SHORT HISTORY OF THE BUILDING
This amazing achievement must be put in its historical context of Belgian catholic society of the second half of the 19th century. Maredsous, a masterpiece of Belgian neo-gothic architecture, is the result of the fortunate coming together of 3 essential factors :
1. The monastic founders
As early as 1871-1872, a young Belgian, Hildebrand de Hemptinne, monk of Beuron Abbey (Germany) persuaded his superiors to open a Benedictine house in his native country. Maredsous was founded on 15th October 1872.
2. The secular founders
The Desclée’s (important industrialists) had a second home in Maredret and wanted to found there a chapel. Under Hildebrand de Hemptinne and Victor Mousty’s influence, administrator of the Desclée’s family, they formed the project of a big abbey that they would finance with enormous generosity on their own. They requested the plans of Jean-Baptiste Béthune (1831-1894).
3. The architect and project managers
Jean-Baptiste Béthune, self-taught, was in Belgium one of the initiators of the neo-gothic style. His inspiration was in conformity with his militant ideology : that of Belgian conservative Catholics, very ultramontane, that is to say, of unquestioning loyalty to the Holy See. The ideal they followed was the restoration of the Christian society of the Middle Ages, as they imagined it.
For Béthune, Christian society would be reformed by the resurrection, in all the arts, of the style deemed Christian par excellence : the gothic (13th – 15th century). And it was in this spirit of artistic restoration that in 1862 he founded the St. Luc Technical school, destined for a brilliant future.
So the idea of building an enormous neo-gothic abbey filled him with great enthusiasm. He drew the first plans with passion and later he did the same for the furniture, sculptures, frescos, church-windows. Maredsous would be his life’s work of and he did it without charge.
The architectural style he chose was early gothic (second half of 12th century - beginning of 13th century) with triple lancet openings, rather severe. The general plan : the one of the Cistercian abbey of Villers-la-ville (13th century).
To achieve this work the Desclée family took on a foreman : Gustave Soreil. He built this huge building with the poor mechanical means of that time. The architect’s son, Father Ghislain Béthune brought some good modifications to the initial plan, particularly concerning the church. Within 20 years, the neo-gothic dream became the actual abbey.
Joseph Marmion was born in Dublin in 1858. He entered Holy Cross seminary in this city in 1874 and was ordained priest in Rome in 1881. He became a Benedictine monk in 1886 in the abbey of Maredsous with an Irish name, Columba. Elected as Abbot in 1909, he remained the Abbot of Maredsous until his death in 1923.
A real man of God, a monk assiduous in prayer and concerned to obey in everything, Dom Marmion was a kind-hearted apostle, eager to spread widely the joyful message of our filial adoption in Jesus Christ. We can find an echo of this in his three main books : Christ, the life of the Soul, Christ in his Mysteries, Christ, the Ideal of the Monk. Since 29 April 1963, his body has lain in St Gregory’s Chapel in the Abbey Church.
Diocesan proceedings for the beatification of this great servant of God began in Namur on 7th February 1957 and finished in Maredsous on 20th December 1961.
On 28 June 1999, the heroic virtues and the saintly reputation of the Venerable Columba Marmion were proclaimed in front of the Pope John-Paul II by the Prefect of the Congregation for Saints in Rome. With the affirmation of the doctors, this congregation has accepted the miraculous nature of a healing due to Dom Columba Marmion’s intercession.
Dom Marmion was beatified in Rome on 3rd September 2000, at the same time as Pope John XXIII (+ 1963), Pope Pius IX (+ 1878), Mgr Tommaso Reggio (Archbishop of Genova + 1901), and the priest Gugliemo Chaminade (+1850).