Climbing hall and housing: How Brussels repurposes abandoned churches

Climbing hall and housing: How Brussels repurposes abandoned churches
Church in Brussels. Credit: Belga/ Laurie Dieffembacq

Despite the high number of churches in Brussels, the number of practising Catholics decreasing, and these buildings are being increasingly left empty. The Brussels-Capital Region is now looking to repurpose several of them.

The majority of churches that are not in use are parishes from the Catholic Church, with about 100 in the Brussels region. Those not being used by religious communities are often transformed and reallocated, with the reuse taking many different forms.

In some cases, they are then occupied by one or more other Catholic communities, such as the Romanian or Polish community, Secretary of State for Urbanism and Heritage, Pascal Smet, said in response to a written question from MP Céline Fremault.

"An example of reuse is the Saint-Alena church in Saint-Gilles, which was made available to Brazilian Catholics," he noted in his response, shared with The Brussels Times. Churches are also reused by other non-Catholic Christian religions, mainly Orthodox.

Examples are the St Francis Church in Schaerbeek, used by Romanian Orthodox, and Our Lady Mediatrix in Molenbeek, used by Serbian Orthodox. English-speaking Protestants use Our Lady of Blankedelle Church in Auderghem.

"This is the simplest reconversion, or rather reuse, as it does not involve any intervention in the building itself. This approach is also the most common and is preferred by the Catholic Church," Smet explained.

He meets with the Catholic Church several times a year to take stock of the different projects and in case of a new reallocation, a "specific strategy is launched to anticipate as much as possible."

Alternative re-uses

In other cases, they are being transformed and used for other purposes. "The only church that has been repurposed and actually used for purposes other than the original one is St Vincent a Paulo church in Anderlecht," Smet said. The church was repurposed as a secondary school sports hall in 2018.

Smet announced that the rezoning of several other churches is currently under consideration, including the protected Saint-François-Xavier church in Anderlecht, which may also be converted into a sports hall. The Saint Anthony of Padua Church in Forest will be re-used as a climbing hall, while a part of the building will remain earmarked for worship.

Meanwhile, in Watermael-Boitsfort, various meetings have already taken place to transform the Saint-Hubert church into housing and a place of worship. Ixelles's Holy Trinity Church and the St. Joseph's Church in Uccle, housing projects are being studied.

The region is also examining a project for the Precious Blood Church in Uccle, while for the church of Sainte-Famille de Helmet in Schaerbeek and the Saint-Rémi church in Molenbeek, it is looking at a project including "partial preservation of worship services."

"The issue of the reallocation of religious buildings is important in our Region, particularly in terms of heritage protection. I am therefore reassured to hear that the Secretary of State is pursuing a proactive policy in this area," Fremault reacted.

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