From a distance you can see the impressive basilica in the Dutch landscape. But from upclose, the basilica is even more impressive. With a length of 81 meters, a width of 55 meters and a height of 63 meters it is an exact replica of St. Peters Basilica in Rome on a scale of 1:16
How did a small village like Oudenbosch, with only 3.500 inhabitants when construction began, got an impressive and unique church?
In the history of Oudenbosch and its religious buildings, a lot comes down to one person in:
Willem Hellemons, they called him "de Bouwpastoor" the constructing Pastor". Hellemons followed
his study to becoming a priest in Turnhout, Belgium and later in Rome, where he finished his study
in 1833 and was blessed a priest in Sant John Lateran in Rome. During his study in Rome,
Hellemons got inspired by the neoclassicistic styles, Saint John Lateran and Saint Peter
as the most famous buildings from this style.
Hellemons became Pastor of Oudenbosch in 1842 and recognized the urge of a new church.
The old St. Agathachurch became too small for the growing amount of parishioners.
After his inauguration he started developing the plans for this new-to-build church.
He came in touch with famous Dutch architect P.J.H. Cuypers,
known for building the "Rijksmuseum", Amsterdam Station, and many churches in the Netherlands.
Because of the many buildings he drew and constructed, he was one of the first
"National Architects" in the Netherlands. Cuypers constructed a few buildings in the Oudenbosch region: the Seminar Bovendonk in Hoeven, just kilometers away and the Antoniuschurch in Oosterhout.
Hellemons gave Cuypers the order to design a church just like St. Peters and with a façade of St. John Lateran. A glimpse into his own history and love for Roman styles. The Bisshop agreed with the plans in 1864 and just a year later the construction commences. 15 years later, in 1880, the church, even though not fully completed and façade not in place, the first masses were held. The façade was completed in 1892 by Ir. G.J. van Swaay. After the completion of the façade the church became a Basilica Minor by blessing of Pope Pius X in 1912.
In front of the basilica stands a statue of a "Zouav". Between 1864 and 1870 a lot of young Roman-Catholic men joined the Zouavian army, they tried to defend the Papal state against the Italian army. These Zouaves traveled from all over the Netherlands to Oudenbosch, for their first training. After that, they traveled to Brussels by train, for examination. The interesting history of the Zouaves is being exposed in the Zouavesmuseum in Oudenbosch.