From the choir to the cloister, Saint-Paul de Liège Cathedral offers a visit to more than ten centuries of history and religious and artistic heritage.
By Florence Pirard / Photos Guy Focant
The Saint-Paul church, founded around 965, was initially a collegiate church established in a developing city. At the beginning of the 19th century, it succeeded the Notre-Dame-et-Saint-Lambert cathedral, destroyed during the Revolution, and – after having been transformed into a slaughterhouse and butcher’s shop – became the cathedral of Liège. Heiress of Notre-Dame-et-Saint-Lambert, Saint-Paul certainly was. From January 1804, the treasure of the old cathedral (the relics of saints from Liège and in particular the reliquary bust of Saint Lambert), who had gone into exile at the time of the Revolution, was brought back to Liège.
A great ceremony brought together the priests of the diocese around the translation of the relics to the new cathedral. From 1811, a bell tower in the exact image of that of Saint-Lambert, crowned by a high octagonal spire and four pinnacles, was added to the tower of Saint-Paul. In addition to the existing bells, there was housed the carillon of the cathedral which had disappeared, made up of thirty-five bells. The new cathedral therefore had to affirm the durability of Saint-Lambert Cathedral.
Saint Paul’s Cathedral is a very fine example of the primary Mosan Gothic style. It was between 1230 and 1240 that the Romanesque church began to change. A second campaign (completed around 1290-1300), then a third (1309-1330) allowed the construction of the five western bays of the nave. Gradually, chapels are installed in the side naves. The reconstruction of the tower began around 1390 and was completed around 1430. In the following century, the flat ceiling of the church was replaced by a vault.
The keystones are punctuated with the faces of bearded men to the west, an effigy of Saint Paul in the center and the dates 1528, 1529, 1557 and 1579. The Saint-Paul cathedral in Liège has a very beautiful Gothic cloister , whose plan surrounds a charming garden. It is accessible by four entrances: two of them give into the cathedral, the last two open onto the streets adjoining the building.
19th, 20th and 21st century restorations. A major restoration campaign took place in the middle of the 19th century. It must remedy the damage of the revolutionary era, but also allow Saint-Paul to fulfill its new functions as a cathedral. Around 1850, the restoration was entrusted to Jean-Charles Delsaux (1821-1893). This one wants both to preserve, but also to embellish, even to complete the work of the past. Convinced that the medieval project was to build a harmoniously homogeneous church, Delsaux standardized the style, sometimes to the extreme.
The restoration of the south facade, on the other hand, was carried out in 1875 by Eugène Halkin, who preferred to retain its original sobriety. The comparison of the two facades of the building thus makes it possible to measure the differences in perception of these two architect-restorers. The cloister was renovated by Fernand Lohest at the beginning of the 20th century. Some work was still carried out between 1967 and 1974, following the damage caused by a bomb during the Second World War.
But at the beginning of the 21st century, a large-scale restoration is necessary. Work begins in May 2016 and ends in July 2021. This project mobilizes multiple skills: work on the frames, roofing, stone cutting, sculptures… Today, the cathedral has regained all its brilliance. It is the culmination of four years of study and five years of work. Conducted under the project management of the Saint-Paul Cathedral factory, assisted by the Walloon Heritage Agency, the project benefited from a framework agreement granted by Wallonia.
Thanks to the patronage of Father Michel Teheux and his sister, and to mark the official end of the restoration work (September 16, 2021), a new portal, on the side of the square, has been created by the Belgian artist Jacques Dieudonné. . It combines a double door in gilded and patinated brass weighing 500 kg and a stained glass window in gold tones.
The works of the cathedral. St. Paul’s Cathedral houses an impressive collection of paintings, sculptures, pieces of gold and cabinet work and stained glass. The Renaissance style in the 16th century and even more Baroque art, linked to the Catholic Counter-Reformation in the 17th century, imposed their mark on artistic production. The Italian masters have thus largely influenced, for two centuries, the orders and productions, even if Antwerp influences are perceived in certain artists.
Another moment of artistic affirmation can be detected in the 19th century, when Saint Paul’s Church was elevated to the rank of cathedral. The collections are then considerably enriched, since Saint-Paul becomes the repository of works of art from the old cathedral, but also from other churches that have disappeared. Some of these pieces have found their way into the cathedral, the others are now on display in the treasury.
The stained glass windows. From the entrance to the choir, the visitor can observe the main windows of Saint-Paul. Particularly rich, the collection spans nearly five centuries. In the south transept, you can admire the stained glass window of the Coronation of the Virgin (1530), whose restoration, begun in 1999, was completed in 2015. Two others had already taken place, in 1809 and 1877, the latter under the direction of the master glassmaker of Osterrath, who added angels to the initial scenes.
This stained glass window, one of the most remarkable of the 16th century artistic revival conserved in Liège, is part of the Renaissance movement, even if certain parts are still impregnated with the Gothic spirit. The work shows great mastery and its composition is harmonious and balanced. The donor, kneeling before Saint Lambert in the lower scene, is Léon d’Oultres, both canon of Saint-Lambert cathedral and provost of Saint-Paul collegiate church, which probably explains the choice of representing Saint Paul and Notre Dame jointly. -Lady on the stained glass window. Twice appointed Rector of the University of Louvain, he also became Chancellor of the Prince-Bishop.
