Monasteries in Belgium

Cambron Abbey

Cambron Abbey is a former Cistercian abbey, today site is now used as a zoo. Twelve monks from Clairvaux arrived at Cambron on August 1, 1148. They were sent by St. Bernard, abbot of Clairvaux. Shortly after its foundation, the abbey grew substantially. It became one of the wealthiest monasteries of Hainault and variously founded, or was given the supervision of, several daughter houses. By the end of the 14th century, t ...
Founded: 1148 | Location: Brugenette, Belgium

Villers Abbey

Villers Abbey (abbaye de Villers) is an ancient Cistercian abbey in Villers-la-Ville. In 1146, 12 Cistercian monks and three lay brothers from Clairvaux came to Villers in order to establish the abbey on land granted them by Gauthier de Marbais. After establishing several preliminary sites, work was finally undertaken in the 13th century to build the current site. The choir was constructed by 1217, the crypt by 1240, and ...
Founded: 1217 | Location: Villers-la-Ville, Belgium

St. Peter's Abbey

St. Peter's Abbey is a former Benedictine abbey in Ghent, now a museum and exhibition centre. St. Peter's was founded in the late 7th century by Amandus, a missionary sent by the Frankish kings to Christianize the pagan inhabitants of the region, who founded two monasteries in the area, St. Bavo's, and St. Peter's on the Blandijnberg. During the winter of 879-80, the abbey was raided and plundered by the Normans, and it r ...
Founded: 7th century AD | Location: Ghent, Belgium

Nivelles Abbey Church

The Abbey of Nivelles was a former Imperial Abbey of the Holy Roman Empire founded about 648-649 AD by the widow of Pepin of Landen, Itta of Metz, along with her daughter, Gertrude of Nivelles. The abbey began as a community of nuns; they were joined later by Irish monks from the Abbey of Mont Saint-Quentin, sent by Abbot Foillan to give support to the nuns. A group of the monks settled at Nivelles and it soon became a do ...
Founded: 649 AD | Location: Nivelles, Belgium

Orval Abbey

Orval Abbey is a Cistercian monastery founded in 1132. The abbey is well known for its history and spiritual life but also for its local production of the Trappist beer Orval and a specific cheese. The site has been occupied since the Merovingian period, and there is evidence that there was already a chapel here in the 10th century. In 1070, a group of Benedictine monks from Calabria settled here, at the invitation of Ar ...
Founded: 1132 | Location: Florenville, Belgium

Saint Gertrude's Abbey Church

Saint Gertrude"s was an Augustine abbey, limited to 12 canons of noble descent. The church was built from the 14th to the 16th century. The tower has an openwork spire, dating from 1453. Inside is an 18th century carillon. The abbey was closed in 1796 (during French occupation) and the buildings got other uses. In 1919 it became a Benedictine abbey. Reconstructions were carried out after the fire during World War II ...
Founded: 14th century | Location: Leuven, Belgium

Rouge-Cloître Abbey

Rouge-Cloître Abbey is an Augustinian abbey, founded in 1367. The name Roodklooster or Rouge-Cloître means the Red Hermitage. Apparently, the walls of the original hermitage were coated in crushed tiles, which produced the characteristic colour. The hermitage was built in 1366 by a priest called Gilles Olivier and a layman called Walter van der Molen. William Daniel, a priest of the parish of Boendael, also ce ...
Founded: 1367 | Location: Brussels, Belgium

La Cambre Abbey

The Abbey of La Cambre or Ter Kameren Abbey is a former Cistercian abbey in Ixelles, Brussels. The abbey church is a catholic parish of the Archdiocese of Malines-Brussels and home to a community of Norbertine canons while other parts of the monastery house the headquarters of the Belgian National Geographic Institute and La Cambre, a prestigious visual arts school. The abbey was founded about 1196, by its patroness Gis& ...
Founded: c. 1196 | Location: Brussels, Belgium

Grimbergen Abbey

Grimbergen Abbey is a Premonstratensian monastery established in 1128 in the place of an earlier foundation of Augustinian Canons. The abbey itself was dissolved in 1796 in the aftermath of the French Revolution, but the abbey church of Saint Servatius survived as the parish church of Grimbergen. After the French Revolution the abbey was reinstated. The building in its present form dates from 1660 and is considered one o ...
Founded: 1128 | Location: Grimbergen, Belgium

