Monasteries in Belgium

Achel Abbey

The Trappist Abbey of Achel or Saint Benedictus-Abbey is famous for its spiritual life and its brewery, which is one of few Trappist beer breweries in the world. Life in the abbey is characterised by prayer, reading and manual work, the three basic elements of Trappist life. In 1648, at the end of the Eighty Years War, the Treaty of Münster was signed between Spain and the Netherlands. The result of the treaty was t ...
Founded: 1686 | Location: Hamont-Achel, Belgium

Scourmont Abbey

Scourmont Abbey is a Trappist monastery famous for its spiritual life, and the Chimay Brewery which it runs, one of the few Trappist breweries. In 1844, Jean-Baptiste Jourdain, the priest of Virelles, suggested that the wild plateau of Scourmont was a suitable place for a monastery. However, all previous attempts to cultivate the barren plateau had failed. Fr. Jourdain obtained support for the proposed foundation from Pr ...
Founded: 1850 | Location: Chimay, Belgium

Bonne-Espérance Abbey

Bonne-Espérance Abbey was a Premonstratensian abbey that existed from 1130 to the end of the 18th century. The abbey owed its foundation to the conversion of William, the only son and heir of Rainard, the Knight of Croix. William had followed the heretical teaching of Tanchelm, but Norbert of Xanten brought him back to Roman Catholicism. In gratitude his parents, Rainard and Beatrix, gave land to Norbert for the fo ...
Founded: 1130 | Location: Estinnes, Belgium

Gembloux Abbey

Gembloux Abbey was a Benedictine abbey founded about 945 by Saint Guibert or Wibert and dedicated to Saint Peter and the martyr Saint Exuperius. In 954 the Hungarians threatened to pillage the monastery. Guibert not only saved it from harm but also converted some Hungarians to Christianity. On 23 May 962, Guibert died at Gorze and his remains were brought for burial to Gembloux. Olbert (1012-1048) built a new abbey churc ...
Founded: 945 AD | Location: Gembloux, Belgium

Aywiers Abbey Ruins

Aywiers Abbey was founded in 1215 by Cistercian monks. It prospered and grew thanks to donations up to 2000 hectares. During the the French Revolution the abbey will be sold and the new owner demolished it partly. Today the seven-hectare garden is surrounded by ancient walls, containing superb hundred-year-old tree specimens, shrubs and rare plants, a pond and springs as well as a garden of aromatic and medicinal plant.
Founded: 1215 | Location: Lasne, Belgium

Nizelles Abbey

Nizelles Abbey originated as a little college set up by the monks from Moulins-Warnant Abbey to educate younger members of the local nobility. Over the years a succession of donations from grateful former pupils, backed up by generous financial support from Christine de Franckenberg, abbess over the canonesses at nearby Nivelles, made it possible for the little priory at Nizelles to be expanded into an abbey. A new church ...
Founded: 1441 | Location: Braine-l'Alleud, Belgium

Dieleghem Abbey

Dieleghem Abbey was founded in 1095 by the Bishop of Cambrai and administered by Augustinian canons. In 1140, the abbey’s monks switched to the rules of the Premonstratensian order. In the 13th century, the abbey now called Dieleghem possessed half of the commune’s territory and played an important social and economic role until the French Revolution. In November 1796, the Canons Regular were evicted and depor ...
Founded: 1095 | Location: Jette, Belgium

Meersel-Dreef Monastery

Dreef developed around the Capuchin Monastery, which was built in 1687 near the mark. The monastery serves as a parish church for the parish Meersel-Recherche and the monastery itself serving since 1968 as kapelanij. In 1889 a beech lane was constructed to the monastery. The Recherche, which has been protected since 1953, gave its name to the village that grew up around. Furthermore, as a monument recognized Maria Park (p ...
Founded: 1687 | Location: Hoogstraten, Belgium

Brogne Abbey

Brogne Abbey was founded in 919 AD. It was destroyed in the Wars of Religion in 1525 and closed in 1795. The church and cloister are demolished, but other buildings still remain. Brewing on this site was first documented in 986. Today it produces Brogne Blonde beer.
Founded: 919 AD | Location: Mettet, Belgium

Amay Abbey

The former Cistercian nuns Amay abbey (historically known as Abbey of the Paix-Dieu) was founded in 1244. The abbey church was rebuilt in 1313. The fire destroyed it with the adjoining dormitory and cloister in 1600. The last reconstruction dates from 1730-1767. The abbey was dissolved and nationalized during the French Revolution.
Founded: 1244 | Location: Amay, Belgium

Chevetogne Abbey

Chevetogne Abbey, also known as the Monastery of the Holy Cross, is a Roman Catholic Benedictine monastery dedicated to Christian unity located in the Belgian village of Chevetogne. Currently, the monastery has 27 monks. In 1924 Pope Pius XI addressed the apostolic letter Equidem verba to the Benedictine Order encouraging them to work for the reunion of the Catholic and Eastern Churches, with particular emphasis on the R ...
Founded: 1939 | Location: Chevetogne, Belgium