Bold and contemporary, five high windows were placed in the chapels of Saint-Lambert and Saint-Joseph in 2013. They were made in Chartres by the Dominican Father Kim En Joong, who painted directly on the glass. This artist had already distinguished himself in creations intended for the cathedrals of Chartres and Evry or Saint-Patrick in Dublin. The following year, in 2014, the upper bays of the nave received fourteen windows, also made in Chartres. The artist Gottfried Honegger insists on the geometry of the world. On the south side, we follow a succession of circles under construction and, on the north side, triangles are part of circles. The visitor will find art, geometry, theology, but also poetry thanks to the very warm touches of light provided by these windows.
The pulpit of truth. In the middle of the nave, it is one of the most imposing pieces of the additions of the 19th century. Made by the Antwerp sculptors Guillaume and Joseph Geefs in 1843, it is carved in oak and impresses with its dimensions and its flamboyant neo-Gothic aesthetic. Six Carrara marble statues (1.80 m high) adorn its base. At the front, the patron saints of the city, Saint Lambert and Saint Hubert, alongside Saints Paul and Peter, surround an allegory of Religion. The latter, in the guise of a crowned woman with calm gaze, tramples a dragon under foot and makes the cross her scepter.
The whole composition wanted to symbolize the triumph of the Gospel over Evil. To this end, a sixth and last statue responds to that of Religion at the back of the pulpit: that of the genius of Evil. Satan, fallen and chained, his face contorted and angry, clutches his broken scepter and his lost crown. The aesthetics of these statues links them to the neoclassical current, but this desire to make the figure of the demon attractive, to underline the beauty of the Devil, imparts a resolutely romantic breath to the pulpit of truth.
A first statue, due to the chisel of Joseph Geefs, was initially refused. The beauty of Satan’s features had aroused too much criticism and the bishop at the time, Mgr Van Bommel, preferred to have it removed and asked Guillaume Geefs to sculpt a second one. This first sculpture was acquired by King William II of the Netherlands and is currently in the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium.
ORGANIZE YOUR VISIT
Liège Cathedral is accessible free of charge every day from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Services are celebrated every day (8:30 a.m., 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.) and on Sundays at 10 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.
Cathedral Square, 4000 Liège
+32 (0)4 232 61 31
THE CATHEDRAL TREASURE
A visit to the cathedral is inconceivable without a visit to the treasury, an essential complement to discovering the art and history of the former principality of Liège. Perfectly renovated and inserted into the cloistered annexes, it offers a unique tour presenting 200 works, spread over three levels around internationally recognized masterpieces: the reliquary bust of Saint Lambert, the reliquary of Charles the Bold, the ivory of the Three Resurrections or even the chasuble of David of Burgundy.
“The Genius of Evil”, detail of the pulpit of truth. ©Guy FocantINFO
The cathedral treasury is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
The visit entitles you to free entry to the Archéoforum for one week. Prices: adult, €8; seniors, students, €7; family, €17; – 6 years old, free. Guided tours (school groups, groups of adults) in French, English, Dutch and German, by reservation.
Treasure of Liege
Rue Bonne Fortune 6 in 4000 Liège
+32 (0)4 232 61 32
THE ARCHEOFORUM, SITE OF THE FORMER SAINT-LAMBERT CATHEDRAL
At the end of the 7th century, the site of the current Place Saint-Lambert was occupied by the country house where the Bishop of Tongres-Maastricht, Lambert, was assassinated around the year 700. This succeeded a vast architectural ensemble of Roman origin, itself installed on a site where human presence has been attested for 9,000 years. On the scene of the murder, Lambert’s successor, Bishop Hubert († 727), erected a church – a “martyrium” – where he placed the relics of his predecessor.
The birth of a cult dedicated to the late bishop made Liège a city of pilgrimage, which quickly transformed into an important agglomeration. Around 800, the city became the main residence of the bishops of Tongeren-Maastricht. The church has undergone several phases of development over the centuries. Notger Cathedral († 1008), in the Ottonian style, was burned down in 1185. It was succeeded by the huge Gothic cathedral that we still knew at the end of the Ancien Régime, before its demolition under the blows of the Revolution. Ultimately, it was not until 1829 that on the site of the cathedral, the square born of its destruction took the name of the holy martyr. Opened to the public in 2003 and managed by the Walloon Heritage Agency, the Archéoforum offers a journey from prehistory to the most recent periods of the formidable history of Liège, illustrated by archaeological remains, both movable and immovable, presented in a contemporary scenography.
The Archéoforum is open Tuesday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (10 a.m. to 5 p.m. during school holidays) and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed on Sundays except for the first Sunday of the month, when the museum is accessible free of charge from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Place Saint-Lambert, 4000 Liège
+32 (0)4 250 93 70 – firstname.lastname@example.org
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Liège Cathedral: an architectural gem in the heart of the burning city
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