Belgium’s oldest church is in Charleroi Métropole

Belgium’s oldest church is in Charleroi Métropole

Collegiate Saint-Ursmer, Lobbes

Lobbes. A small town with bucolic charm in the west of Charleroi Métropole, a community built on a hill at the foot of the collegiate church Saint-Ursmer. A visit to Belgium’s oldest church, still little known, is a must for someone exploring Charleroi Métropole.

At the foot of the collegiate church, we learn that Belgium’s oldest church dates back to 823. ‘The church has always served: 48 generations have celebrated baptisms, funerals, prayers there’, a fan of the place tells us.

The crypt of the collegiate Saint-Ursmer contains the tomb of the knight Odin

White walls and floor

Inside, there is nothing special: pure, white walls, traditional windows, a wood ceiling. Nothing to do with the style of collegiate churches that you have in your head. ‘A feeling of starkness, emptiness, little soul’, says Laura, a visitor. However, this emptiness is relaxing.

Another couple of visitors, sitting in the crypt, had the same impression. They love it: he is really surprised by this unusual style: ‘This unique style alone is worth the detour’. For her, it’s the crypt that calms her: ‘It’s relaxing, it’s magical’.

A place which effectively soothes you during your visit.

The unusual style of the collegiate church is to be discovered

The first monk illustrators in the world

In a corner of the collegiate church, between the candles and an altar, we stumble upon a plastic canvas with drawings on it. The sexton explains that it represents the first illustrations – in the world! – from the bible, created here. In this place, in 1084, the monk Goderanus became the very first illustrator: he revolutionised the bible by illustrating the first letters of the chapters with symbolic events.

These illustrations helped the monks to read the bible more enthusiastically. They were also the topic of conversation between the iconoclasts of the period. This extremely precious historical document is housed in the musée du Grand Séminaire de Tournai and has returned to Lobbes for the festivities. Security of the premises being very limited, this precious historical gem spent the night in the Erquelinnes police’s safe.

On the floor of the collegiate church, several notices recall the history of this building

The story of the unlucky knight Odin

It is impossible to escape legends here. In addition to those about Martha who fell into the well with her baby or the wheelbarrow woman who talked too much, the story of the knight Odin leaves an impression on visitors.

This knight had spied for some years on the Emperor of Mons and had never been caught. Until the time when he was followed to the collegiate church and decided to hide in a tomb. The monks found him. He was lying in the tomb, like a corpse. He was a magnificent blonde knight in armour. When the monks discovered him, the knight leapt from the tomb, was chased and caught. The knight Régnier au Long Col, who accompanied the monks, then decided to avenge his emperor and cut of his head just in front of the collegiate church.

We can find two traces of his story in the collegiate church: the tomb in the crypt was broken during the chase and a red stone which resembles the blood which flowed on the paving stones at the foot of the entrance wall. Today, the stone also serves to block up a condemned door.

More than 48 generations have sat in the pews of this collegiate church

A pile of bones on the lawn of the collegiate church

It is curious to know that the collegiate church was built to bless a cemetery. It is said that when the gardens around the collegiate church were developed in 2006, the workers gathered a huge pile of earth in front of the entrance. With the morning dew, the dust disappeared and thousands of bones appeared in the open air. Imagine how the residents who discovered them felt…

A bit further away in the gardens, there are two bell towers, one is Roman, the other Carolingian. The story goes that the first bell tower was built in the eleventh century with the help of a bear to carry the materials, horses and cattle having left with the Crusades.

A pile of human bones was found at dawn at the foot of the collegiate church

The two bell towers with different styles make Saint-Ursmer collegiate church a unique place in the world

The oldest grudge in Lobbes

It must also be known that here there are sacred grudges. Since 1409 and the Battle of Othée, the residents of Lobbes have been against those of Binche: after the defeat, the canons of Lobbes were transferred under the governance of Binche. A change of power which they have never been able to stomach, to the point of organising a ceremony in 2009 for ending the bitterness towards Binche.

After one hour there and random encounters, the impression is confirmed: this collegiate church and all the secrets that it holds, despite its appearance, is really worth the detour.

The residents of Lobbes have harboured a grudge for more than 600 years against the residents of Binche


Collégiale Saint-Ursmer
Rue de l’Eglise 1,
6540 Lobbes
+32 (0)71 59 00 23

©Pictures/Christophe Vandercam