Basilica of Saint Servatius is a Romanesque church & pilgrimage site in Maastricht in The Netherlands. The building is pretty on the eyes and has an art-filled treasury housing St Servatius’ relics. The church is located on the edge of Vrijthof, the cities main square right next door to the Gothic church dedicated to Saint John.
Basilica of Saint Servatius
The current church building is most likely the fourth church that was built on the site of the grave of Saint Servatius. Saint Servatius was an Armenian missionary who was bishop of Tongeren and legend claims he was cousin to John The Baptist making him a distant relative of Jesus. Supposedly Saint Servatius died in 384 in Maastricht, he is classed as one of the “Ice Saints” and his feast day is on May 13th every year.
His remains are reported to be buried in a crypt in The Basilica of Saint Servatius, this crypt dates back to the 6th century. This tomb has been a place of pilgrimage for many centuries, this has been visited by many including Pope John Paul II and Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.
The Basilica of Saint Servatius is considered to be the oldest currently active church in The Netherlands.
I arrived at the north entrance of the church after having a good look around taking photos of the building and the neighbouring Gothic Church of Saint John. I entered the building through a very ornate doorway to the rear of the building.
In the ticket box, I met a friendly man who was very informative and after eventually paying the 4.5 euro entrance fee (They Don’t Accept VISA), I entered the stunning Cloisters.
The cloisters surrounded the pawn garden on 3 edges and were very appealing on the eye, they are supposedly Gothic in style. The cloisters were not as long as my home town Gloucester Cathedral but interesting none the less.
Pawn Garden & Bell
The first exit on the churches cloisters was to exit outside into the pawn garden. The garden was square and surrounded on 3 sides with the cloisters and on the 4th side was the main church building. In the corner nearest the doorway was a big bell which made for some good photographs and a focal point of the garden.
The old church bell was referred to as “Grameer” or “grandmother” in English, the bell dates from 1515 and was in use until 1850. After a walk around the garden, a quick soft drink and a few photos were taken, I was then back into the cloisters.
The next doorway along the cloisters was the entrance to the treasury of the church, The Treasury is a museum of religious artworks and related artefacts. I was quite impressed with the artefacts, some of which was very grand and ornate. Most were stored behind glass to stop wandering hands damaging them I suppose. The room used for the is was called the Double Chapel, this is in the oldest surviving parts of the church which dates back to the 11th-Century.
The treasury has had a few homes in the church but the Double Chapter was restored back in 1982 to be used for its original purpose, the treasure is now home.
There were a variety of artefacts including Key of St Servatius, Reliquary chest (‘Noodkist’), Portrait bust St Servatius, Patriarchal cross and an Ivory reliquary. There was loads to see and very fascinating to see the ornate detail and special pieces of this collection. More about The Treasury…
After the treasury, I was keen to enter the main part of the church so headed along the cloisters and through the big wooden door. A very special church was before my eyes and was humbled by its grand design. There were side chapels and a big main aisle for me to explore.
Lucky for me the main church building was empty and I had the place to my self, I sat on a pew and had a reflection on my Interrail Adventure then soaked up the beauty.
The nave is the central aisle of the church was special to walk down and admire the building. In front of me was what was known as “The Crossing”, this was up a few steps guarded by ornate bishops. Jesus on the cross was up high towards a circular, intricately designed ceiling, Behind The Crossing, was where the choir sits behind an altar.
At the other end of the nave was a very special organ at the end labelled Westwork. The current organ has had an eventful history, it dates back to the early 1650s where it was housed in the nearby church of the Dominicans (Dominicanenkerk).
After a difficult period in the churches history, the current organ was moved into its current place between 1804 and 1806. More about the organ…
The church has 3 main spires the final one installed in 1556, a late Gothic spire was added onto the Westwork between the two existing towers. In 1770 the entire westwork was crowned with Baroque helmet spires. These certainly add to the charm of the church, especially when seen with the neighbouring church of Saint John next door with its also impressive spires.
During the late Middle Ages, the number of relics in the treasury further increased. A septennial Pilgrimage of the Relics called Heiligdomsvaart attracted tens of thousands of pilgrims. The main relics were displayed and shown to the pilgrims in Vrijthof square.
The Catholic Pilgrimage of the Relics or Maastricht Septennial Pilgrimage happens every seven years the next due to occur in 2025. Originating in the Middle Ages, it started off as a pilgrimage to the grave of Saint Servatius. Nowadays it has morphed in toa religious, historical, cultural and commercial event with displays and processions of the relics. About The Pilgrimage…
After browsing this magnificent building, the next stop was to exit and have a beer in a bar overlooking Vrijthof and imagine I was at one of Andre Rieu’s fabulous concerts. The church was fantastic on the eye and had a fascinating history to it. I feel I was lucky with the crowds back on a weekday in January, maybe the best time to visit.
For more information about this, these sites provide more background and historical information.