Share article:
Share article:

Notre Dame fire is “wake-up call” for Belgian churches

© Alvesgaspar/Wikimedia
The cathedral of Our Lady in Antwerp. Credit: Wikimediaa Commons.
© Alvesgaspar/Wikimedia

The tragic fire in the cathedral Notre-Dame in Paris this week has delivered what has been described as a “wake-up call” for major churches in Belgium, and their preparedness or lack of it should such a catastrophic fire occur. In Brussels, a renovation that took place in 2000 in the cathedral of SS Michael and Guluda saw the installation of water conduits in six upright columns within the building, which in the event of a fire would allow fire services immediate access to a water supply to tackle the blaze. That same year, a fire damaged the roof of the Beguinage church further downtown. According to a spokesperson for the Brussels fire brigade, the cathedral still contains a good deal of wooden construction, particularly in the roof.

In the cathedral of Tournai, longer and higher than Notre-Dame, systems for the detection and tackling of fire are in place, but the authorities responsible have called for a review of procedures in the event of fire, for example in determining which works contained in the cathedral should be given priority for evacuation.

According to the fire brigade in Antwerp, readiness has its limits. “It’s not possible to be completely prepared for a major fire such as took place in Paris,” said Kristof Geens, spokesperson for the city brigade, speaking on VRT Radio 2. “We have our procedures, for example for high-rise buildings, and we exercise regularly in the historic centre of Antwerp.” The cathedral in Antwerp (photo) also has water columns built into the structure, the problem of dust is regularly taken care of, and the masterpieces by Rubens inside the cathedral are on wheels for rapid evacuation.

The cathedral of St Bavo in Ghent has escape destruction by fire on three occasions. “It is far from self-evident to make a building like this fire-proof,” commented rector Ludo Colin. The cathedral authorities have taken various measures over recent decides, he said, including the compartmentalisation of the roof and attic spaces and the installation of fire doors and walls. “But all those measures have become dated in the meantime, and we are now busy compiling a dossier for bringing the measures up to date.” Measures planned include smoke detectors and sprinklers.

St Bavo’s contains what is beyond a doubt Belgium’s most important artwork, religious or otherwise: the altarpiece The Adoration of the Holy Lamb by Jan and Hubert Van Eyck. A study is being carried out into how the recently-renovated work can be evacuated if need be.

The St Rombald cathedral in Mechelen lost part of its roof to fire in 1972, and wood construction was replaced by concrete in parts. “That gives a rather ugly contrast, but rebuilding was a priority,” said Bram Van der Auwera, responsible for management of the church fabric. The repairs also saw the installation of water pipes leading to the top of the building, and the splitting up of some areas into compartments to make firefighting easier and more effective.

Finally in Liege, renovation works on the skeleton of the St Paul cathedral saw the installation of “ultra-modern” fire detection systems. Works are continuing on the cathedral, expected to last another 18 months, after which reconstruction of the roof of the southern wing will begin.

Alan Hope
The Brussels Times

Latest news

Limiting private contacts ‘needed to fight autumn wave’, expert warns
The Consultative Committee announced it is introducing a handful of measures in public spaces to control the quickening spread of the coronavirus, ...
Belgian wind farm closed down to save migrants floating in sea
A wind farm near Zeebrugge had to be shut down on Wednesday morning as more than 25 migrants had been adrift in its vicinity off the Belgian coast ...
Cinemas will require Covid Safe Ticket from Friday
The Covid Safe Ticket (CST) will be required to attend cinemas across Belgium from Friday, which marks the start of the autumn holidays, the ...
UN issues strong warning ahead of climate change summit in Glasgow
New and updated climate commitments fall far short of what is needed to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, leaving the world on track for a ...
Disastrous year for Belgian beekeepers
Belgian beekeepers have experienced a disastrous year, with honey production 50 to 60 percent lower than last year due to heavy rainfall during ...
New measures for schools considered as situation becomes ‘untenable’
Belgium's various education partners met on Wednesday to discuss additional measures to implement in schools as the coronavirus situation worsens in ...
Belgium in Brief: Back To Masks
I really hope you didn't throw out all your masks. You'll be needing them again. Now I do appreciate that this isn't a huge change for ...
Belgium a climate slowcoach as EU reveals emissions progress
The European Union is on track to pass its first big climate test, according to new figures published this week. But Belgium has been singled out for ...
Belgium’s decision on possible third shot postponed until Saturday
The decision on how Belgium will proceed with the roll-out of third shots of the coronavirus vaccine has been postponed until Saturday.  The news ...
Experts and politicians respond to new coronavirus measures
The handful of measures (re-)introduced by Belgium's Consultative Committee on Tuesday in response to the worsening coronavirus situation have had a ...
New fraudulent e-mails circulating in Belgium
A warning has been put out about new phishing e-mails that have been circulating since last Saturday and are sent from what could appear to be an ...
Belgian ‘Space Bakery’ project highlighted at World Expo in Dubai
The Puratos Space Bakery project is taking centre stage at the Belgian pavilion in Dubai, where the World Expo is taking place. This week is ...