Leuven landmark shines after long renovation


A celebratory weekend awaits visitors to Sint-Pieters Church in the heart of Leuven, which is re-opening with a new permanent exhibition, a concert and a feast

Heaven and earth

Sint-Pieters Church in the centre of Leuven re-opens this weekend after decades of renovation work. The outside is clean and free of scaffolding, while the inside has become a showcase for some of the city’s artistic treasures. Centre stage is “The Last Supper”, painted by the 15th-century Flemish master Dieric Bouts.

The church’s facade has been cleaned and damaged stonework repaired, while inside paintings on the vaulted ceiling have been uncovered and restored. Elsewhere the exposed stonework has been cleaned to a brilliant white.

Special attention has been paid to the 11-metre high Gothic tabernacle, built to protect the sacrament. This has been cleaned, taking into account the ornate structure’s complex history of overpainting. Statues designed to accompany the tabernacle, long displayed separately, have now been returned to their proper place.

According to Dirk Vansina, city councillor responsible for public works, the church should now be “restoration-free” for the next 50 years. “But maintenance work will always be needed to keep such a monumental building in good condition,” he told VRT.

Cleaned and scaffold-free, Sint-Pieters Church glows once again
©Karl Bruninx

“The Last Supper” and other paintings by Bouts and his contemporaries have always been the main attractions in the church, but previously visitors had to buy a ticket to see them. Now the paintings are accessible free of charge.

“We wanted to give the church back to the people of Leuven, and anyone else who wants to visit it,” said Peter Carpreau of Museum M, which has built the permanent exhibition Between Heaven and Earth around the paintings and the architecture of the church.

This includes an interactive guide to “The Last Supper”, which takes visitors into the history of the painting and the church, and the artistry of Bouts. The digital experience will be unveiled during the opening weekend, which will also include more traditional guided tours of the church, and a trail designed for families.

On Saturday evening there will be an open-air supper, served on the Grote Markt, in honour of Bouts. Later, a concert will be held in the church to inaugurate the organ, which has been both restored and expanded.