The Destruction of Sint Jan de Doper (Dennis Aubrey)


PJ and I have never had the opportunity to photograph the Romanesque and Gothic churches in Belgium. One of the most famous, the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Tournai, calls to us like a siren. There are not many Romanesque churches in the country; most of them were replaced by Gothic successors over the years. My preliminary research indicates that they number in the dozens.

Today, however, one of those few is no longer with us. The church Sint-Jan-de-Doper has graced the town of Flemish town of Anzegem for about 850 years.

Sint-Jan-de-Doper à Anzegem

Sint-Jan-de-Doper à Anzegem

We heard from our friend Marie-Thérèse Faidherbe the disastrous news that Sint-Jan-de-Doper has burned and is completely lost.

Disasters such as these are reminders that we are lucky to have the churches that remain to us.

16 responses to “The Destruction of Sint Jan de Doper (Dennis Aubrey)

  1. I like your post. I don’t like seeing an ancient church burn. But I get why you would post this – your photos might one day be all that’s left of some old churches. So keep on photographing.

    • A depressing thought, but probably true.

      Despite visiting Belgium on 3 separate occasions, I still have not visited Tournai. And watching that video is an excellent reminder to do so–while it’s still here.

  2. I don’t think it’s “completely lost” – even the arcades are still standing. It’s obviously hard to Google for information on the building now with all the news, but the nave looks Renaissance. The crossing tower looks really the only significant Romanesque bit. Hopefully it can be saved.

    I gathered the most reliable things I could find together here: http://medievalartresearch.com/2014/10/20/twelfth-century-belgian-church-consumed-by-serious-fire/
    Some news articles even had pictures of what was clearly completely the wrong church…

  3. The Burning of that church is a sad loss.
    Thanks for the referral to Tournai Cathedral. I’ve had a look at the existing images online, and I agree it deserves a far better photographic catalogue for the Interior. With my interest in medieval painted interiors, And I’m astonished that there are so few images of the Reliquary Coffer of the Shrine of Our Lady – that’s workmanship which has me in awe of the skill of the Mastercraftsmen who made it. I’m frustrated at the hints of decoration in the masonry in some of the “detail” images, and would like to see a proper record in colour. For me, as a Construction industry Professional interested in the restoration of historic buildings, a tiny detail shown in some of the exterior views already posted online – is the re-slating of a small part of the roof in a very colourful pattern of tiles/slates. In my 50 years of collecting and noting such historic building details, – such patterened roofs as have survived the Ages are rather rare.

  4. I’ve just done an online search for pictures of the interior. Where I would have expected a significant number, tourist postcards uploaded, for example – I only found 5 images and those were all “details” not G.V.’s. So sad.

  5. Is a wholesale reconstruction of this beautiful church even a remote possibility? Heaven knows this has been done before, with striking results. One need only look at the old central city of Warsaw, Poland to see that such reconstruction of any historic monument can be done. T.H. Simandl

  6. Mr Simandi, drawing on 60 years of Construction Industry experience – including a significant number of Historic-buildings projects, – I can assure you that ANY building can be “saved” following damage or destruction through neglect, Act of War or of God – if enough money is thrown at the Project. All that is needed is for the Decision-makers who control the Finance to agree that reconstruction is of benefit to their Political party or to the Community at large.
    For example – compare pictures of Ypres in 1918 [so battered by shellfire that none of the mountains of rubble were high enough to conceal the head of a Rider on horseback] – with the online images of Ypres today.
    That same “miracle of reconstruction” was made to happen all the way along the “Zone Of Total Desctruction” marking the Gt. War’s Western front.
    Example -the French towns of Granville and St Malo in Brittany suffered 90% destruction in the WW2 fighting to expel their Nazi garrisons following “D-Day”. With “Marshall Aid” financing, the post-War French Governemnts were able to reconstruct both townscapes exactly as they had been in 1938; and today their narrow streets and Rennaissance Housing make them “Tourist magnets”.
    A Commercial Example from London – the multi-story, “old Post Office building” close to St. Paul’s Cathedral had a “Listed Facade”; – a Japanese Consortium bought the Site to build new office-space, and gutted the building so that only the outer walls remained, – a “hollow box” towering nearly 100ft above the street-level and supported by a web of structural steelwork; – and then ordered the construction of a completely modern interior, to which the “Listed Facade” was re-attached.
    A “Local-Government example” from Brittany – the Municipality de Vannes & Sarzeau acquired the runins of the Castle of Suscinio in the late 1950’s; – and contemporary pictures show the ruins as little more than heaps of rubble being used as a stone quarry by the locals. With the aid of generous Grants from Departmentale and National Cultural Heritage Organisations, the Castle [once the Summer Palace of the last Ruling Duke of Brittany] has been largely reconstructed, [Online search for “Suscinio+images” will find you lots of pictures to drool over!]
    Thus I have no doubt that if the decision-makers in the Belgian Government decide that this Church should be re-built, – then it WILL be done. And in a century or so, the reconstruction will have weathered so much that only those whop know the Histopry will be aware that the fabric is not original but a reconstruction.

  7. In my last comment, I missed citing one of the most-outstanding examples of “exactly-as-it-was” reconstruction over a very large area, – probably only possible because a central Government funded it – the post-WW2 reconstruction of Leningrad’s Historic buildings following the 900-day-long Siege by the Nazis. This includes the awesome buildings of the Peterhof, Tsarskoye Selo, and Oranienbaum.This includes the re-creation of the lost Amber Room, looted by the Nazis, shipped to Konigsberg – where it vanished in the chaos of the triumphant Soviet advance, most likely destroyed with much other Nazi-looted Art Objects when Schloss Kingsberg was burned down by the vengeful Soviet soldiery. The re-created Amber Room project took 24 years to complete, and was funded by RuhrgasAG – appropriate payback by German Oligarchs of a post-Nazi generation, I feel.. And the reconstruction of Leningrad and it’s Palaces & Museums was begun as a “Hero Project” even before the War ended.
    By contrast to my previous examples, however – amongst other war-damage-rebuilding, – we have the French town of Caen – which suffered 95% destruction during the post-D-Day Allied breakout, while the Allies tried to defeat the Nazi garrison [that had been enjoined to “fight to the last man”]
    In 1938, the old centre of Caen was a delightful medieval and Rennaissance townscape like to Vannes, Dinan, St. Malo, Granville, etc. The postwar French Government chose NOT to recreate that historic townscape, – so central Caen today presents a disappointingly- modern face to the Tourist and historian, -compared to what it was before June, 1944.

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