Visiting the Chapelle de Saint-Anne / Sint-Annakapel, Brussels, Belgium: Flemish Baroque splendour
A memorable frontage
This remarkable piece of ecclesiastical architecture is situated in Downtown Brussels. St. Anne's Chapel (French: Chapelle de Sainte-Anne; Dutch: Sint Annakapel) is located oppossite No. 33, rue de la Madeleine / Magdalenastraat.
Interestingly, St. Anne's Chapel was previously situated at No. 21, rue de la Montagne / Bergstraat at . The original building dated from 1519, and rebuilt in the 17th century. It was subsequently severely damaged in the bombardment which Brussels suffered in 1695 from troops of French King Louis XIV; it was repaired in the closing years of the 17th century.
When the Belgian authorities decided to link the two main Brussels railroad stations Gare du Nord / Noordstation and Gare du Midi / Zuidstation, and build a new station Gare Centrale / Centraal Station, there was much demolition work carried out in what was known as the Putterie / Putterij suburb which lay between these older rail termini.
St. Anne's Chapel, however, was such an architectural treasure that its most striking features were preserved and rebuilt 1957-1958 at its present location opposite rue de la Madeleine / Magdalenastraat, physically adjoined to the Chapelle de la Madeleine / Magdalenakapel.
The preserved and rebuilt structure's most famous feature is its Flemish Baroque frontage, facing north (2). At its lower level, the frontage has four pilasters with Ionic capitals, and a broken pediment over a rounded doorway, and three niches. The upper level has a triangular pediment, supported by two pilasters, above a rounded window matching the doorway below. The eastern and western walls date from 1957-1958, consisting of ornate brick- and stonework in Flemish Renaissance style. The restored St Anne's Chapel is now internally linked with the adjoining Chapelle de la Madeleine / Magdalenakapel . Regarding this rebuilding work, commemorative wording, in French and Dutch, is chiseled into the Chapel's stonework:
FRONTAGE OF THE FORMER ST. ANNE'S CHAPEL
REBUILT UNDER THE CARE OF THE NATIONAL NORTH-SOUTH JUNCTION OFFICE
Architect Simon Brigode (1902-1978)(3) was particularly associated with the rebuilding and restoration of St. Anne's Chapel.
St Anne's Chapel, through its association with the Chapelle de la Madeleine / Magdalenakapel, is associated with the Assumptionist Order.
Amidst the bustle of Downtown Brussels, made more acute by the arguably necessary building of the North-South rail link, the Flemish Baroque style of this preserved building seems to be a throwback to a more gracious age (though this in some ways is probably an illusion). It is interesting to note that the building's present position owes itself to the existence of Belgium's busiest rail link, with 1200 trains per day.
In a sense this epitomizes Brussels itself: a furiously busy centre, where so many business and administrative paths converge, against a background of historical and architectural gems. Does this mean that in Brussels the exigencies of modern life have set aside the tradition in the midst of which they have emerged and stridden forward? or is it rather that ever present tradition has metamorphosized but maintained its visibility and relevance amidst the demands of the 20th and 21st centuries?
I leave these questions open.
January 31, 2015
(1) My translation
(2) The north-facing situation of the frontage is unusual, and it owes this break from a usual east-west orientation to the fact that the National North-South Junction Office (see above) was responsible for its rebuilding.
(3) Architect Brigode was also responsible for the restoration of various churches in the south of Belgium, and taught architecture for many years at the Catholic University of Louvain.
Some sourcing: Wikipedia.
Also worth seeing
In Brussels itself, included among the many other examples of noted, church architecture are the Cathedral of Saint-Michel / Sint-Michiel ; Koekelberg Basilica; and Laeken parish church in which many members of the Belgian Royal Family are buried. A few of the many other outstanding sights include the Grand' Place (from which St Anne's Chapel is a short walking distance), the Royal Palace, the Palace of Justice, the Erasmus House museum, Anderlecht, the opulent Stock Exchange building, and many others.
How to get there: Brussels Airlines flies from New York to Brussels Airport (Brussel-Nationaal / Bruxelles-National ), from where car rental is available. However, the Metro is a very convenient way of getting around Brussels. Some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.
MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.
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