Historic catholic churches in Bruges, Belgium, worth visiting

Bruges, Belgium, boasts a rich tapestry of Catholic faith interwoven with its historic churches. In this article, we embark on a journey through the historical Catholic churches that grace the heart of this Belgian gem.

These sacred landmarks, including St. Salvator’s Cathedral and The Church of Our Lady, stand as living testaments to centuries of spiritual devotion, reflecting the enduring influence of Catholicism in the heart of this medieval city.

For better clarity and convenience, I translated only the names of the most renowned churches into English, facilitating accessibility for a broader audience. For the lesser-known churches, their Dutch names, including Sint-Annakerk, Sint-Gilliskerk, and Sint-Pietersbandenkerk, have been retained to ensure accurate identification and exploration.

Join this insightful journey to unravel the historical and architectural richness embedded in Bruges’ Catholic churches. If you are interested in the history of Bruges, we have for you an article about the museums worth visiting here and about the historical sites and buildings of the city.

St. Salvator’s Cathedral

St. Salvator's Cathedral - colored drawing
St. Salvator’s Cathedral – colored drawing

St. Salvator’s Cathedral, also known as the Cathedral of the Saviour and St. Donat, stands as the Roman Catholic cathedral in Bruges, Belgium. Dedicated to the Verrezen Zaligmaker (‘risen saviour’) and Saint-Donatius of Reims, the cathedral holds a rich historical significance.

Originally, St. Salvator was a common parish church from the 10th century. However, in the 19th century, it was granted cathedral status. The church experienced changes and renovations over time. The Sint-Donaaskathedraal was the central religious building in Bruges, but after its destruction in 1127, St. Salvator became the main church.

In 1834, following Belgium’s independence, St. Salvator’s Church was officially recognized as a cathedral. Though smaller than the nearby Church of Our Lady, it underwent modifications, including the addition of a more imposing tower.

The 1839 fire led to the collapse of the cathedral’s roof, prompting English architect Robert Chantrell to restore and redesign it in a personal Romanesque style.

The cathedral’s interior, spanning 101 meters, showcases notable furnishings, including wall carpets from 1731 and original paintings. The 16th-century podium in the choir remains a remarkable feature.

The cathedral’s organ, originally built in the 18th century, underwent several expansions and rebuilds in the 20th century, maintaining its significance in services and concerts conducted by organist Ignace Michiels.

The Church of Our Lady

The Church of Our Lady, among Bruges’ oldest sanctuaries and a tourist magnet, transitioned from a collegiate church with a provost and chapter of canons to a decanal church after the ancien régime.

Church of Our Lady in Bruges, Belgium – oil pastel sketch effect
Church of Our Lady in Bruges – oil pastel sketch effect

Its 115.6-meter brick tower, a dominating feature in Bruges, stands as Belgium’s second-highest brick building globally, following Germany’s St. Martin’s Church in Landshut.

Integrated into the Saint Donatianus parish federation since the early 21st century, the church has been welcoming tourists since the 1980s and is now part of the Musea Brugge organization.

Originating from a Carolingian chapel circa 875, it became an independent parish in 1116 under Karel de Goede. Construction of the present church began around 1230, featuring Tournai limestone and Scheldt Gothic influences.

The church gained prominence for housing the tombs of Mary of Burgundy and Charles the Bold in the high choir. Mary’s tomb, designed by Jan Borman, depicts them in medieval repose. Above the high altar, a triptych by Bernard van Orley narrates a passion story.

Michelangelo’s Madonna with Child, acquired by Bruges merchant Jan van Moeskroen in 1514, resides in the church. The Lanchals Chapel, related to Pieter Lanchals, a Bruges sheriff beheaded for loyalty to Burgundy, is partially preserved.

Above the crossing, an intact hoisting mechanism remains, depicting ascensions for believers, restored in 1762 by Eugenius Goddyn.

Basilica of the Holy Blood

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The Basilica of the Holy Blood in Bruges, is a Roman Catholic basilica constructed between 1134 and 1157 as the chapel of the Count of Flanders.

Elevated to the status of a minor basilica in 1923, it houses a relic of the Holy Blood, believed to have been brought from the Holy Land by Thierry of Alsace, Count of Flanders.

Situated in Burg square, the basilica comprises a lower chapel dedicated to St. Basil the Great and an upper chapel. The lower chapel retains its original Romanesque structure, while the upper chapel, housing the venerated Passion relic, underwent Gothic-style reconstruction in the 16th century and Gothic Revival renovations in the 19th century.

The chapel of Saint Basil, within the basilica, is one of the best-preserved Romanesque churches in West Flanders, featuring a tympanum depicting the baptism of Saint Basil.

The upper chapel, originally in Romanesque style, was transformed into Gothic style in the 15th century and further renovated in 1823. A monumental staircase, named De Steegheere, leads to the upper chapel, adorned with sculptures representing historical figures.

The basilica’s interior underwent neo-Gothic renovations in the 19th century, featuring stained-glass windows depicting the rulers of the County of Flanders. The pulpit, a globe-shaped structure, was crafted in 1728, emphasizing the evangelical purpose of spreading the gospel.

