ST 2020 | The High Altar of Scherpenheuvel

  photograph of the high altar inside of the pilgrimage church of Scherpenheuvel Copyright: © Yannick Ley

The High Altar of Scherpenheuvel. Building Archaeology and Architectural History

Master's Thesis by Yannick Ley

In the Belgian region of Flemish Brabant, an impressive testimony to 17th-century Baroque altarpiece architecture has been preserved in the center of the Marian pilgrimage site of Scherpenheuvel: The High Altar of Scherpenheuvel.

It is positioned in the center of a heptagonal ideal city complex, which goes back to a manorial foundation around 1600. As part of a complex ensemble of buildings, it has the important task of enclosing a miraculous image of grace that has been venerated at this site for centuries.

The master's thesis in the context of the DFG-funded research project Scherpenheuvel. Church and City in a Heptagon includes the first documentation, analysis and contextualization of the high altar with the methods of historical building research. The aim of the research project is to gain an extended understanding of its architectural structure, construction chronology, typology and symbolism in the context of the multi-layered building and image program.

The basis of the architectural-historical research is a digital survey of the high altar together with its annexes (including tachymetry, Structure from Motion) in the center of the radially concentric ideal city complex. On this basis, a description of the building's form is given, which is deepened by analyses of its architectural structure, material, as well as dimensional and proportion studies. This is followed by detailed examinations of various pictorial and textual sources, which provide insights into the development of Scherpenheuvel's altar project from its preliminary design to its execution and subsequent alterations. This is followed by an attempt at a typological classification of the high altar based on a comparison with contemporary developments in altar design in Rome and the southern Netherlands. A contextualization of the altar in relation to the symbolic building and image program of the Marian pilgrimage site Scherpenheuvel forms the conclusion of the thesis.

The publication of the master's thesis is currently in preparation.

Further information about the research project Scherpenheuvel. Church and City in a Heptagon can be found here.



Univ.-Prof. Dr.-Ing. Anke Naujokat (Examination)
Univ.-Prof. Dr. phil. Alexander Markschies (Co-Examination)
Sara Dolls M.A.
Dr.-Ing. Tobias Glitsch