Europe's Oldest Pipe Organs

Organs contribute to the magical atmosphere of the churches. These massive instruments, perched as if by a miracle, are works of art made for centuries by a true artisanal elite.


Basilica di San Petronio, Bologna

The Basilica of San Petronio is a major church in Bologna, one of the largest brick Gothic buildings in the world. Although construction began in the late 14th century, the building, which was to be larger than St. Peter's Basilica, is largely unfinished since the 17th century. On either side of the high altar, above the choir, are the two pipe organs of the basilica, among the oldest in Italy. The oldest is the one on the right side of the presbytery, a masterpiece by Lorenzo di Giacomo da Prato. It was built between 1471 and 1475.

Basilica di San Petronio
Wikimedia Commons/JoachimKohlerBremen

Evangelical Reformed Church, Rysum

The church in Rysum dates back to the 12th century but several wooden buildings probably preceded it. In the 14th century, a brick tower was built in place of the old tower and at the beginning of the 15th century, the old nave of the church was replaced by a building with a rectangular hall attached to the tower. In 1585, according to an inscription, the church tower was fundamentally renovated. The church has one of the oldest organs in Northern Europe, dating from 1457, which can still be played.

Rysum Church
Wikimedia Commons/Robbiedoes

Sint-Laurenskerk, Alkmaar

The Grote or Sint-Laurenskerk was erected between 1470 and 1518 on a site where churches had been built since the 10th century. The church, originally Catholic, became Protestant in 1573. It has had no religious function since 1996 and now houses a museum on the history of the building. The Grote or Sint-Laurenskerk contains one of the oldest church organs that can still be played in the Netherlands, dating from 1511.

Grote of Sint-Laurenskerk

Valère Basilica, Sion

The Valère Basilica, whose first church was erected in the 12th century, is a major architectural work that harmoniously combines the Romanesque and Gothic styles. Since 1987, the entire Valère site has undergone numerous restorations. The former outbuildings of the canons now house the Museum of the History of the Valais, founded on this site in 1883. The organ of the basilica, probably built between 1435 and 1437, is the oldest playable organ in the world. Every year, during the "Festival International de l’Orgue Ancien et de la Musique Ancienne de Valère", a pipe organ concert is given in the basilica.

Valère Basilica
Wikimedia Commons/Zairon

Old Cathedral, Brescia

The Old Cathedral is a Romanesque building erected in the 11th century on a previous basilica. Important works were carried out there between the end of the 15th century and the beginning of the 16th century when the presbytery was enlarged, a transept was added, as well as the Chapel of the Holy Crosses. Later, the restoration by Luigi Arcioni (1841-1918) led to the elimination of many Baroque additions and superstructures. Of great importance is the historical organ preserved on the right wall of the presbytery, a monumental work by Giovan Giacomo Antegnati of 1536.

Old Cathedral
Wikimedia Commons/DXR

St. Valentine's Church, Kiedrich

St. Valentine's Church dates mainly from the late 15th and early 16th centuries, with the side aisles of the church dating back to 1380. The construction of the church building was financed by donations from pilgrims who made a pilgrimage to the relics of St. Valentine. These relics arrived in Kiedrich around 1350 from the neighbouring Cistercian abbey in Eberbach. The church organ is one of the oldest still playable organs in the world, probably built from 1491 onwards. However, over the centuries the instrument has been transformed several times, most notably in 1653 by Johann Wendelin Kirchner.

St. Valentine's Church

Évora Cathedral

The cathedral of Évora was built between 1186 and 1250 and mixes Romanesque and Gothic architecture. However, plateresque elements were added in the 15th and 16th centuries (choir, pulpit, baptistery...), as well as some baroque elements (carved altarpieces). It is said that the flags of Vasco de Gama's fleet were blessed here in 1497. The organ in Évora Cathedral was built in 1562. This magnificent instrument, which can still be played today, had interventions in 1694 by Heitor Lobo, in 1760 by Pasquale Gaetano Oldovini and in 1967 by Dirk Andries Flentrop.

Évora Cathedral
Wikimedia Commons/Fotomoppel

St. Andreas Church, Ostönnen

St. Andreas Church is a listed building in Ostönnen. Its Gothic organ is one of the oldest playable organs in the world, probably dating from the first half of the 15th century. The church in Ostönnen was first mentioned in a document in 1169. Excavations have revealed the existence of two earlier churches. While the west tower dates from the first half of the 12th century and comes from an earlier building, the older nave was replaced in the second half of the 12th century. In 1979, the entire building was plastered and repainted in the presumed original colour.

St. Andreas Church
Wikimedia Commons/Lieven Smits

Sint-Germanuskerk, Tienen

The Sint-Germanuskerk was founded in the first half of the 12th century in the Romanesque style. However, the present appearance of the building owes much to the restorations and extensions carried out in the 15th and 16th centuries, such as the erection of the present central tower in 1555. Inside, the pipe organ, originally built in 1493, acquired its Baroque appearance between 1671 and 1673, when it was radically rebuilt by Jan Deeckens.