The ornate Brabantine Gothic St. Bavo's Cathedral, begun in the austere 13th century but finished in the 16th century, dramatically rises from a low, unimposing entryway. Much of the gothic exterior is currently hidden beneath scaffolding (restoration work to the tower continues until at least 2016), but the interior is breathtaking, and it's prized paintings are still mostly visible to the public.
Among these is one of the most beautiful and influential paintings of the Middle Ages: De aanbidding van het Lam Gods (The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb). In this altarpiece, painted by the brothers Jan and Hubert van Eyck, angels, cherubs, massive trees, flowing robes, and tresses combine to create a masterwork. One of its lower panels was stolen in 1934 and was never recovered, giving rise to numerous conspiracy theories and inspiring Albert Camus's novel The Fall. Ongoing restoration of the altar piece (until 2019), however, means that a third of the sections will
be absent from the cathedral at any one time. These pieces have been removed to Gent's Museum of Fine Art, where visitors can now see them behind glass panels. Elsewhere, the cathedral's ornate pulpit, made of white Italian marble and black Danish oak, was carved in the 18th century by the sculptor Laurent Delvaux. A Rubens masterpiece, Saint Bavo's Entry into the Monastery, also hangs in one of the chapels. Other treasures include a baroque-style organ built in 1623 and a crypt crammed with tapestries, church paraphernalia, and 15th- and 16th-century frescoes. There are no visits during services, and because of thefts through the years, you must purchase a Mystic Lamb ticket to see the other treasures.