The basilica is renowned for housing a relic said to contain a cloth with the blood of Jesus Christ. Recent research questions its authenticity, suggesting it may have originated from the Fourth Crusade’s sack of Constantinople in 1204.

The relic, enclosed in a Byzantine perfume bottle, plays a significant role in the religious life of Bruges, with Pope Clement V granting indulgences to pilgrims who visit the chapel. The relic’s authenticity remains a subject of debate, and its casing, made in 1617, is displayed in the Basilica Museum.

Sint-Annakerk

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The Sint-Annakerk, a Catholic church located in the Sint-Anna district and parish in Bruges, was reconstructed in the early 17th century and adorned with a typical Baroque-style interior. Dedicated to Mother Anna, she serves as the patroness of the church.

The church’s history dates back to 1496 when the manor “Hof ter Vere” was acquired and transformed into a single-aisle chapel, consecrated in 1497. Expansions occurred in 1506-1507, and by 1516, it evolved into a three-aisled place of worship.

After being sold and partially demolished during the iconoclastic upheavals in 1580, a new church emerged atop the ruins in 1611, consecrated in 1621. Facing material shortages, the new structure became a single-aisled Gothic church.

Towards the late 17th century, it underwent a transformation from late Gothic to Baroque, most notably reflected in its opulent interior, earning it the nickname the “salon church of Bruges.”

Since 1956, the church has held protected status as a listed monument. Noteworthy features include a Gothic door leading to the poorhouse’s bank from 1688 and a scallop-shaped baptismal font. The organ, crafted in 1707 by Jacob Van Eynde, underwent modifications in the 19th century by Louis Hooghuys.

The baptismal font holds particular significance for visitors, as renowned poet Guido Gezelle was baptized there in 1830, also celebrating his first communion and conducting his initial mass after ordination.

Additionally, the late 19th-century parish priest Florimond Fonteyne played a significant social role, resembling the impact of Daens in Aalst, with his rectory serving as a hub for socially engaged individuals until his relocation to Zarren by Bishop Waffelaert.

St. Walburga Church

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The St. Walburga Church, a 17th-century Roman Catholic church in Bruges, was initially constructed by the Jesuits in the Baroque style and now serves as a parish church, boasting a collection of valuable art pieces.

The church’s history dates back to 1596 when the Jesuits erected a chapel, later expanding it into a full-fledged church, college, convent, and garden. Construction occurred from 1619 to 1641, led by local Jesuit architect Pieter Huyssens.

Financial constraints and Jesuit rivalry, however, prevented the full realization of Huyssens’ designs. Dedicated to St. Francis Xavier in 1642, the Jesuit Order’s dissolution in 1773 led to the church’s closure. In 1777, it became a parish church, replacing the dilapidated original parish church.

Renamed St. Donatian Church, it later took on the name St. Walburga Church in 1854. Damaged in 1918 due to a bomb explosion, the church underwent restoration.

Inspired by the Church of the Gesù in Rome, the stone façade showcases Baroque elements. The interior features a Baroque aesthetic with intricate details, including mouldings, volutes, and pilasters.

Geometric motifs on the choir floor are thought to represent Kufic, an ancient Arabic language. Notable paintings, sculptures, and a monumental marble altar grace the church, displaying works by various artists. The marble communion rails, crafted by Hendrik Frans Verbrugghen in 1695, are considered a pinnacle of Flemish Baroque sculpture.

The church’s rich history and artistic treasures make it a significant cultural and religious landmark in Bruges.

Redemptoristinnenkerk

The Redemptorist Church in Bruges, a protected monument dating back to 1841-46, is associated with the former Redemptorist nunnery, designated as a cityscape.

The Redemptorist nuns, or ‘red nuns,’ arrived in Bruges in 1841 from the Vienna convent with a mission to establish the first convent in Belgium.

Initially residing in Goezeputstraat, the nuns later acquired property between Katelijnestraat and Visspaanstraat, where they constructed a convent that naturally included a chapel or church. Despite their intent for modesty, the church became a substantial structure.

Originally attributed to a Viennese Redemptorist brother, it was later believed that René Duvivier from Tournai (1801-1854) was the actual architect. The church, characterized by romantic evocations of medieval Gothic architecture, employed typical materials of the period, such as cast iron and stucco.

While initially praised as a marvel of beauty, opinions shifted in the mid-19th century with the rise of archaeological neo-Gothicism, considering the church a poor example. Modern assessments, however, recognize it as a synthesis and pinnacle of early neo-Gothic in Belgium.

In 2010, the church was officially protected as a monument. Negative perceptions led the nuns to alter the church’s facade in 1961, adopting a neobaroque design by architect Arthur Degeyter, resulting in mixed reactions.

The church’s interior, a single-nave structure with a rectangular choir, features original elements like a sacristy and a winter chapel. The sacristy’s furnishings, the art-deco high altar, and marble side altars, crafted by local sculptor François Lefebure in 1847, contribute to the church’s historical charm.