Bois-Seigneur-Isaac Abbey

Bois-Seigneur-Isaac Abbey is a former Augustinian abbey, now a Premonstratensian priory. In the 11th century Lord Isaac set out on Crusade and was taken prisoner by the Saracens, but was miraculously freed following a vision of the Virgin Mary. On returning to his lands he built a wooden chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Grace and Consolation, with a statue venerated for nearly two centuries. In 1336 the neighbouring villag ...
Founded: 1413 | Location: Braine-l'Alleud, Belgium

Keizersberg Abbey

Keizersberg Abbey, also known as Mont César Abbey is a Benedictine monastery. The Keizersberg (Caesar"s or Emperor"s hill) was the site of the castle around which the city of Leuven grew up, and which local legend connected with Julius Caesar. The castle was demolished in 1782 by order of Emperor Joseph II. On the east side of the same hill a commandery of the Knights Templars was built in 1187, which whe ...
Founded: 1888 | Location: Leuven, Belgium

Aulne Abbey Ruins

Aulne Abbey was a Cistercian monastery, founded by Saint Landelinus about 637. Before 974 the Benedictines were replaced by secular clerics leading a common life, who, however, embraced the Rule of St. Augustine in 1144. At the instance of Henry de Leyen, Bishop of Liège, it came into the hands of Cistercian monks from Clairvaux in 1147, under Franco de Morvaux as its first Cistercian abbot. From that time onwards ...
Founded: 637 AD | Location: Thuin, Belgium

Forest Abbey

Forest Abbey is a Benedictine Abbey founded in 1105, beside a creek, a tributary of the Zenne, southwest of the city of Brussels. The abbots of Affligem, which had been the ecclesiastical owners of the parish since the bishop of Cambrai ceded it to them in 1105, decided to build a priory for women in Forest, Forest Abbey. The first abbess of the Forest priory was named in 1239. Also in the 13th century, the Romanesque chu ...
Founded: 1105 | Location: Brussels, Belgium

Saint-Hubert Abbey Church

The Abbey of Saint-Hubert, officially the Abbey of St Peter in the Ardennes, was a Benedictine monastery founded in the Ardennes in 687 and suppressed in 1797. The former abbey church is now a minor basilica in the diocese of Namur. The monastery was founded in the village of Andage in 687 by Pepin of Herstal and his wife, Plectrude, for the monk Bergis. The remains of St Hubert (died 727) were installed in t ...
Founded: 687 AD | Location: Saint-Hubert, Belgium

Averbode Abbey

Averbode Abbey was founded about 1134–1135 by Arnold II, Count of Loon. The abbey started rather small but grew over the centuries, until it was some 5500 ha in the 17th century, including farms, fields, woodland, mills, heath, and local chapels. The abbey also provided the priests for 27 parishes. The first abbey church was inaugurated in 1194, and soon after the nuns, who until then resided in Averbode as well, mo ...
Founded: 1134 | Location: Vlaanderen, Belgium

Drongen Abbey

Drongen Abbey is a monastic complex on the River Leie in Drongen, a part of the city of Ghent. Formerly a Premonstratensian abbey, since 1837 the premises have belonged to the Jesuits. In the Middle Ages there were two legends regarding the abbey"s foundation in the 7th century. According to one, the abbey was built by a certain Basinus, king of Basotes; according to the other, its founder was Saint Amandus, who als ...
Founded: 7th century/1638 | Location: Ghent, Belgium

Maredsous Abbey

Maredsous Abbey was founded in 1872 by Beuron Abbey in Germany. The foundation was supported financially by the Desclée family, who paid for the design and construction of the spectacular buildings, which are the masterwork of the architect Jean-Baptiste de Béthune (1831–1894), leader of the neo-gothic style in Belgium. The overall plan is based on the 13th century Cistercian abbey of Villers at Viller ...
Founded: 1872 | Location: Denée, Belgium

Ter Doest Abbey

Ter Doest Abbey was a Cistercian abbey in the present Lissewege, a district of Bruge. Lambert, lord of Lissewege, left an estate with a chapel in 1106 to the Benedictines, who built an abbey there. This affiliated itself to the Cistercian order in 1175 as a daughter house of Ten Duinen Abbey in Koksijde, of the filiation of Clairvaux. It had a daughter house of its own, the Abbey of Onze Lieve Vrouw Kamer, founded in 1223 ...
Founded: 1106 | Location: Lissewege, Belgium

Herkenrode Abbey

Herkenrode Abbey is a former monastery of Cistercian nuns. Since 1972 some of the surviving buildings have served as the home of a community of the Canonesses of the Holy Sepulchre, who have since built a new retreat center and church on the site. The abbey was founded in or about 1182 by Count Gerard of Loon, who sold a part of his lands to raise funds for his participation in the Crusades, and used some of the proceeds ...
Founded: 1182 | Location: Hasselt, Belgium

