The tower of this church is one of the marvelous “three towers” in the heart of Ghent (the others being the Belfort and the tower of St. Bavo’s Cathedral). If you look east from the St. Michael’s Bridge you will observe all three towers in a stunning architectural procession. The tower was decorated with stone figures of watchmen, as it had served as a belfry until the construction of the Belfort.
The church was dedicated to St. Nicholas of Myre (now in Turkey), the patron saint of merchants and sailors. The construction of the church began about 1200 and lasted for about two centuries, displaying an exemplary regional style called Scheldt Gothic (named after the nearby river) in one variation or another. The interiors were eventually gutted, and a Baroque style was utilized in the interior spaces and the west gateway to the Korenmarkt up until about 1681.
The church fell into disrepair for ages and campaigns to restore the building have had moderate degrees of success. Currently there are still parts of the church undergoing repairs, namely the nave. The interior is relatively quiet and not too crowded with tourists, a perfect place for meditation or just quiet appreciation of the ecclesiastical architecture. There are several interesting exterior views of the “back” end of the church, the east end towards the Belfort. If you climb to the top of the Belfort, there is a postcard-type shot of St. Nicholas for you to marvel at.
St. Nicholas Church faces the Korenmarkt (Cereal Market), a busy area with cafes, tram traffic, and shoppers on the go. On the other side, the facade of the Masons’ Guild Hall stands out. The building dates from the 16th Century, but the eyes are drawn to the six dynamic figures delicately perched atop the recently renovated facade. The figures were created by Walter de Buck, a versatile local who is a sculptor and folk singer. The elevation also features a relief of the Maid of Ghent and the lion, a pair that is a recurring symbol of Ghent.