The future of the church, now under the city’s lease for an extended period, awaits a new purpose as an extension of the adjacent Art Academy.

St. James’s Church

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The St. James’s Church (Sint-Jakobskerk) in Bruges, situated in the Steenstraatkwartier, is an oriented, early Gothic, brick hall church with a substantial crossing tower.

Founded as the Sint-Jakobsparochie in 1240, separating from Sint-Salvators, the original Sint-Jakobskapel was elevated to a parish church. Due to space constraints, a new church was constructed on the present site in the 13th century.

Generous donations from notable figures, including the Dukes Philip the Good and Charles the Bold, funded expansions from 1457 to 1512, shaping the current appearance.

The church features a diverse collection of art, including the chapel and tomb of Ferry de Gros (1525-1530), the gravestone of Zeger van Male, a tondo by Luca della Robbia, a painting by Albert Cornelis, and The Legend of Saint Lucia by the Master of the Lucia Legend (1480).

Notable works like the Moreel Triptych by Hans Memling and a Descent from the Cross by Hugo van der Goes were originally part of the church but are now housed elsewhere.

The Sint-Michielsbeweging has used the church for weekly worship since 2008. Regular masses, student services on Wednesdays, and evening prayers with adoration on Thursdays contribute to the vibrant spiritual life of this historical place.

Sint-Gilliskerk

Sint-Gilliskerk - digital painting with vintage look
Sint-Gilliskerk – digital painting with vintage look

The Sint-Gilliskerk in the Belgian city of Bruges is situated in the district and parish of Sint-Gillis, in the city center.

Built around 1240, the initial structure served as a chapel associated with the Onze-Lieve-Vrouw parish. Little is known about the first church’s appearance, possibly constructed of wood. By 1258, it was mentioned as a parish church.

The parish gained autonomy around 1311, and the adjacent cemetery, which disappeared in the 19th century, was consecrated. The original wooden church was replaced by a basilical structure inspired by Scheldt Gothic, retaining four columns in Tournai limestone and the old window zone of the central nave.

Some parts of the transept still date back to the 13th century. Between 1462 and 1479, the church was expanded into a pseudo-hall church, a form that largely persists today.

During the 15th and 16th centuries, notable artists, including Hans Memling and Jan Provoost, found their final resting places in and around the church. No remains of their graves exist today.

From the mid-17th century, the church underwent Baroque alterations. In 1750, the tower was raised by a floor, and in the late 19th century, it underwent a thorough neo-Gothic restoration by architect Auguste Van Assche, especially evident in the interior.

A significant artistic treasure is the Hemelsdale Altarpiece by Pieter Pourbus, showcasing scenes from the life of Jesus. Notable works include Jan Garemijn’s “Arrival of Frans de Mulder in Dunkirk” (1783) and paintings by Jacob Van Oost, among others.

Sint-Pietersbandenkerk

The Sint-Pietersbandenkerk is a church in Dudzele, part of the municipality of Bruges in West Flanders, located on Sint-Lenardsstraat.

Early mentions of a church in Dudzele date back to when the patronage rights were granted to the Sint-Donaas Cathedral in Bruges in 1109, previously held by the Abbey of Corbie.

Beginning in 1060, veneration of Saint Leonard was established, turning the Dudzele church into a pilgrimage site for this saint. In the latter half of the 12th century, a Romanesque church was constructed, featuring a tower with stair turrets on both sides.

During the late 16th century, the church suffered significant destruction in the religious wars. The nave was later restored and put back into use, but the choir section remained in ruins until its reconstruction in 1644. The Our Lady’s Chapel was also restored at that time. The tower was demolished.

In 1872-1873, a new church was built, incorporating certain elements from 1350, particularly the east facade of the north aisle. A portion of the roof structure dates back to 1644. A small turret was added in front of the nave. Only remnants of the Romanesque west structure survived, including part of the southern stair turret and a dividing wall.

The present structure is a three-aisled brick church with a five-sided choir closure. The main altar, along with the north and south side altars, dates to the 17th or 18th century. The organ, crafted by the Louis Hooghuys & Fils firm, was installed in 1873.

Karmelietenkerk

The Karmelietenkerk is a church located in the heart of Bruges. The construction of this baroque monastery church commenced on July 3, 1688, and concluded on June 24, 1691. The monastery of the Barefoot Carmelites had already been established in Bruges’ Ezelstraat in 1633.

The monastery archives contain numerous documents detailing the church’s construction, with the most significant being “Digna Novae Ecclesiae Epitome.” The original plan, conceived by Carmelite brother Patriek van de heilige Hubertus (also known as Theodoor de Haze), born in Antwerp in 1645 and deceased in Rome in 1689, proposed three aisles and a transept.

However, this plan was rejected by the General Superior in Rome, and the two side aisles were added in 1913. The west facade, constructed with brick and decorative elements of white stone, features a medallion of St. John the Baptist, the patron saint of the church, above the central portal. The pediment displays an image of St. Joseph.

