The slim brick tower of Our Lady's Church becomes visible long before the huddle of houses when approaching Bruges. It is the highest tower in the city and the world's highest brick tower. More visible than the Belfry in the Markt, it provides a useful navigation point when walking around the city.
The church's medieval character and its important works of art attract many visitors. Among these are the Madonna by Michelangelo and the magnificent tombstones of Mary of Burgundy and her father Charles the Bold.
Architecturally, the outside is a slightly forbidding hodgepodge of different styles. Already two centuries old when first mentioned in written records in 1089, overtime extensions and renovations have changed the character of the building. Each period has its concept of good architecture and the importance of preserving previous designs. The 18th century saw transformation into the period style, but around 1900 renovators tried to revert to the original medieval design. Today's architecture varies from late Romanesque over Scheldt-Gothic to French Gothic.
The most important and eye-catching part of the church is the tower. Building the tower started in the mid-13th century. Reaching a height of 122 meters, only the cathedral of Antwerp is higher--by one metre. The enormous mass of bricks speaks of permanence.
In the sacrament chapel in the right wing of the church stands the famed Madonna by Michelangelo. This stunning marble sculpture is the only sculpture by the great Italian artist present in the Low Countries. Made for the cathedral of Sienna (it couldn't afford to pay for it), two merchants from Bruges (Jan and Alexander Moscroen) brought it to Bruges after a business trip to Italy in 1506.
There are outstanding paintings by Pieter Poubus (Last Supper and Adoration of the Shepherds) and Gerard David (Transfigeration) but after the Michelangelo it is the choir area that holds most interest.
In the choir of the church, are the magnificent tombstones of Mary of Burgundy and her father Charles the Bold. Duchess Mary reigned over the Low Countries in the last part of the 15th century and died in Bruges in 1482 at 25 years old, after falling from her horse during a hunting trip in the surroundings of Bruges.
Charles the Bold died in 1477 in Nancy, France, during a battle. Brought back to Bruges in 1550, his remains lie next to those of his daughter. Mary's sarcophagus, made from black marble surmounting by a reclining image of her in bronze is an example of late gothic style. Charles tomb also has a reclining image of the diseased in bronze. Only completed in the mid-16th century it has the later early renaissance style. In front of both tombs is a triptych by Barend van Orley.
Elsewhere you'll find the funerary chapel of Pieter Lanchals containing frescoed tombs in maroon and black as well as Van Dyck's starkly atmospheric painting of Christ on the cross.