Fronted by a Romanesque, baroque and Gothic facade, Ghent’s cavernous cathedral serves as a repository for a valuable collection of art treasures, including works by Rubens and Laurent Delvaux. Its showpiece attraction is the Van Eyck brothers’ world-renowned 24-panel altarpiece, The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb.
As the holder of one of the most significant and influential works of Northern Renaissance Art, St. Bavo Cathedral (Sint-Baafskathedraal) is the first port of call for many visitors to Ghent. The cathedral is a common stop on guided day trips from Belgium’s capital, Brussels, and is commonly combined with a trip to the UNESCO-listed Belgian city of Bruges. Tour guides are not allowed to talk inside the chapel, so visitors normally explore independently. Audio guides help explain the various panels of the painting to visitors.
Things to Know Before You Go
The cathedral is a pilgrimage site for art enthusiasts.
The altarpiece underwent a painstaking restoration process beginning in 2012, with the panels having been restored to their original glory.
Wheelchair users may need assistance at the entrance, which is sloped. The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb is accessible, though the crypt, chapels, and choir aisle are not.
How to Get There
Ride the tram (1, 2, or 4) to Korenmarkt. From there, it’s less than a 5-minute walk to Sint-Baafsplein square where the cathedral is situated. The Duivelsteen tram stop (served by lines 1 and 4) is also just a few minutes’ walk from the cathedral.
When to Get There
Arrive at least 30 minutes (ideally more) before closing time, as visitors are required to leave the chapel in which The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb is situated 15 minutes before closing time. Note that between noon and 1pm every day, the panels of the Van Eyck altarpiece are closed allowing visitors to see only the restored exterior panels.
Appreciating Art at St. Bavo’s Cathedral
Art aficionados will be impressed by the quality of the artworks, carvings, memorials, and tombs on display at St. Bavo Cathedral. Among the most important pieces are The Conversion of Saint Bavo in the Rubens Chapel, the Calvary Triptych by Justus van Gent, the baroque-style high altar, and the exquisite marble-and-oak rococo pulpit by Laurent Delvaux.
Of course, the star of the show is The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, which was begun by Hubert van Eyck and finished by Jan van Eyck in 1432. Over the years, many of the painting’s panels have been replaced, removed, and even stolen, though almost all—bar De Rechtvaardige Rechters (The Just Judges) which remains at large—have been recovered and restored.