Saint Leonard’s Church

Het Sacramentshuis van Cornelis II Floris (detail)

The tabernacle of Cornelis II Floris, a tower which appears to reach up to the sky, is in itself worth a trip to Zoutleeuw, where another twenty Flemish masterpieces can also be found. In short, Sint-Leonarduskerk is an extraordinary heritage site.

Het Sacramentshuis van Cornelis II Floris

Saint Leonard’s Church

In 1125 Benedictines built a Romanesque chapel dedicated to the hermit Leonard. Around 1231 they built a new house of worship in Gothic style. It took three centuries to complete the church. The oldest part of the Sint-Leonarduskerk is the 13th century chancel. The façade with the Barbara Tower, which is a Unesco World Heritage Site, and the Leonardo Tower were built at a later date. The carillon tower was erected in 1530 at the junction of the chancel, nave and transept. Because the church was spared during the Iconoclasm in the 16th century and canons took the oath of allegiance during the French Revolution, its religious heritage is unparalleled.

The Tabernacle

On 13 August 1550, Maarten van Wilre, Lord of Oplinter, signed the contract for the construction of the tabernacle. Cornelis II Floris then created a complex all-encompassing work of art and combined ancient and Renaissance art from Italy with Flemish tradition. The tower built of Avesnes stone is eighteen meters high and has nine levels. It is safe to say that this is the most impressive tabernacle dating back to the 16th century Southern Netherlands. The corners of each level are adorned with statues. It is almost impossible to count the number of characters. The brass balustrade is also included in the List of Masterpieces of Flanders. Maarten van Wilre and his wife Maria Pyllirpeerts are buried in front of the tabernacle. Their tombstone was later moved to the wall.

Zoutleeuw Anoniem Marianum

Marianum - Anonymous

The Marianum, also referred to as the Rosary Madonna, dates back to the first half of the 16th century when they became more popular. They were mainly found in the Liège-Limburg Meuse region, the Netherlands and Germany. Made of wrought iron, the Marianum in Zoutleeuw depicts Mary holding Christ. Notable is the black horned monster being crushed under the Sacred figure. This image is said to be based on a passage from Genesis: “I will put enmity between thee and the woman and she shall crush thy head”. Mary is surrounded by 5 shields, each representing Christ's bloody wounds. The story continues and also tells us at the sight of the moon and sun that Mary will appear in heaven at the end of time.

The Easter Candle Holder - Renier I van Thienen (1465-1498)

Sint-Leonarduskerk also contains a giant six metre high, brass Easter candle holder. It was cast by Renier I van Thienen in 1483 and designed after a model by Brussels artist Jan Borman. Alternate depictions of a faithful dog and brave lion decorate the base of the candle holder. Your eyes will then travel up from the bottom to the top of the candle holder where you will notice Christ on the Cross with three saints, Mary, John and Mary Magdalene below it.

Zoutleeuw Reyndere I Van Thienen Paaskandelaar

Altarpiece Depicting the Life of Saint Leonard - Anonymous

The central message of the theme of the Sint-Leonarduskerk can be perceived in the altarpiece depicting the life of Saint Leonard. The altarpiece was carved in 1360 and polychromed in 1587. It relates the legend across the different stages of the Saint’s life. Patron of the city of Zoutleeuw, he is also the patron saint of farmers, cattle, prisoners and pregnant women. He is recognizable by the chain or handcuffs he is often wearing as an attribute. As a knight at the court of King Clovis I, he would ask the king to release prisoners. The king agreed and offered him a bishopric, which he refused in order to live the rest of his life in the monastery of Micy. He lived as a hermit near a forest where he assiduously preached the Bible. This would benefit the Frankish Queen as Leonard’s prayers are said to have helped the Queen during childbirth.

Anoniem Het Vita-retabel van de Heilige Leonardus

Christ on the Cross - Anonymous

The Ottoman-Roman Christ carved between 1060 and 1070 is not to be missed in the church, being the oldest item in the collection. The statue may initially have hung in Sint-Sulpitiuskerk, a church which disappeared over time in the history of Zoutleeuw. When admiring the carvings you will note that this figure of Christ does not wear a crown of thorns, which is why it is associated with the depiction of Christ as the conqueror of death. Saint Paul’s words “Death is the last enemy to be destroyed” have their resonance here.

Zoutleeuw Anoniem Christus aan het Kruis

Practical information


Grote Markt z/n
3440 Zoutleeuw
View directions

Opening hours

  • From 1 April to 30 September, open Tuesday to Sunday from 14.00 to 17.00 hrs.

  • Open exceptionally on Easter Monday and Whit Monday.

  • In March and October: open Saturday and Sunday from 14.00 to 17.00 hrs.

  • In January, February, November, December: open every first Sunday from 15.30 to 16.30 hrs.



  • Partially accessible to people with disabilities.

Good to know

  • Admission: free

Other sites nearby

Explore Diest and be charmed by exceptional masterpieces Continue on to the Sint-Sulpitiuskerk on the Grote Markt, in search of the Madonna of Diest.