The masonry work was entrusted to Carmelite brother Michiel van de heilige Ignatius (also known as Michiel van Troostenberghe). All wood sculptures, including the wainscoting, pulpit, communion rail, and choir screen, were crafted by Carmelite brother Victor van de heilige Jacob (also known as Jacob de Coster).

The construction of this monumental church became possible through the generosity of Jean-Baptist van Altere, a magistrate of Bruges, commemorated with a statue in the left aisle.

The Latin inscription beneath reads: D. O. M. et aeternae memoriae nobil. d(omi)ni Jo(ann)is Bapt(istae) Van Altere qui has sacras aedes christi praecursori ac nutritio proprio aere erexit patres carm(elitae) excalceati 1691 posuerunt ac 1861 renovaverunt.

The church is open to the public and hosts weekend masses accompanied by a Gregorian choir. Daily worship takes place in a private chapel.

Sint-Brunokapel

The Sint-Bruno Chapel, located in Bruges’ Langestraat, was constructed in the 18th century as a place of worship within the Bruges Charterhouse monastery. Restored in the 1980s, it later served as an assize courtroom for the Bruges Courthouse.

Founded in 1318, the Charterhouse priory named Genadedal was established by affluent youths. After destruction in 1578, the monks relocated within Bruges, settling in the Langestraat in 1609. Under Dom Hugo Janssens, a new outer church was built in 1776, only to face dissolution by Emperor Joseph II in 1783.

Following eviction, the complex served various purposes, including a military hospital and barracks for successive armies. The Brunokapel, a classicist church measuring 30 by 10 meters, featured a blue stone façade and a gabled roof, consecrated in 1776 in honor of the Almighty and Saint Bruno.

Initially designed by master carpenter Andries d’Hollander, the chapel later underwent alterations, including the addition of two concrete floors for military use.

In the 1970s, after military occupation ceased, the Brunokapel faced potential demolition when earmarked for a new courthouse. Preservation efforts by the vzw Marcus Gerards and the intervention of the Bruges city council spared the chapel and other structures.

Since 1974, restoration work has been ongoing, preserving the Brunokapel as an assize courtroom and safeguarding remnants of the former Charterhouse buildings, including the monumental gate (1768-1770), cloister sections (1635-1640), and the guesthouse (1769).

Jeruzalemkerk

Jeruzalemkerk
Jeruzalemkerk

The Jeruzalemkerk, or Jerusalem Chapel, in Bruges was constructed in the first half of the 15th century by descendants of Opicius Adornes, who originated from Genoa and arrived in Flanders in the 13th century.

Owned by the Adornes non-profit organization chaired by Count Henri de Limburg-Stirum, it stands out as one of Belgium’s few private churches.

Built in the 15th century by the Adornes family, the church is said to have been inspired by the floor plan of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, influenced by the pilgrimage of Jacob Adornes and his brother Pieter II. The Jerusalem cross still adorns the tower.

Inside, the unique stained glass windows, including that of Pieter II Adornes and his wife, contribute to the distinct character. The church houses the elaborate tomb of Anselmus Adornes and his wife, Margareta van der Banck, showcasing symbolic elements tied to family, pilgrimage, Saint Catherine of Alexandria, and Jerusalem.

Opened to the public since 2014, the Adornes Estate is managed by Count and Countess Maximilien de Limburg Stirum, the 17th generation of the family. The estate features a museum introducing visitors to Anselmus Adornes, highlighting his roles as a knight, diplomat, pilgrim, and businessman.

The Scottish Lounge, reflecting the friendship between Anselmus and King James III, allows visitors to serve themselves. The Pieterszalen host contemporary art exhibitions twice a year, underscoring the family’s enduring connection to art.

Sint-Andries en Sint-Annakerk

The Sint-Andries en Sint-Annakerk is a parish church located on Gistelse Steenweg 493 in the Sint-Andries district, a part of the West Flemish city of Bruges.

The history of this church dates back to 1117 when the first mention of a chapel in Sint-Andries occurred. Initially, a Romanesque chapel served as the monastery church for the Sint-Andries Abbey, established in 1100, doubling as a parish church. In the 13th century, a new church was constructed, followed by the addition of a tower in 1530.

The abbey’s dissolution in 1797 led to the transformation of the monastery church into a parish church. Architect Pierre Buyck supervised its expansion from 1839 to 1843, and the tower underwent restoration in 1850.

Disaster struck on August 10, 1869, when lightning struck the tower. While the church succumbed to fire, only the spire of the tower needed replacement. Architects Pierre Buyck and Deshuyser meticulously reconstructed the church in neo-Gothic style.

The present structure, dating from 1869, is a neo-Gothic brick church with three aisles. The adjacent west tower, mostly from 1530, complements the architectural ensemble.

Encircled by a cemetery, the church and its surroundings received protected status in 2001, ensuring their preservation as a historical monument and cityscape, respectively.

Onze-Lieve Vrouw ter Potterie

The Hospital of Our Lady ter Potterie was one of the medieval care institutions in the city of Bruges. Founded in the 13th century, the hospital, located on Potterierei in Bruges, originated no later than 1269, with the first guardian mentioned as Jan van Scheepsdale.

