St. Peter's Abbey

Ghent, Belgium

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 remained relatively poor until the 10th century, when donations of property and relics by Count Arnulf I considerably enriched it, as did further donations by Arnulf's cousin King Edgar of England. By the second half of the century it was the wealthiest abbey in Flanders, and the reputation of the abbey school extended far beyond the town.

In 984, Gerbert of Aurillac, director of the cathedral school of Reims, (later Pope Sylvester II) inquired whether students from Reims could be admitted to St. Peter's, and its renown as a centre of artes liberales continued into the 11th century. St. Peter's, through its ownership of large tracts of land, also played a pioneering role in cultivation during the 12th and 13th centuries, transforming forests, moors and marshes into farmland. In the 15th century a large scale programme of construction created the abbey library and scriptorium, enlarged the refectory, and the abbey church and other buildings were considerably beautified.

St. Peter's first decline began following the Revolt of Ghent in 1539, and by the 1560s the Low Countries were plunged in a religious crisis that resulted in an attack by iconoclasts in 1566 in which the abbey church was wrecked, the library looted, and other buildings badly damaged. The infirmary was pressed into service as a temporary home for the monks and the refectory used as a place of worship. However opposition continued and in 1578 the abbot and monks were forced to flee to Douai. The abbey buildings were sold at public auction and were partly demolished, the materials being used to construct the city walls. The abbey finally came back into the hands of the church in 1584, and it was eventually rebuilt, with a new abbey church, begun in 1629, in the Baroque style, as well as several other new builds and refurbishments. During the 18th century, the abbey was once again flourishing, as new buildings were constructed and older ones enlarged, including the conversion of the old dormitory into a library with more than ten thousand books.

However, the end was not far off, first with the Brabant Revolution of 1789–90, then the French invasion of 1793. Finally, on 1 September 1796, the Directory abolished all religious institutions. In 1798 the library was emptied and eventually taken to the University of Ghent. From 1798 the abbey church was used as a museum, but was returned to the ownership of the church in 1801. In 1810, the rest of the abbey became the property of the city of Ghent, and was partially demolished for the construction of a military barracks, which remained on the site until 1948.

Around 1950 the city launched a programme of restoration, which is still ongoing, which began with the cloister and chapter house, then the west wing, including the old refectory and kitchens. Work on the wine cellars and attics was completed in the 1970s, and in 1982 work on the abbey gardens was completed, and in 1986 the terrace. In the 1990s restoration of the refectory wing began.

The abbey is now used as a museum and exhibition centre, which in 2000 housed a major exhibition as part of the Year of Emperor Charles, and in October 2001 hosted the 88th meeting of the European Council.

References:

Comments

Your name



Details

Founded: 7th century AD
Category: Religious sites in Belgium

Rating

4.4/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Philip Van Ootegem (2 years ago)
Always interesting exhibitions in an amazing historical setting.
Ragna Van Hombeeck (2 years ago)
Beautiful setting and interesting exhibitions
Dasha P. (2 years ago)
The most important townbuilding church in Ghent. Very beautiful building, especially inside. There is exhibition hall nearby with interesting exhibitions.
François-Xavier De Decker (2 years ago)
very cosy garden and fun tour
ting leung (3 years ago)
A must go place for tourist! The Alison visual tour is impressive. You can go through all the hidden places in the abby say the upstairs of the church, the wine cellar and attics. Although it takes longer time (90 mins), totally worth it! A bit surprised there was only me seeing those secret places around. Maybe not many tourists know it.
Powered by Google

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Heraclea Lyncestis

Heraclea Lyncestis was an ancient Greek city in Macedon, ruled later by the Romans. It was founded by Philip II of Macedon in the middle of the 4th century BC. The city was named in honor of the mythological hero Heracles. The name Lynkestis originates from the name of the ancient kingdom, conquered by Philip, where the city was built.

Heraclea was a strategically important town during the Hellenistic period, as it was at the edge of Macedon"s border with Epirus to the west and Paeonia to the north, until the middle of the 2nd century BC, when the Romans conquered Macedon and destroyed its political power. The main Roman road in the area, Via Egnatia went through Heraclea, and Heraclea was an important stop. The prosperity of the city was maintained mainly due to this road.

The Roman emperor Hadrian built a theatre in the center of the town, on a hill, when many buildings in the Roman province of Macedonia were being restored. It began being used during the reign of Antoninus Pius. Inside the theatre there were three animal cages and in the western part a tunnel. The theatre went out of use during the late 4th century AD, when gladiator fights in the Roman Empire were banned, due to the spread of Christianity, the formulation of the Eastern Roman Empire, and the abandonment of, what was then perceived as, pagan rituals and entertainment.

Late Antiquity and Byzantine periods

In the early Byzantine period (4th to 6th centuries AD) Heraclea was an important episcopal centre. A small and a great basilica, the bishop"s residence, and a funerary basilica and the necropolis are some of the remains of this period. Three naves in the Great Basilica are covered with mosaics of very rich floral and figurative iconography; these well preserved mosaics are often regarded as fine examples of the early Christian art period.

The city was sacked by Ostrogoth/Visigoth forces, commanded by Theodoric the Great in 472 AD and again in 479 AD. It was restored in the late 5th and early 6th century. When an earthquake struck in 518 AD, the inhabitants of Heraclea gradually abandoned the city. Subsequently, at the eve of the 7th century, the Dragovites, a Slavic tribe pushed down from the north by the Avars, settled in the area. The last coin issue dates from ca. 585, which suggests that the city was finally captured by the Slavs. As result, in place of the deserted city theatre several huts were built.

The Episcopacy Residence was excavated between 1970 and 1975. The western part was discovered first and the southern side is near the town wall. The luxury rooms are located in the eastern part. The 2nd, 3rd and 4th rooms all have mosaic floors. Between the 3rd and 4th rooms there is a hole that led to the eastern entrance of the residence. The hole was purposefully created between the 4th and 6th century.