Saint John the Baptist at the Béguinage
Church in Brussels, Belgium
Church in Brussels-Capital Region, Belgium
The Church of St. John the Baptist at the Béguinage (French: Église Saint-Jean-Baptiste au Béguinage, Dutch: Sint-Jan-Baptist ten Begijnhofkerk) is a Roman Catholic parish church in central Brussels, Belgium.
The original Gothic church was built at the end of 13th century, as part of the Notre-Dame de la Vigne beguinage of Brussels. It was partially destroyed by calvinists in 1584 and rebuilt thereafter. Attributed to the Flemish architect Lucas Faydherbe, the reconstructed building, which still stands today, is a notable illustration of the Italian-influenced Flemish Baroque style of the 17th century.
The church is located on the Place du Béguinage/Begijnhofplein, not far from the Place de Brouckère/De Brouckèreplein, the Place Sainte-Catherine/Sint-Katelijneplein and the Grand Hospice Pachéco. This site is served by the metro stations De Brouckère and Sainte-Catherine/Sint-Katelijne on lines 1 and 5.
The beguines were lay women who lived a communal life but were not bound by perpetual vows. Three court beguinages existed in Brussels but the first and largest court beguinage was the Beguinage de Notre-Dame de la Vigne which was founded before 1247 outside the city walls.
Located near today’s Place du Béguinage/Begijnhofplein, the community composed a miniature village of individual dwellings with a mill, laundry, and flower and vegetable garden enclosed within a wall. The beguines built an infirmary and a small chapel dedicated to Our Lady of the Vineyard served as a place of worship.
Because their community had grown to 1200 beguines at the end of the 13th century, a larger Gothic church was built at the same location where the present-day building is located. The women engaged in weaving wool, and from the 16th century onward, in making lace. From the start, the Rue du Béguinage/Begijnhofstraat (“Beguines Street”) formed the main axis of this large triangular domain of which the Rue de Laeken/Lakensestraat (“Laeken Street”) formed the base. The area between the Rue de Laeken and the Quai au Bois à Brûler/Brandhoutkaai was known as the Beguinage Quarter during the Middle Ages.
The beguines were dispersed in 1797 during the French regime. The grounds were parcelled out gradually and streets laid out. The infirmary was renovated and transformed into the Grand Hospice Pachéco.
The church was designated a historic monument on 5 March 1936. In 1998, the tragic expulsion of the Nigerian asylum seeker Semira Adamu, who died after police violence, triggered the occupation of the church from October 1998 to January 1999 by political refugee candidates awaiting regularisation.
The previous church was a Gothic building with three naves and a transept that was destroyed by calvinists in 1584 during the Calvinist Republic of Brussels which lasted from 1577 to 1585. The beguines decided to rebuild their church in Baroque style and its construction started in 1657. Attributed to the Flemish architect Lucas Faydherbe, this church is a notable illustration of the Italian-influenced Flemish Baroque style of the 17th century. Its facade is considered to be one of the most beautiful in Belgium. The church was restored after a fire ravaged the roof in November 2000.
In popular culture
- The church and the surrounding streets where prominently featured in the 2018 BBC television miniseries Les Misérables.
- Cammaert, Olivier (2010). “L’iconoclasme sous la République calviniste à Bruxelles”. In Weis, Monique (ed.). Des villes en révolte : les “Républiques urbaines” aux Pays-Bas et en France pendant la deuxième moitié du XVIe siècle (in French). Turnhout: Brepols. ISBN 978-2-503-52664-5.
- Coekelberghs, D.; Loze, P. (1981). L’Eglise Saint-Jean-Baptiste au Béguinage à Bruxelles et son mobilier (in French). Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage.
- Cook, Bernard A. (2002). Belgium: A History. Peter Lang. p. 34. ISBN 978-0-8204-5824-3.
- Depuydt Elbaum, Livia (2002), L’incendie de l’église Saint Jean-Baptiste du Béguinage de Bruxelles du 25 novembre 2000 – Intervention et Bilan (PDF) (in French), Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage
- Simons, Walter (2003). Cities of ladies: Beguine communities in the medieval low countries, 1200–1565. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN 978-0-8122-1853-4.
- Le Patrimoine monumental de la Belgique: Bruxelles (in French). Vol. 1A: Pentagone A-D. Liège: Pierre Mardaga. 1989. p. 105–111. ISBN 978-2-8021-0092-8.