Clairefontaine Abbey Ruins

The remains of the former Abbey of Notre-Dame de Clairefontaine are near Clairefontaine, a Belgian hamlet belonging to the city of Arlon. The valley has been inhabited since Roman times and castle Bardenbourg, in which amongst others Countess Ermesinde resided, saw several important personalities of its time. These included Pope Eugene III, who stopped there in 1147 with a group of 18 Cardinals on a trip from Rheims to Tr ...
Founded: c. 1247 | Location: Arlon, Belgium

Nieuwenbosch Abbey Ruins

Nieuwenbosch Abbey was a Cistercian community established in 1215 in Lokeren. The original site was unsuitable because of the poor water supply and the nuns moved to the site in Heusden in 1257, when the name became 'Nieuwenbosch'. The abbey was stormed and largely ruined in 1579 by the Iconoclasts, and the nuns moved for greater security inside the city of Ghent and built new premises in what is now the Lange V ...
Founded: 1257 | Location: Ghent, Belgium

Affligem Abbey

Affligem Abbey, dedicated in 1086, was the most important monastery in the Duchy of Brabant. The abbey of Affligem was probably founded in 1062 by six hermits, a group of knights who repented of their violent way of life. Hermann II, Count Palatine of Lotharingia (1061–1085) and his guardian, Anno II, archbishop of Cologne (d. 1075) are considered official founders. The count Palatine donated the land on which to bu ...
Founded: 1062 | Location: Affligem, Belgium

Brecht Abbey

In 1236 the Trappistine Brecht monastery of Our Lady of Nazareth at Lier (Duchy of Brabant) was accepted into the Cistercian Order. Blessed Beatrice of Nazareth (1200-1268) was its first prioress. For five centuries the abbey flourished, until 1797, when it was closed in the aftermath of the French Revolution, when the French Revolutionary Army occupied the Austrian Netherlands. The abbey did not recover from the closure ...
Founded: 1236 | Location: Brecht, Belgium

St. Andrew's Abbey

St. Andrew"s Abbey was a Benedictine abbey which was destroyed in the French Revolution. Its modern successor St. Andrew"s Abbey, Zevenkerken, founded in 1899–1900, is a Benedictine abbey of the Congregation of the Annunciation. The charter of the abbey was signed in 1100 and ratified by Count Robert II of Flanders. The abbey was built on what is now the site of the parish church of St. Andrew and St. Ann ...
Founded: 1100/1898 | Location: Bruges, Belgium

Boneffe Abbey

Boneffe Abbey was a Cistercian monastery on the banks of the Mehaigne in what is now the municipality of Éghezée. The abbot"s residence, first built in the early 16th century and repaired in the 17th and 18th centuries, is now a listed building that is currently in use as a farmhouse. The earliest attestation to the monastery"s existence is a papal bull of 1222. The abbey church was consecrated in ...
Founded: 1222 | Location: Éghezée, Belgium

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte

The Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte is a baroque French château built between 1658-1661 for Nicolas Fouquet. It was made for Marquis de Belle Île, Viscount of Melun and Vaux, the superintendent of finances of Louis XIV, the château was an influential work of architecture in mid-17th century Europe. At Vaux-le-Vicomte, the architect Louis Le Vau, the landscape architect André le Nôtre, and the painter-decorator Charles Le Brun worked together on a large-scale project for the first time. Their collaboration marked the beginning of the 'Louis XIV style' combining architecture, interior design and landscape design. The garden's pronounced visual axis is an example of this style.

To secure the necessary grounds for the elaborate plans for Vaux-le-Vicomte’s garden and castle, Fouquet purchased and demolished three villages. The displaced villagers were then employed in the upkeep and maintenance of the gardens. It was said to have employed eighteen thousand workers and cost as much as 16 million livres. The château and its patron became for a short time a focus for fine feasts, literature and arts. The poet La Fontaine and the playwright Molière were among the artists close to Fouquet. At the inauguration of Vaux-le-Vicomte, a Molière play was performed, along with a dinner event organized by François Vatel, and an impressive firework show.

After Fouquet was arrested and imprisoned for life, and his wife exiled, Vaux-le-Vicomte was placed under sequestration. The king seized, confiscated or purchased 120 tapestries, the statues, and all the orange trees from Vaux-le-Vicomte. He then sent the team of artists (Le Vau, Le Nôtre and Le Brun) to design what would be a much larger project than Vaux-le-Vicomte, the palace and gardens of Versailles.

The Marshal Villars became the new owner without first seeing the chateau. In 1764, the Marshal's son sold the estate to the Duke of Praslin, whose descendants would maintain the property for over a century. It is sometimes mistakenly reported that the château was the scene of a murder in 1847, when duke Charles de Choiseul-Praslin, killed his wife in her bedroom, but this did not happen at Vaux-le-Vicomte but at the Paris residence of the Duke.

