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Visiting Bonsecours Forest, France, approaching a Belgian Neo-Gothic Basilica on the Franco-Belgian border
From a Medieval place of refuge to harbouring ballistic rockets
Bonsecours Forest (French: Forêt de Bonsecours ), on the territory of the municipality of Condé-sur-l'Escaut, is situated close to the Belgian border.
This Forest has many mature trees, particularly oaks, some of them reckoned to be hundreds of years old. Over 600 hectares of the Forest are situated on French territory, with a further portion of forest, under different administration, extending over the Belgian border.
The Forest forms part of the Scarpe-Scheldt Regional Nature Park (French: Parc naturel régional Scarpe-Escaut), which links with Hainaut Cross-Border Nature Park (French: Parc naturel transfrontalier du Hainaut ).
With its imposing approach from the French side of the border, the looming, Neo-Gothic Bon-Secours Basilica, situated on Belgian territory, dates from 1892. The Basilica's architect was François Baeckelmans (1827-1896)(1).
I have supplied a postcard photo dating from circa 1906,which shows the wooded approach to the Franco-Belgian border.
Another photo supplied shows the Basilica at closer quarters; but the photo was still taken from within French territory; this building was erected literally on the border, just within Belgium. In some ways, the position on the border with France has significance to the the debates surrounding church-state separation in France at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, when clergy were under pressure, some of whom sought refuge in Belgium. A more favourable climate for the establishment of the kind of shrine that the Basilica represented was thus felt to exist in Belgium, amidst widespread doubts in official circles in France.
Interestingly, in France the spelling custom seems to be to refer to the Forest in question as 'Bonsecours', without a hyphen, whereas the village (2) in Belgium, and the Basilica situated there, is usually written with a hyphen: 'Bon-Secours'. Within the Forest there exists an old hunting lodge known as the Château de Bonsecours (and being on the French side of the border, the hyphen is usually not given!)
Historically, the Forest was said to be a place of refuge in the Middle Ages during the Hundred Years' War. More recently, in World War Two the Forest hid Nazi German V1 and V2 rockets, installed here with a view to attacking London, England,and elsewhere.
October 2, 2012
(1) The Baeckelsman architectural practice of Antwerp was responsible for many church building designs.
(2) The Belgian village of Bon-Secours is situated in Péruwelz municipality, Hainaut province.
Also worth seeing
In Condé-sur-l'Escaut itself, the Vautourneaux Gate dates from the 17th century.
Saint-Amand-les-Eaux (distance: 15 kilometres); this town has some fine ecclesiastical architecture
How to get there: United Airlines flies from New York Newark to Paris (Aéroport Paris-Charles de Gaulle ), from where car rental is available (distance from Paris-Charles de Gaulle airport to Condé-sur-l'Escaut : 204 kilometres). Brussels Airlines flies from New York to Brussels Airport (Brussel Nationaal / Bruxelles-National ), from where car rental is available. Brussels is the nearest large airport to Condé-sur-l'Escaut (distance: 118 kilometres). Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. You are advised to refer to appropriate consular sources for any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities.
MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada
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