguishers').

Church interior

The main entrance, underneath the tower, leads into the nave of the cathedral (approximately 118 meters long).

Apart from small heraldic shields dating from the Thirty Knights of the Golden Fleece chapter meetings presided in the church by young Philip the Handsome while his Burgundian inheritance was still under guardianship of his father, few original movables survive. Forty preciously decorated Gothic altars and all other furniture disappeared during the religious troubles of 1566-1585: Though the cathedral was spared in the 1566 Iconoclasm, Mechelen was sacked in the 1572 three-days Spanish Fury by slaughtering troops under command of Alva's son Fadrique, and suffered the English Fury pillaging by rampant mercenaries in the service of the States General in 1580.

The interior features a Baroque high altar and choir by Lucas Faydherbe (with twenty-five paintings illustrating the life of Saint Rumbold), as well as paintings by Anthony van Dyck, sculptures by Lucas Faydherbe, Michiel Vervoort, and stained-glass windows, including one depicting —though with a white face— the Black Madonna painting in the church.


In 2010, prior to the construction of an undergound parking lot by Saint Rumbold's north side, 3,200 skeletons were unearthed during archeological excavations of the long bygone cemitary.