The official founding document dates back to 1276, and various names such as “pro hospitio de Potteria” (1290) and “de Potterije” (1399) have been associated with it.

The distinctive name “Potterie” was chosen due to the presence of numerous potters along the Potterierei, possibly reflecting the historical activity of potters in the area.

The hospital evolved from a transient shelter to an institution providing care for the elderly, a role it continues to fulfill today with the recent construction of a residential care center on the adjacent grounds.

The church gained pilgrimage status through the veneration of a miraculous statue of Our Lady. This led to the embellishment of the baroque church interior.

Both the church and the former hospital building are open to visitors as a museum, showcasing paintings, sculptures, furniture, tapestries, stained glass, a unique silver collection, and artifacts used in the hospital and church, many depicting the miraculous statue.

The blessed Idesbaldus rests in a small chapel within the premises. Additionally, a yearly procession, the Brugse Belofte, commemorates the Battle of Pevelenberg. Originating in 1304, the Bruges women vowed to annually offer a candle to Our Lady ter Potterie if their sons and husbands returned safely from the battlefield.

The procession, occurring on August 15, departs from the Onze-Lieve-Vrouw-van-Blindekenskapel, symbolizing the Flemish people’s self-perception as victors. The Brotherhood of Our Lady ter Potterie is closely associated with this church.

St. Michael’s Church

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The St. Michael’s Church (Sint-Michielskerk) is a parish church located on Rijselstraat in the Sint-Michiels district, part of the city of Bruges in West Flanders. History

A church was constructed after 962 on the site of the present-day cemetery. By 1029, this church became dependent on the St. Donatian’s Chapter in Bruges. In 1578, during the Calvinist Republic of Bruges, established by the Calvinists, significant buildings, including St. Michael’s Church, were dismantled.

A small wooden church was erected between 1611-1612 but was destroyed by French troops in 1674. From 1711 to 1716, a new parish church was built, demolished in 1863 due to size constraints. A new neo-Gothic church, designed by Pierre Buyck, replaced it.

The current church emerged after the neo-Gothic predecessor was destroyed in American bombings on May 29, 1944. Constructed between 1950-1954 according to architect A. Nolf’s design, it is a three-aisled hall church with a semi-embedded tower, a pseudo-transept, and a flat-ended choir. The architectural style exhibits some neo-Romanesque features.

Onze-Lieve-Vrouw van ‘t Boompje

Onze-Lieve-Vrouw van ‘t Boompje is a pilgrimage chapel located in the north of Sint-Andries, a suburb of the Belgian city of Bruges, situated along the Koestraat between the Bruges-Ostend railway and the Bruges-Ostend canal, within the Ter Lucht estate.

The chapel’s history dates back to 1563 when the first Marian veneration began. In 1664, the chapel was erected, hiding among the trees. Legend has it that two sailors discovered a Madonna figurine in a lime tree’s branches, leading to the chapel’s foundation.

Despite attempts to relocate the statue, it repeatedly reappeared in the lime tree, prompting locals to establish the chapel.

Devotion to Our Lady of ‘t Boompje was officially recorded in 1563, and by 1663, with approval from Bishop Robert de Haynin, the chapel was constructed on the Ter Lucht estate by Andries de La Coste. Over the centuries, the chapel changed hands, underwent renovations, and faced challenges, surviving through periods of devotion and relative neglect.

In the 20th century, especially post-World War II, the chapel regained prominence. Devotions were revived, and in 1963, eight smaller chapels depicting the Seven Sorrows of Our Lady were added. Despite changing ownership, the chapel maintained its allure, hosting pilgrimages and attracting visitors.

The chapel, surrounded by a garden and eight smaller chapels representing the Seven Sorrows of Our Lady, remains a modest yet historically rich site. The interior features a Madonna and Child statue under a carved lime tree, an altar from 1781, and symbolic elements reflecting the maritime connection, such as a restored miniature ship.

Sint-Niklaaskerk

The Sint-Niklaaskerk is the parish church of Koolkerke, a part of the city of Bruges in West Flanders, located at Smallestraat 11.

Sint-Niklaaskerk - digital oil painting
Sint-Niklaaskerk – digital oil painting

In 1252, a chapel dependent on the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk in Bruges was mentioned for the first time. During the 14th century, a brick church was built, and some parts of this church, including the choir enclosure, pillars, and wall remnants, still exist in the current structure.

The church was destroyed during the religious conflicts of the 16th century. Subsequently, the north aisle was demolished, leaving the nave and side aisle intact. The tower was constructed in 1853, and later the north aisle was rebuilt.

Following that, the south aisle was demolished and reconstructed to match the north aisle. Restoration work took place from 1867-1871 under the direction of Pierre Buyck, and further renovations were carried out from 1980-1985 under the supervision of Piet Viérin.

The present building is a three-aisled brick hall church with a front facade displaying three gables. The central aisle incorporates an embedded tower, and the choir is Gothic in style.

