The church was originally a parish church dedicated to John the Baptist. In 942, Transmar, the bishop of Tournai, inaugurated the church as St. John's Church.
The predecessor of the current cathedral was a Romanesque church from the 12th century. The crypt of this remains. The Romanesque church was gradually replaced by the current one. The construction took place in three phases. The choir was first renovated in the early 14th century. The influence of Northern French Gothic and the Scheldt Gothic can be seen here.
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The ambulatory and the chapels date from the beginning of the 15th century. During the second construction phase, from 1462 to 1538, the 89-meter-high western tower was erected in the style of Brabant Gothic, with sand-lime bricks from the Dilbeek brickwork. The third phase began in 1533: the construction of the ship. Later additions were made in Renaissance, Baroque, and Classicist styles.
The tower of St Bavo's Cathedral is one of the three in the row of Ghent, together with St Nicholas' Church and the Belfry. The tower itself consists of four floors and is crowned by four pinnacles of considerable size. The tower was originally awarded a small spire, but it burned down. There are seven bells in the tower, the heaviest being Bavo, with a weight of 5 500 kg, supplied by Florent Delcourt.
The art patrimony of the Sint-Baafs is historically valuable. In the first place, the world-famous polyptych The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb by Jan van Eyck from 1432.