Visiting the Glacis Chapel, and its vicinity, Luxembourg City: traditions of history and destruction
As ancient buildings go, the Glacis Chapel (Létzebuergesch: Glaciskapell) in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg's capital is not very old. This is because during the French Revolution, the invading French army — seemingly deliberately — destroyed the church building, dating from 1628, which preceeded it, known as the Neipuertskapell.
The Glacis Chapel, on a site which was a centre for pilgrimages since the Middle Ages, was built in 1885. The architect responsible was Charles Arendt (1825-1910)(1). A fair continues to be held at Glacis Square, as it has done, again, since the Middle Ages. Some of its features — particularly its arched windows and doorway, flying buttresses and pinnacles — seem to reflect a 19th century resurgence of the Gothic architectural style, but these belie a much older and more deep-seated association with religious activities on its site. This was reinforced by the fact that some of Luxembourg's early bishops are buried here rather than at Luxembourg's larger Cathedral, a few minutes' walk away (2).
This was further reinforced by the fact that it was here, by the Glacis Chapel, rather than at the Cathedral, that Pope John-Paul II led a well-attended religious service, when he became the first Pope to visit the Grand Duchy.
The Glacis Chapel thus also gives its name to a square in the city which surrounds it. In 1985, this vicinity was the scene of acts of potential destruction, again, seemingly deliberate. Two bombs were exploded here, as well as elsewhere in the Grand Duchy, several of them in and around Luxembourg City, the perpertrators of which are unknown. A generation later, although the perpetrators of these acts had still not been unmasked, the aftermath of Bommeleeer — the Létzebuergesch collective term for the events — was still causing ripples. In 2013, seemingly perennial Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker had absolutely nothing to do with the explosions at Glacis and elsewhere in the 1980s, but he held titular responsibility for Luxembourg's secret service, members of which were thought to have been less than frank and cooperative during repeated inverstigations into the events; for Mr Juncker, this culminated in his resignation.
So why did French forces destroy the previous Glacis chapel in 1795? Basically, it was for ideological reasons: the French Revolutionaries tended to be strongly, and at times bloodthirstily, secularist in their outlook; and Luxembourg has for centuries been a centre for a very conservative interpretation of Roman Catholicism. Destroying a major symbol of local belief systems, in the shape of the Glacis chapel which had for centuries been a centre of pilgrimage, seemed thus pragmatically a means of diminishing ideological opposition to the Revolutionary and secularist doctrines imposed by the invading French forces. (3)
So, insofar as any clarity exists as to the purpose of the series of bomb attacks in Luxembourg in the 1980s, what seems to have been their purpose? It has been suggested by informed observers that various signs point to elements within the security services themselves having possibly been responsible, as part of a 'strategy of tension' — particularly noted in Italy, earlier in the decade — whereby attacks by right-wing elements would be blamed on the Marxist left, and thus bring ideological discredit to it. It is known that in the 1980s Luxembourg's former Prime Minister Jacques Santer approved military activities on the country's territory with the Federal Germany Republic's Bundeswehr: exercises believed to be part of a 'Stay Behind' network which found its origins in Cold War political planning in the event of a Communist takeover in Western Europe. It is also clear that the head of Luxembourg's secret security service — under criticism for opacity about Bommeleeer issues — left his post to take up a position with the German firm Siemens, known to have close links with the Federal Republic's own security service, the Bundesnachrichtendienst. All these sometimes labyrinthine links beg more questions than they answer: Who was really behind 'Stay Behind'? Were Italy's and Germany's post-war secret services really purged of fascists, with their especially virulent anti-Marxist agenda? Were Western Europe's Christian Democrat parties, such as Germany's CDU/CSU, Italy's former DCI, and even Luxembourg's CSV, too complacent about the ideological bedfellows who — as now increasingly seems to have been the case — lurked in the shadows of some Western European security services? Were these security services involved in attempts to discredit the poiitical left ideologically by perpetrating series of bomb attacks that would be blamed on the left?
Over the course of 200 years, little seems to have changed in terms of representatives of conflicting ideologies committing acts of descruction with a view to harming and discrediting their opponents. Least of all in a small country such as Luxembourg (to the apparent, political misfortune of the often avuncular Mr. Juncker).
Which brings us back to 1985, and events near the Glacis Chapel, shortly before the Bommeleeer attacks there. I myself was standing near the Glacis Chapel when Pope John-Paul II addressed a huge crowd there. I recall that there, by the Chapel, stood a military helicopter of the Federal German Bundeswehr. This begs the question: was its presence by the Glacis Chapel simply as a result of Luxembourg's and the Federal Republic's status as NATO allies? or was it an evident sign of a security cooperation that ran deeper? I myself do not have answers, and many people in Luxembourg were in 2013 seeking to find answers to such questions.
December 28, 2013
(1) Other works by Architect Arendt include the restoration of Vianden Castle and work on the Grand Ducal Palace, Luxembourg City. He was noted for his preference for Gothic revival style.
(2) These include Bishop Nicolas Adames (1813-1887) and Jean-Joseph Koppes (1843-1918).
(3) Interestingly, to this day, without wishing to oversimplify, the influence of French secularism through the medium of the French language and the survival of conservative, religious attitudes particularly among the German- and Létzebuergesh-speaking parishoners and clergy form a background to the fault-lines in Luxembourg's internal politics.
Also worth seeing
In Luxembourg City itself, its numerous visitor attractions include: the Cathedral; the former ARBED building; the Grand Ducal Palace; the Chamber of Deputies building; the towered, former State Savings Bank building at place de Metz where General Omar Bradley had his headquarters at the end of World War Two; the Pont Adolphe over the picturesque Pétrusse Valley; Place Guillaume II ; the Gelle Fra monument; the Saint-Quirin chapel; the monumental railroad station; and many others.
How to get there: From Luxembourg Airport (Aéroport de Luxembourg), at Findel, car rental is available. For North American travellers who make the London, England area their touring base, airlines flying to Luxembourg include Luxair (from London Heathrow Airport and London City Airport) and CityJet (from London City Airport). Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. Please note that some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. You are advised to consult 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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