The church features predominantly neo-Gothic furnishings. A 17th-century statue of Mary (Our Lady of the Sick) is placed in a niche. A neo-Gothic reliquary contains an 18th-century bust of Saint Nicholas.

Various tombstones from the 17th to the 20th century are present, along with a sculpture of Johannes Nepomucenus by P. Pepers (1765).

Heilige Magdalenakerk

The Heilige Magdalenakerk, a 19th-century parish church in Bruges, has a history intertwined with the evolution of its predecessor, the Katelijnekerk or Sint-Catharinakerk, erected between 1270-1272.

Positioned just beyond the city walls, it faced demolition in 1578 during religious tumults. For centuries, the parish relied on makeshift churches until the Magdalenagasthuis chapel (1804-1853).

In 1850, the city acquired the Recollettenhof, leading to the construction of a new church in 1851-1853 by English architect Thomas Harper King in neo-Gothic style.

The church, a neo-Gothic masterpiece, features a comprehensive fusion of architecture, furniture, decoration, and color schemes. Crafted by architect Antoine Verbeke, the furnishings include the triumphal cross, high altar, side altars, communion rail, choir stalls, confessionals, pulpit, and organ casings.

The walls, reminiscent of the Holy Blood Chapel, are adorned with colorful neo-Gothic motifs. The stained glass, including works by Samuel Coucke, Henri and Jules Dobbelaere, and Louis Grossé-de Herde, adds to the aesthetic. The organ, installed in 1873 by Schyven and later restored by Loncke Orgelbouw, occupies the chancel.

In the mid-20th century, drastic changes were initiated, diminishing the church’s original splendor. Pastoral decisions led to alterations, including uniform cream-colored paint covering murals and statues, removal of stained glass, and disfigurement of the pulpit.

Despite some restoration efforts, the damage endured. In 2002, the Heilige Magdalenakerk became a space for the YOT association, challenging traditional distinctions and exploring life’s fundamental themes.

The church retains its Catholic dedication while fostering inclusivity, epitomizing a place for “encounter, meaning, and connection” across diverse groups and beliefs.

Onze-Lieve-Vrouw-Bezoekingskerk

The Onze-Lieve-Vrouw-Bezoekingskerk in Lissewege, part of Bruges in West Flanders, is a parish church located at Onder de Toren.

Before 1119, a parish covered Knokke, Heist, Zeebrugge, and Lissewege, with the Abbey of Saint Bertinus in Saint-Omer overseeing tithes and patronage. The romanesque structure from 1119 is visible in the current church’s choir.

Built in the mid-13th century in early Gothic style, the church’s different parts date from the second quarter and second half of the 13th century.

The church’s larger size is linked to devotion to a miraculous Virgin Mary statue, carried annually by fishermen during the Ommegang procession. Lissewege also served as a pilgrimage stop for those en route to Compostela.

In 1586, the Geuzen set the church ablaze, losing the miraculous statue. Restoration took place in 1613 (choir) and 1617 (transept). A new Mary statue was introduced in 1624. In 1628, flat ceilings were added, and from 1644-1650, Gerard Coppet vaulted the choir and transept.

Restoration, led by Pierre Buyck in 1862, included rebuilding the tower and discovering 13th-century frescoes in the transept.

The brick basilical cruciform church with a robust square west tower from the second half of the 13th century showcases a unique design.

The 1808 organ mechanism by Karel Van Peteghem remains. While much 17th-century decor was removed in the 19th century, the enduring elements include the rood screen, organ case, and pulpit by Walram Romboudt.

Paintings such as Visitation by Jacob I van Oost (1652), The Veneration of Saint James of Compostela by Jan Maes (1665), and Christ on the Cross by Marc Van Duvenede (1713) adorn the church, along with stained-glass windows dating to 1949.

Speelmanskapel

The Speelmanskapel, a Gothic chapel in the heart of Bruges, sits along the Speelmansrei with its entrance on Beenhouwersstraat.

Established in 1421, it served as the chapel for the guild of minstrels and musicians. The simple brick structure with profiled pointed-arch windows is single-aisled and once featured a bell wall on the west facade. Originally, the entrance was in the annex to the west of the south wall.

A unique fresco adorned the blind north wall, depicting a Volto Santo, possibly influenced by traveling merchants from Lucca. Sadly, both the fresco and the polychromed wooden pointed barrel vault are now lost. Neglected during the French occupation, the chapel was sold as a national asset and used by the 19th-century sawyer Van Acker.

In 1968-69, the city of Bruges took ownership, restoring the chapel under the guidance of city architect Eric Vyncke. It was repurposed as a secular community center and, in 1998, received monument protection.

Heilig Hartkerk

The Heilig Hartkerk, formerly a Jesuit church in Bruges, was deconsecrated in 1990 and later repurposed as an event venue. In 2022, a Romanian evangelical community took residence in the church.

After the Jesuits left Bruges in 1773, they returned in 1840, settling permanently in a residence with a large garden on Korte Winkel in 1869.

