This summer, there is a special exhibition in the church buildings in Aarschot, organized by the city museum. Ten of Aarschot’s church buildings will be open for visitors on Sunday afternoon. It is not only possible to see the interior of these spectacular buildings, but in each of them there will be art works on display and musical accompaniment. No less than four of these churches were built after the Second World War. Together, these four buildings are a beautiful illustration of the variety of places of worship that were created during the after-war period. The most traditional type of church is the one in Langdorp, Gijmel designed by architect Jos Gabriëls in 1962. The style of this building is nonetheless soberly modern. With the Christus Koning parish church in Aarschot itself, Gabriëls realized a more daring design in 1963. In this building, worshipers are gathered in a semicircle around the altar. This church not only has a striking form, but also expressive artworks and colorful glass in concrete windows. Even more progressive, however, was the design by architect Marc Dessauvage for the Sint-Rochus memorial church realized in 1965. In this sober building, constructed in concrete and bricks, the emphasis mainly shifts from the decor to the gathering of the religious community, in line with post Vatican II practices. Finally, the parish church in Ourodenberg from 1972 by architects De Bruyn and Macken is a perfect example of the rise of the multi-functional church building. By means of a flexible wall, this building not only offered room for worship, but also for a wide variety of social activities. Thus, it is certainly worthwhile to visit some of Aarschot’s post-war churches this summer. More information is available on this website.
In the Antwerp district Linkeroever, which is located on the left bank of the Scheldt river, there are no less than three post-war church buildings, at an in-between distance of about 1km. Already since the 16th century, there were plans for a systematic development of this bank, especially for military purposes. In the course of the 19th century, numerous plans were drawn for this area, which related to the problem of connecting both banks of the Scheldt. However, it was not until 1923 that the territory of Linkeroever was added to the city of Antwerp. Not much later, in 1929, I.M.A.L.S.O., the Intermunicipal Company of the Left Bank, was established, which properly started the development of Linkeroever. Tunnels for pedestrians and car traffic were constructed to connect Linkeroever and the Antwerp city center on the right bank. I.M.A.L.S.O. tried to find a solution for the housing issue as well by organizing an international design competition for a new urban district. However, not much was done with the prestigious plans that were proposed. The area was eventually developed in collaboration with the Antwerp city council. This resulted in a combination of single-family homes and high-rise buildings separated by broad traffic axes.
The parish church of the Heilige-Anna-en-Joachim belongs to the oldest parish on Linkeroever. The location of this church is a place of pilgrimage since the 14th century this. The modern church, designed by Jos Ritzen and completed in 1970, replaces a neo-Gothic building from 1903. This new church was necessary because problems arose after the polder landscape was raised with sand injection from 1930 onwards. Ritzen designed a church with a fan shaped plan in which the community could gather around the altar. Striking are the glass-in-concrete windows that determine the atmosphere inside. Following the rhythm of the population growth, a new parish was created on Linkeroever after the Second World War. The Onze-Lieve-Vrouw-ter-Schelde parish was established in the northern part of Linkeroever. At first, there were mainly summer residences in this area but after 1945, the number of permanent residences grew rapidly. The Onze-Lieve-Vrouw-ter-Schelde church is designed by architect Jos Bogaerts and dedicated in 1954. This sober building with a basilica floor plan in a traditional style was actually intended as a temporary chapel but remained in use as a permanent church until 2000, when the church was largely destroyed by fire. The third church on Linkeroever, Sint-Lucas, was completed in 1974. This church is part of the social housing complex Europark. Although initially, no church was included in the plan of the district, the diocese managed to convince the housing company. The church was integrated in the plan on top of an underground car park. The diocese, however, had to accept that the church was designed by the same architects as the apartment buildings of this complex (H. Aelbrecht, R. Brunswyck, R. Moureau and O. Wathelet). The sober building has a prominent concrete cornice and is a horizontal counterpart for the high-rise. In 2003, it was decided to merge the three Linkeroever parishes, choosing the name Sint-Anna-ten-Dries which symbolically refers to the three former parishes.
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.