This year, the Our Lady of Peace Parish in Kessel Station celebrated its 75th anniversary. The parish community seized this opportunity to dig their collection of photographs out of the archive and to organise a small exhibition about the history of the parish. The parish has an extensive collection of photographs that document common practices in a young parish in the 1940s and 50s. These photos not only show the engagement of parishioners in the construction of a temporary church and school building, the definitive church and a parish hall, but also the way the finalisation of these building was celebrated with rituals and processions. Such a large collection of photographs of the key moments in the establishment of a new parish is a wonderful source for an architectural historian working on post-war religious architecture!
In Belgium, the construction of a church building is not only a matter of the parish community and its architect, but also requires the approval of municipal, provincial and national authorities. My research on post-war churches in Belgium has identified the influential rol of provincial architects in the process of church building. For example, in the capacity of provincial architect, Jozef Schellekens (1909-1963) was involved in the construction of many twentieth century churches in the district of Turnhout. In 1942, in the case of the Sint-Antonius Abt church in Mol-Donk, Schellekens urged architect René Van Steenbergen to design a site plan for the further development of the neighborhood before choosing a location for the new place for worship. As Schellekens already made clear in his De architectuur in ons landschap en het stedebouwprobleem publication (1941), he was convinced that “finding the right place for building a church is a matter of town planning.” About twenty years later, in the case of the Sint-Jozef Werkman church in Veerle-Heide, Schellekens affected the building style of this new parish church. Although the church council and the parish priest preferred a traditional style, Schellekens demanded a modern design. He saw it as his responsibility to aim for modern churches. Moreover, Schellekens not only advised other architects in church building projects, but was also in charge of projects himself, such as the restoration of the Sint-Dimpna church in Geel. Thus, it should not be underestimated that church building was an important assignment for many architects in the post-war period.
More information about Schellekens’ architecture and artwork can be found on the following website: http://www.jozefschellekens.be/. On the occasion of Open Monumentendag, this week, you can visit the modern house that Schellekens designed with Theo Op de Beeck in Turnhout. More information: here.
The St Pius X’s church in Wilrijk is not only a remarkable modern sacred building, but also an interesting case to study the way the Roman Catholic Church negotiated on its presence in the ‘ordinary’ suburban context of Antwerp during the post-war period. Read more about the establishment of this suburban parish and the construction of its principal sacred site in our new article in the proceedings of the conference Genius Loci: places and meanings.
Weyns E., Sterken S. (2017). ‘Constructing a Genius Loci: the St Pius X’s church in Wilrijk, 1957-1967.’ In: Rosas, L. (Ed.), Sousa, A. (Ed.), Barreira, H. (Ed.), Genius Loci: lugares e significados | places and meanings: Vol. 1 (pp. 251-263). Porto.
Read more about our Territories of Faith Workshop in this article (in Dutch) in the latest KADOC newsletter (pp. 10-15).