Acquiring properties within Vlamingstraat, Spanjaardstraat, Kipstraat, and Korte Winkel, they aimed to build a sizable church connected to the residence. Construction took place from 1879 to 1885, led by Bruges architect Louis Pavot.

Designed as a basilica with a four-bay nave and enclosed rectangular choir and transept, the church was polychromed in 1901, and a spire was added in 1903. Popular among Bruges residents, it hosted vibrant services, including a ‘artiestenmis’ with local musicians. French sermons continued until around 1965.

By 1979, the church ceased religious functions, and in 1990, it was deconsecrated. Despite demolition requests, it remained standing. In 1986, the Jesuits sold the church and its contents, including valuable works by artists like Pickery and glass windows by Samuel Coucke.

From 1994, the space was used for organizing medieval festivals, losing appeal after 2010. Remaining Jesuits left Korte Winkel in 2016, ending their presence in the Bruges diocese. Left vacant, it found a new purpose in 2022 when a Romanian evangelical community began using it for religious services.

Onze-Lieve-Vrouw-Onbevlekt-Ontvangenkerk

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The Onze-Lieve-Vrouw-Onbevlekt-Ontvangenkerk, located in the Ver-Assebroek district of Assebroek, serves as the church for the parish Onze-Lieve-Vrouw Onbevlekt Ontvangen.

At the end of the 12th century, the lords of Assebroek established the first chapel dedicated to Mary Magdalene at the site. In 1572, the Geuzen mostly destroyed the church, but it was rebuilt in 1628 by Jacques de Noyelles, dedicated to Maria Magdalena and Onze-Lieve-Vrouw.

In 1720, Pastor Pieter Verhaeghe introduced a miraculous Baroque-style Virgin Mary statue, leading to increased pilgrimages. In 1746, the church was expanded and rededicated to Maria Onbevlekt Ontvangen.

During the French occupation in 1797, the church closed, reopening in 1803. It became the parish church for all of Assebroek. In 1887-1890, the church was extended in neogothic style with stained glass windows and a Baroque-style pulpit.

In 1902, a neogothic rectory and garden were built, and the churchyard featured chapels depicting Mary’s life. In 1938, a Marian chapel was added. The ensemble, classified in 1978, stands as a monument of popular devotion.

Linked to the Mary statue is a legend of a Dutch ship returning from the East Indies with a Protestant crew. Balthasar Lanoy, the sole Catholic, had a Mary statue that miraculously floated after being tossed overboard.

The crew suspected a pact with the devil but, on the captain’s intervention, rescued the statue. It eventually reached Pieter Verhaeghe in 1720, the pastor at Ver-Assebroek.

Heilige Familiekerk

The Heilige Familiekerk, situated in Bilkske in the Langestraatkwartier, Bruges’ city center, has a history rooted in the transformation of the Ondermarck almshouses established in 1710.

In 1903, these dilapidated structures were replaced by the neo-Gothic Saint Joseph Chapel, designed by architect Alphonse De Pauw. The new buildings, designed by architect Jozef Coucke, emerged in 1905.

The chapel, initially a subsidiary of the Sint-Annaparochie, was inaugurated on December 8, 1903, and later became an independent parish in 1962, named Heilige Familie.

The brick church features lancet windows within spacious arches, with a polygonal choir and a roof turret providing the only embellishment to its simple design. However, with the bishop’s decrees in November 2014, effective January 1, 2015, the parish of Heilige Familie was dissolved, merging with Sint-Anna, and the church was secularized.

Over the following months, the church was emptied, including the removal of embedded Stations of the Cross images.

In April 2016, the church was publicly listed for sale at 440,000 euros, but no buyers emerged. Temporary uses were assigned until November/December 2018, when the former church was sold to Stefaan Vangheluwe, owner of the clothing store Lilola.

During the year-end festivities, Vangheluwe, along with other merchants, organized a Christmas Market in the repurposed space.

Engels Klooster

The Engels Klooster, Our Lady of Nazareth, is a convent with a dome church in Carmersstraat, Bruges. Originating from the Sint-Monicaklooster in Leuven, a wholly English convent founded in 1609, it witnessed an influx of English candidates in the 16th century.

Engels Klooster - watercolor
Engels Klooster – watercolor

English canonesses from Leuven settled in Bruges in 1629, establishing “Nazareth” as a hostel for pilgrims. By 1650, with Marc Arrazola de Oñate’s funding, a full-fledged convent emerged.

The French Revolution in 1794 forced the sisters to flee to England, led by Priorin Mother Mary Augustina More, a distant relative of Thomas More. They returned to Bruges in 1802, renaming the community the “Engels Klooster.” The convent preserved relics, including Thomas More’s portrait and bones, housed in the portrait’s wooden frame.

The 18th century witnessed significant construction, enlarging the refectory and corridor. Architect Hendrik Pulinx designed the dome church between 1736 and 1739, showcasing late Baroque or early Neoclassical features. The interior, richly adorned, features a main altar with 23 different marble varieties, and the dome paintings date back to 1870.

