Castle of Countess Jeanne de Merode

Westerlo, Belgium

Castle of Countess Jeanne de Merode, also called as 'New Castle', was built between 1909-1912 in a neogothic style by architect Pierre Langerock as the residence of Countess Jeanne de Mérode. Jeanne de Mérode was born in Paris in 1853 as a daughter of Charles-Antoine Ghislain de Mérode-Westerloo, Marquess of Westerlo and Princes Marie-Nicolette d'Arenberg. She remained unmarried and devoted her life to religion and charitable works. To provide employment for the population of Westerlo (especially for young girls and women) she founded a carpet factory in Westerlo. She also financed a church, a school and a monastery in Heultje, and a home for the elderly in Westerlo. She lived with her parents and siblings in the 'old castle' until the death of her brother, Count Henri de Mérode, in 1908. At that time she decided to move out. She planned to reside in the castle of Grimbergen which she had inherited from her father. As she was very popular with the local population, the people of Westerlo begged her to stay in the region.

From 1909 onwards the vast castle was constructed hardly a kilometre away from her paternal residence. The architecture of the facades was inspired by the early 16th century late Gothic wing of the nearby abbey of Tongerlo. A more aristocratic appearance was achieved by adding four small and one large tower, as well as a bell tower in the form of a crown. Although both interior and exterior were executed in a historical style, the building contained many 'modern' features that were very rare on the countryside at the beginning of the 20th-century. The cross-beams supporting the roof were in steel, and the building had electric lighting, an electric elevator, central heating, running water, WC's and bathrooms.

As Jeanne de Mérode was very devout the Castle also had its own private chapel. On the altar she kept her most important treasure, the famous Mérode Altarpiece by the 15th century painter Robert Campin. After her death it was acquired from her heirs by the Metropolitan Museum in New York for the Cloisters collection.

When German troops invaded Belgium in 1940 the castle was confiscated and used as a local headquarters by the Nazis. Countess Jeanne moved back to the 'old castle' of Westerlo where she died on 1 July 1944, few months before the liberation of Belgium. She left the castle to a monastic order of sisters. The building was used by the church as a home for retired priests until it was sold to the municipality of Westerlo in the 1970s. It has served as the Town Hall of Westerlo ever since.

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Founded: 1909-1912
Category: Palaces, manors and town halls in Belgium

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