18th - 19th century
Building history of the cathedral.
Transmarus, bishop of Tournai and Noyon, is said to have consecrated a church on this site in 942 to Saint John the Baptist. Visitors can still find traces of the following Romanesque church, which dates back to the mid-12th century, in the crypt decorated with murals.
Ghent, one of the most powerful cities in Western Europe in the Middle Ages, could always afford to build bigger and richer churches. For example, the St. John's Church was converted in the Gothic style in the course of the 15th and 16th centuries. In the middle of the 16th century, the building had the appearance it still has today. But other changes were imminent.
In 1536 the age-old Saint Bavo’s Abbey was dissolved on the orders of Emperor Charles V. The majority of the abbey was demolished after the Ghent uprising in 1540 and converted into barracks. The abbot and monks of this abbey were secularized and given the title of canon. Their chapter passed to the Saint John’s Church, which was then called Saint Bavo’s Church.
The diocese of Ghent was founded in 1559 and the church became St Bavo's Cathedral. Among the long line of shepherds of the diocese of Ghent, the figure of the seventh bishop, Antonius Triest, should certainly be mentioned. The cathedral's rich, baroque interior as we see it today bears his powerful stamp.
As early as the tenth century the first parish church of Ghent, the Saint John’s Church, dedicated to Saint John the Baptist was located here. Where the first parish church stood, a completely new Romanesque church was built in the twelfth century. Clearly recognizable by the typical round arches.
From the end of the thirteenth century, extensive renovations were carried out. They built higher and higher, straight to heaven! On top of the old lower church, a high Gothic choir with an immense vault was built, where the light entered through tall windows.
Around the choir, an ambulatory with 14 chapels was built. It is in one of these chapels that in 1432 The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb was revealed. An important event for western art history, as will become clear later.
In 1534, the construction campaign was crowned with an 89-meter-high west tower with a large spire.
The new nave was finished in 1590.
At the time of Bishop Antonius Triest, the cathedral was decorated according to the new zeitgeist with baroque works of the highest level. For example, the altarpiece The Conversion of the Holy Bavo by Pieter Paul Rubens.
Until the nineteenth century, the interior changed considerably. Slowly but surely the cathedral got its current view.
The relationship between the diocese and the cathedral
The newly founded diocese was smaller than the current diocese of Ghent. To the east, the Scheldt formed the border with the Archdiocese of Mechelen, although a number of places on the right bank such as Dendermonde and Wetteren were nevertheless added to the diocese of Ghent. Eeklo and surrounding parishes belonged to the diocese of Bruges.
After the annexation of our regions to revolutionary France in 1795, all French laws came into force. As a result, ecclesiastical institutions were disbanded and their goods nationalized, including all possessions of the chapter of Saint Bavo and the diocese of Ghent. By the Napoleonic Concordat with Pope Pius VII in 1801, the dioceses of Ypres and Bruges were not re-established, but formed what are now East and West Flanders, together the diocese of Ghent. Not much later on May 24, 1834, Pope Gregory XVI rebuilt the diocese of Bruges by papal bull, with the present province of West Flanders as territory.
What is the function of a chapter?
Also the chapter was re-established by the 1801 Concordat, and the canons had certain powers under canon law. Since the new ecclesiastical law of 1983, the chapter of Saint Bavo has been charged with giving the liturgical celebrations in the cathedral the necessary splendor. The members of the chapter (about 20) usually have a job in the administration of the diocese. Since the 15th century, there has been a bond of friendship between the chapter of Ghent and that of Haarlem (the Netherlands).