The Saint Leonard's Church in Zoutleeuw stands on the former site of a Romanesque chapel erected in 1125 by Benedictines from Vlierbeek Abbey near Leuven. Construction of the present church began around 1231, and additions continued into the 16th century. Rendered mainly in the Gothic style, the building in its oldest parts shows traces of the Romanesque.
The two heavy square towers flanking the west facade are connected with each other by means of a gallery over the nave. The slender central tower, octagonal in cross-section, contains a carillon with 24 bells. Since 1999, this church with its towers has been part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site 'Belfries of Belgium and France'.
Few if any other medieval churches in Belgium remain in such an excellent state of preservation as St. Leonard's, which stayed clear of the widespread iconoclasm during the Protestant Reformation. It also survived the French Revolution intact, because three canons took an oath of allegiance to the French regime. The interior thus offers an authentic glimpse of how the churches of Brabant were furnished centuries ago.References:
The Abbey of Saint-Etienne, also known as Abbaye aux Hommes ('Men"s Abbey'), is a former monastery dedicated to Saint Stephen (Saint Étienne). It is considered, along with the neighbouring Abbaye aux Dames ('Ladies" Abbey'), to be one of the most notable Romanesque buildings in Normandy. Like all the major abbeys in Normandy, it was Benedictine.
Lanfranc, before being an Archbishop of Canterbury, was abbot of Saint-Etienne. Built in Caen stone during the 11th century, the two semi-completed churches stood for many decades in competition. An important feature added to both churches in about 1120 was the ribbed vault, used for the first time in France. The two abbey churches are considered forerunners of the Gothic architecture. The original Romanesque apse was replaced in 1166 by an early Gothic chevet, complete with rosette windows and flying buttresses. Nine towers and spires were added in the 13th century. The interior vaulting shows a similar progression, beginning with early sexpartite vaulting (using circular ribs) in the nave and progressing to quadipartite vaults (using pointed ribs) in the sanctuary.
The two monasteries were finally donated by William the Conqueror and his wife, Matilda of Flanders, as penalty for their marriage against the Pope"s ruling. William was buried here; Matilda was buried in the Abbaye aux Dames. Unfortunately William"s original tombstone of black marble, the same kind as Matilda"s in the Abbaye aux Dames, was destroyed by the Calvinist iconoclasts in the 16th century and his bones scattered.
As a consequence of the Wars of Religion, the high lantern tower in the middle of the church collapsed and was never rebuilt. The Benedictine abbey was suppressed during the French Revolution and the abbey church became a parish church. From 1804 to 1961, the abbey buildings accommodated a prestigious high school, the Lycée Malherbe. During the Normandy Landings in 1944, inhabitants of Caen found refuge in the church; on the rooftop there was a red cross, made with blood on a sheet, to show that it was a hospital (to avoid bombings).