In 1875, after thirty years of neglect, the estate was sold to Alfred Sommier in a public auction. The château was empty, some of the outbuildings had fallen into ruin, and the famous gardens were totally overgrown. The huge task of restoration and refurbishment began under the direction of the architect Gabriel-Hippolyte Destailleur, assisted by the landscape architect Elie Lainé. When Sommier died in 1908, the château and the gardens had recovered their original appearance. His son, Edme Sommier, and his daughter-in-law completed the task. Today, his descendants continue to preserve the château, which remains privately owned by Patrice and Cristina de Vogüé, the Count and Countess de Vogüé. It is now administered by their three sons Alexandre, Jean-Charles and Ascanio de Vogüé. Recognized by the state as a monument historique, it is open to the public regularly.

Architecture

The chateau is situated near the northern end of a 1.5-km long north-south axis with the entrance front facing north. Its elevations are perfectly symmetrical to either side of this axis. Somewhat surprisingly the interior plan is also nearly completely symmetrical with few differences between the eastern and western halves. The two rooms in the center, the entrance vestibule to the north and the oval salon to the south, were originally an open-air loggia, dividing the chateau into two distinct sections. The interior decoration of these two rooms was therefore more typical of an outdoor setting. Three sets of three arches, those on the entrance front, three more between the vestibule and the salon, and the three leading from the salon to the garden are all aligned and permitted the arriving visitor to see through to the central axis of the garden even before entering the chateau. The exterior arches could be closed with iron gates, and only later were they filled in with glass doors and the interior arches with mirrored doors. Since the loggia divided the building into two halves, there are two symmetrical staircases on either side of it, rather than a single staircase. The rooms in the eastern half of the house were intended for the use of the king, those in the western were for Fouquet. The provision of a suite of rooms for the king was normal practice in aristocratic houses of the time, since the king travelled frequently.

Another surprising feature of the plan is the thickness of the main body of the building (corps de logis), which consists of two rows of rooms running east and west. Traditionally the middle of the corps de logis of French chateaux consisted of a single row of rooms. Double-thick corps de logis had already been used in hôtels particuliers in Paris, including Le Vau's Hôtel Tambonneau, but Vaux was the first chateau to incorporate this change. Even more unusual, the main rooms are all on the ground floor rather than the first floor (the traditional piano nobile). This accounts for the lack of a grand staircase or a gallery, standard elements of most contemporary chateaux. Also noteworthy are corridors in the basement and on the first floor which run the length of house providing privacy to the rooms they access. Up to the middle of the 17th century, corridors were essentially unknown. Another feature of the plan, the four pavilions, one at each corner of the building, is more conventional.

Vaux-le-Vicomte was originally planned to be constructed in brick and stone, but after the mid-century, as the middle classes began to imitate this style, aristocratic circles began using stone exclusively. Rather late in the design process, Fouquet and Le Vau switched to stone, a decision that may have been influenced by the use of stone at François Mansart's Château de Maisons. The service buildings flanking the large avant-cour to the north of the house remained in brick and stone, and other structures preceding them were in rubble-stone and plaster, a social ranking of building materials that would be common in France for a considerable length of time thereafter.

The main chateau is constructed entirely on a moated platform, reached via two bridges, both aligned with the central axis and placed on the north and south sides. The moat is a picturesque holdover from medieval fortified residences, and is again a feature that Le Vau may have borrowed from Maisons. The moat at Vaux may also have been inspired by the previous chateau on the site, which Le Vau's work replaced.

Gardens

The château rises on an elevated platform in the middle of the woods and marks the border between unequal spaces, each treated in a different way. This effect is more distinctive today, as the woodlands are mature, than it was in the seventeenth century when the site had been farmland, and the plantations were new.

Le Nôtre's garden was the dominant structure of the great complex, stretching nearly a mile and a half (3 km), with a balanced composition of water basins and canals contained in stone curbs, fountains, gravel walks, and patterned parterres that remains more coherent than the vast display Le Nôtre was to create at Versailles.

Le Nôtre created a magnificent scene to be viewed from the house, using the laws of perspective. Le Notre used the natural terrain to his advantage. He placed the canal at the lowest part of the complex, thus hiding it from the main perspectival point of view. Past the canal, the garden ascends a large open lawn and ends with the Hercules column added in the 19th century. Shrubberies provided a picture frame to the garden that also served as a stage for royal fêtes.

From the top of the grand staircase, this gives the impression that the entire garden is revealed in one single glance. Initially, the view consists of symmetrical rows of shrubbery, avenues, fountains, statues, flowers and other pieces developed to imitate nature – these elements exemplify the Baroque desire to mold nature to fit its wishes, thus using nature to imitate nature. The centerpiece is a large reflecting pool flanked by grottos holding statues in their many niches. The grand sloping lawn is not visible until one begins to explore the garden, when the viewer is made aware of the optical elements involved and discovers that the garden is much larger than it looks.