The first church on the site, made of wood and presumably founded in 986, burned down in 1176 and it was replaced by a Romanesque church. Construction of the present Gothic edifice, was begun approximately in 1425, and was continued for more than half a century.
Its construction period overlapped with that of the Leuven Town Hall across the Markt, and in the earlier decades of construction shared the same succession of architects as its neighbor: Sulpitius van Vorst to start with, followed by Jan II Keldermans and later on Matheus de Layens.
Despite their incomplete status, the towers of the Church are mentioned on the UNESCO World Heritage List, as part of the Belfries of Belgium and France.
The church suffered severe damage in both World Wars. In 1914 a fire caused the collapse of the roof and in 1944 a bomb destroyed part of the northern side.
Inside the chapels are the tombs of Duke Henry I of Brabant (d. 1235), his wife Matilda (d. 1211) and their daughter Marie (d. 1260). Godfrey II of Leuven is also buried in the church.
Despite the devastation during the World Wars, the church remains rich in works of art. The chancel and ambulatory were turned into a museum in 1998, where visitors can view a collection of sculptures, paintings and metalwork.
The church holds Nicolaas de Bruyne's 1442 sculpture of the Madonna and Child enthroned (Sedes Sapientiae). The theme is still used today as the emblem of Katholieke Universiteit Leuven.
One of the oldest objects in the art collection is a 12th-century wooden head, being the only remainder of a crucifix burnt in World War II.
The Last Supper is one of the masterpieces in the church and was painted by Dieric Bouts between 1464 and 1468.
Other masterpieces in the church are The Martyrdom of Saint Erasmus from the same painter and the Edelheere Altarpiece (Descent from the cross), an early copy after a work by Rogier van der Weyden. The Scenes from the Life and Martyrdom of Saints Catherine and Clement were painted by Leuven painter Jan Rombouts the Elder around 1530.
(Source: www.wikipedia.com ; access date: November 2020), Photo by Aslı Tezcan