Basilica of Saint Servatius

The imposing Basilica of Saint Servatius is named after the city's patron saint, Saint Servatius. The church was erected over his tomb, in several stages. This three-aisled basilica is regarded as the Netherlands’ oldest surviving church, and features on the list of the Netherlands’ 100 most important national heritage sites.

  • Saint Servatius was the bishop of Tongeren in the fourth century. When that city was under threat from the Huns, he had to relocate the bishop seat to Maastricht. It is thought that he died here on 13 May 384. According to Roman custom, his body was buried in a cemetery outside the settlement. A burial chapel was erected over his grave.

    Little else is known about Saint Servatius. The main sources date from the sixth, eleventh, and twelfth century, but are very much open to question. He was said to have been born in present-day Armenia and to be a great nephew of Jesus Christ. He was also linked with a number of miracles: slaying a dragon, causing a spring to appear, and baptizing Attila the Hun. The key that is most typically associated with him is said to have been given to him by the apostle Paul. They are the only two saints who can open the gate to heaven.

    Borstbeeld voorzijde
  • Sometime around 550, the burial chapel was replaced with a church, commissioned by Bishop Monulph. He initiated the veneration of Servatius. Bishop and historian Gregory of Tours called this church a Templum Magnum (a big church).

    Not much is known about the history of the church between the sixth and tenth centuries. Very few written sources from that time have been preserved. There are plenty of archaeological remains, but it isn't always evident how we should interpret them. During that period, the church was under the influence of the Merovingians and the Carolingians, including Charlemagne. They turned the Templum Magnum into an abbey church with a monastery. This new church was built in the seventh or eighth century, and was larger again than its predecessor.

  • The church as it stands today was built in three stages, between 1000 and 1150. First, provost Geldulph created the crypt and the central section. Provost Monulph then built a new rectangular transept. Finally, Gerard van Are completed the bottom section of the westwork and the large chancel.

    After the twelfth century, the church underwent many more modifications and extensions, most notably in the nineteenth century by famous architect Pierre Cuypers. More changes were made in the 1980s but, in its essence, church that you now see dates back to the Roman period, making it 1000 years old.

  • The most important objects are kept in the basilica’s treasure room. The two most precious items are without doubt the sixteenth century bust of Servatius, and the twelfth century reliquary in which his remains are kept. The reliquary is also called the ‘noodkist’ (chest of need). In times of need, this is carried through the city to beg Saint Servatius for help. Both objects are gilded all over and decorated with expensive gemstones.

    The collection also contains very valuable fabrics, demonstrating how wealthy Maastricht and the basilica were in the Middle Ages. There are also many relics, which were very popular in the Middle Ages. Anyone who owned a relic could rest assured of special protection from the saint in question. Relics can either be mortal remains of deceased saints, or objects that were used by a saint. The treasure room contains relics of, among others, the apostles Peter, Paul, and Thomas, Saint Barbara, and Mary Magdalene. Another centrepiece is the Holy Cross relic, which contains large pieces of wood from Jesus’ cross.

  • The entrance off Keizer Karelplein opens up directly into the Roman cloister, looking out over the courtyard garden, the quadrangle. This peaceful spot in the heart of the city is a wonderful place to sit and contemplate. The bronze clock alongside is called the 'grameer' (grandmother). This enormous sixteenth century clock has stood in this spot since 1983. Interestingly, only the coat of arms of the Habsburg Emperor Charles V is depicted on it, and not the symbol of the Prince-Bishopric of Liège. In the divided city of Maastricht, this was a blatant provocation.

    In the basilica, you can descend to the Saint Servatius crypt and the small crypt. In these two rooms from the late tenth or early eleventh century, you will see the saint's tombstone and the tomb of Charles, Duke of Lower Lorraine, one of the last Carolingians.

    Another must-see is the South portal (Bergportaal), the oldest Gothic portal in the Netherlands containing 72 sculptures. On the floor is a huge labyrinth, with Maastricht as the starting point. The route leads via Aachen, Cologne, Rome, and Constantinople, all the way to Temple Mount in Jerusalem.


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