Until the late 19th century, only English candidates were accepted. Since the new foundation in England in 1886, the community embraced diverse nationalities. From 1959 to 1983, there was a branch in Rwanda, and in 2001, a house in Rwamagana opened for local candidates.

From its inception, the convent had an associated school for English-speaking girls. Later, it transformed into a finishing school for mainly French-speaking girls from the Belgian elite. In 1973, the school became a guesthouse, retaining the name “Nazareth.”

The guesthouse’s historical context explains its strong international and ecumenical character, attracting Anglicans, English Catholics, and diverse groups.

Sint-Donaaskerk

The Sint-Donaaskerk, also known as Sint-Donatuskerk or Sint-Donatiuskerk, serves as the parish church for Zeebrugge, a coastal town belonging to the Belgian city of Bruges, situated along Sint-Donaaskerkstraat.

Dedicated to Donatianus of Reims, a 4th-century French bishop and the patron saint of Bruges, the church has a rich history.

Established in 1900 at the request of Sister Josephine, the parish experienced growth with Zeebrugge’s expansion. René Buyck designed the original church, constructed from 1910-1911.

Unfortunately, it suffered a significant fire on May 8, 1918, but was subsequently restored and reopened in 1920. Damaged again during World War II, a temporary church served until the reconstruction of the present church in 1951.

The church, crafted in neogothic style, is a three-aisled brick hall church. It features a prominent tower with an octagonal upper section on a square base, supported by buttresses. Pseudo-transepts and a three-sided choir closure complete the structure. The 1966 stained glass windows, designed by Lionel Holvoet from Wevelgem, add artistic allure.

A memorial plaque honors four British military personnel who lost their lives during the attack on the Zeebrugge harbor in 1918. Adjacent to the church is the Zeebrugge Cemetery, housing British and German war graves from World War I.

Heilige-Kruisverheffing-en-Sint-Jozefkerk

The Heilige-Kruisverheffing-en-Sint-Jozefkerk is a church in Sint-Kruis, a suburb of Bruges. It serves as the parish church for the center of Sint-Kruis, situated along the Moerkerkse Steenweg.

Constructed from 1851 to 1857, the church was built in a neogothic style by architect Pierre Nicolas Croquison. The motivation for this construction stemmed from a sudden increase in the population of Sint-Kruis, rendering the existing church too small and necessitating this renewal.

In 1851, Pierre Nicolas Croquison drafted the plans for the church. Neogothic architecture experienced a significant surge in the 19th century, particularly in Bruges, which was the foremost neogothic center in Belgium.

Sint-Katarinakerk

The Sint-Katarinakerk in Bruges, located in the district of Sint-Katarina in Assebroek, has a rich history dating back to 1270.

The original church, near Vestingstraat and Edward de Denestraat, faced demolitions during conflicts with Ghent (1382) and religious wars (1578). The parish persisted without a permanent church until the early 19th century.

After the Sint-Katarinaparochie’s re-establishment in 1910, the need for a new church arose. Despite challenging discussions on location, subsidies, and town councils, a competition for architects took place in 1912.

Engineer-architect Alfons Van Coillie’s project was selected, approved in August 1913, with a subsidy granted in July 1914. However, World War I disrupted plans, and the church construction was delayed. Cyriel Deschoolmeester, appointed as the fourth pastor in 1932, finally initiated the project.

The church, presbytery, and sub-presbytery took shape, with construction starting in 1933. The new Sint-Katarinaklok arrived in 1935, and the church was consecrated in 1934.

The church square was beautified, and new bells were added in 1960. In 1974, the city of Bruges created an outlet near the church, enhancing the neighborhood’s accessibility.

Sint-Pieterskerk

The Sint-Pieterskerk serves as the parish church for the former village of Sint-Pieters-op-den-Dijk, now a district of the West Flanders city of Bruges, situated at Blankenbergse Steenweg 227.

Originating around 1200 at the crossroads of two dikes (Dulleweg and Blankenbergse Dijk), Sint-Pieters-op-den-Dijk became an independent parish in 1210, accompanied by the construction of a church.

A 1501 depiction suggests a three-aisled cruciform church with a crossing tower. During the late 16th century, possibly amid the Bruges Calvinist Republic (1578-1584), the church fell into disrepair. By 1652, only the choir had been restored.

Reconstruction occurred in 1786, adopting a Neoclassical style, likely designed by Constantinus Josephus Boúúaert (Bouvaert), with the unoriented brick church placing the choir in the west.

In 1845, population growth prompted expansion, designed by Pierre Buyck. The original tower and entrance bays were retained, while the transept disappeared, replaced by five-travee side aisles. The choir extended with a three-sided closure, and the roof raised, leading to the 1863 addition of a bell chamber to elevate the previously short spire.

The classicist interior houses three 17th-century paintings: the Delivery of the Keys to Peter, the Descent from the Cross, and a Calvary scene. The 1770 organ by A.J. Berger, believed to originate from the Sint-Andriesabdij, contributes to the church’s historical ambiance.

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