Hidden Belgium: The Singing Nun

Hidden Belgium: The Singing Nun

On a spring day in 1985, the Belgian woman known to millions of fans as ‘The Singing Nun’ committed suicide with her lesbian lover.

Jeannine Deckers was born in 1933 in the Brussels suburb of Laeken where her father owned a patisserie shop. She joined the girl scouts and in 1959 withdrew into a Dominican convent near Waterloo in defiance of her strict parents.

A talented singer and guitar player, Deckers performed under the stage name “Soeur Sourire” (Sister Smile). She became unexpectedly famous in 1963 when her song Dominique, dedicated to the founder of the Dominican order, became a global hit.

Three years later, Debbie Reynolds starred in the film The Singing Nun, based on Decker’s life. Since then, the English version of Dominique has turned up in several films and TV series, as well as an episode of The Simpsons.

But the story ended in tragedy. Deckers left the convent in 1966 after she fell out with the nuns. One year later, she caused outrage among her Catholic fans when she released a song in support of contraception titled Glory be to God for the Golden Pill. Pursued by the Belgian tax authorities, and haunted by guilt, she committed suicide with her lover in 1985.

A second film on her life titled Soeur Sourire was made in 2009 by the Belgian director Stijn Coninx. It starred Cécile de France as the tormented nun from a Brussels suburb who enchanted the world for a few brief years.

Derek Blyth’s hidden secret of the day: Derek Blyth is the author of the bestselling “The 500 Hidden Secrets of Belgium”. He picks out one of his favourite hidden secrets for The Brussels Times every day.

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