The Cavaillé-Coll Organ

Built in 1853-1856

This French-romantic organ is a treasure of the St. Nicholas Church and was built by the famous French organ builder Aristide Cavaillé-Coll. In 1869, he wrote that it was 'one of the best instruments to ever leave my atelier.'

About the organ

One of the treasures of the church is its organ, produced by the famous French organ builder Aristide Cavaillé-Coll. Before the Cavaillé-Coll organ, the church had an organ built in 1840 by the Flemish organ builder Pierre Van Peteghem. In 1850, François-Joseph Fétis advocated the construction of a model organ in Belgium, he got support from Dean Désiré Ignace Verduyn. They asked Cavaillé-Coll to make a proposal for a new organ, the first Cavaillé-Coll organ in Belgium.

In his first proposal in March 1853, Aristide Cavaillé-Coll suggested a two-manual instrument, partially reusing material of the Van Peteghem organ. A second proposal also suggested a two-manual instrument with almost identical disposition. The third proposal of September 3, 1853, describes the final three-manual organ in a new case with 16’ pipes in the front. Construction of the organ began in 1853, it was completed in 1856. The inauguration concert was performed by Louis James Alfred Lefébure-Wély on March 11, 1856.

Unfortunately, the Cavaillé-Coll organ fell into state of serious disrepair after it could not be played for over fifty years due to extensive restoration works in the church. To protect the instrument from pigeons, the instrument was completely covered. This protective casing was removed in the autumn of 2010. One can now see the organ through a glass door that gives access to the nave of the church under the tower.

Since the time of construction, the organ was also plagued by stability problems of the elevated loft; likely the entrance gate was not supported well enough. On old photographs, you can see how the walls under the organ loft show large cracks. That is why the entrance gate was demolished and the entire organ and loft were supported on heavy steel beams on concrete piles. In June 2013, the sagging loft and organ were “lifted” and leveled back in place as a first step towards restoring the instrument.

In 2017, an international committee was formed with the goal of bringing this instrument back to life, and has since made significant progress.


Positif: Quintaton 16′, Flûte Harmonique 8′, Bourdon 8′, Viola di Gamba 8′, Dulciana 4′, Flûte octaviante 4′, Doublette 2′, Flageolet 1′, Trompette 8′, Basson et Hautbois 8′.

Grand Orgue: Montre 16′, Montre 8′, Bourdon 16′, Flûte Harmonique 8′, Bourdon 8′, Prestant 4′, Dulciana 4′, Quinte 3′, Doublette 2′, Fourniture IV, Cymbale III, Bombarde 16′, Trompette 8′, Clairon 4′.

Récit: Flûte Harmonique 8′, Flûte Octaviante 4′, Viole de Gambe 8′, Voile d’Amour 4′, Voix Céleste 8′, Octavin 2′, Trompette 8′, Clairon 4′, Basson et Hautbois 8′, Voix Humaine 8′.

Pédale: Contre Basse 16′, Basse 8′, Octave 4′, Bombarde 16′, Trompette 8′, Clairon 4′.

Pédales de combinaison: orage; tirasse grand orgue; appel d'anches pédale; octaves graves Pos., G.O., Réc.; appel d'anches Pos., G.O., Réc.; copula Pos./G.O., Réc./G.O.; trémolo.