Andenne Abbey Church

Saint Begga, great-great-grandmother of Charlemagne, founded a Merovingian abbey in Andenne circa 692. That abbey comprised seven churches, in addition to two separate quarters. In the 11th century, the monastery was changed intoa secular chapter. Secular power required recruitment among the nobility. That is why the early monastery becamea predominantly female Noble Chapter. In 1762, the seven churches were in a very po ...
Founded: 692 AD | Location: Andenne, Belgium

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Quimper Cathedral

From 1239, Raynaud, the Bishop of Quimper, decided on the building of a new chancel destined to replace that of the Romanesque era. He therefore started, in the far west, the construction of a great Gothic cathedral which would inspire cathedral reconstructions in the Ile de France and would in turn become a place of experimentation from where would later appear ideas adopted by the whole of lower Brittany. The date of 1239 marks the Bishop’s decision and does not imply an immediate start to construction. Observation of the pillar profiles, their bases, the canopies, the fitting of the ribbed vaults of the ambulatory or the alignment of the bays leads us to believe, however, that the construction was spread out over time.

The four circular pillars mark the start of the building site, but the four following adopt a lozenge-shaped layout which could indicate a change of project manager. The clumsiness of the vaulted archways of the north ambulatory, the start of the ribbed vaults at the height of the south ambulatory or the choice of the vaults descending in spoke-form from the semi-circle which allows the connection of the axis chapel to the choir – despite the manifest problems of alignment – conveys the hesitancy and diverse influences in the first phase of works which spread out until the start of the 14th century.

At the same time as this facade was built (to which were added the north and south gates) the building of the nave started in the east and would finish by 1460. The nave is made up of six bays with one at the level of the facade towers and flanked by double aisles – one wide and one narrow (split into side chapels) – in an extension of the choir arrangements.

The choir presents four right-hand bays with ambulatory and side chapels. It is extended towards the east of 3-sided chevet which opens onto a semi-circle composed of five chapels and an apsidal chapel of two bays and a flat chevet consecrated to Our Lady.

The three-level elevation with arches, triforium and galleries seems more uniform and expresses anglo-Norman influence in the thickness of the walls (Norman passageway at the gallery level) or the decorative style (heavy mouldings, decorative frieze under the triforium). This building site would have to have been overseen in one shot. Undoubtedly interrupted by the war of Succession (1341-1364) it draws to a close with the building of the lierne vaults (1410) and the fitting of stained-glass windows. Bishop Bertrand de Rosmadec and Duke Jean V, whose coat of arms would decorate these vaults, finished the chancel before starting on the building of the facade and the nave.

Isolated from its environment in the 19th century, the cathedral was – on the contrary – originally very linked to its surroundings. Its site and the orientation of the facade determined traffic flow in the town. Its positioning close to the south walls resulted in particuliarities such as the transfer of the side gates on to the north and south facades of the towers: the southern portal of Saint Catherine served the bishop’s gate and the hospital located on the left bank (the current Préfecture) and the north gate was the baptismal porch – a true parish porch with its benches and alcoves for the Apostles’ statues turned towards the town, completed by an ossuary (1514).

The west porch finds its natural place between the two towers. The entire aesthetic of these three gates springs from the Flamboyant era: trefoil, curly kale, finials, large gables which cut into the mouldings and balustrades. Pinnacles and recesses embellish the buttresses whilst an entire bestiary appears: monsters, dogs, mysterious figures, gargoyles, and with them a whole imaginary world promoting a religious and political programme. Even though most of the saints statues have disappeared an armorial survives which makes the doors of the cathedral one of the most beautiful heraldic pages imaginable: ducal ermine, the Montfort lion, Duchess Jeanne of France’s coat of arms side by side with the arms of the Cornouaille barons with their helmets and crests. One can imagine the impact of this sculpted decor with the colour and gilding which originally completed it.

At the start of the 16th century the construction of the spires was being prepared when building was interrupted, undoubtedly for financial reasons. Small conical roofs were therefore placed on top of the towers. The following centuries were essentially devoted to putting furnishings in place (funeral monuments, altars, statues, organs, pulpit). Note the fire which destroyed the spire of the transept cross in 1620 as well as the ransacking of the cathedral in 1793 when nearly all the furnishings disappeared in a « bonfire of the saints ».

The 19th century would therefore inherit an almost finished but mutilated building and would devote itself to its renovation according to the tastes and theories of the day.