Europe, filled with dozens of religiously compelling cities and sites, is a prime spot for faith-based tour groups. The three neighboring countries of Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg comprise what is known as Benelux. The region offers many places of spiritual significance.
The following list highlights some of the most sacred destinations in the Benelux countries:
Orval Abbey, founded in 1132 by Cistercian monks, is located in southern Belgium. Known for its longstanding history, the abbey was rebuilt in 1926 on the foundation of the original monastery that was destroyed during the French Revolution. Located in these ruins is the museum, which exhibits the architectural history of the abbey. Set in a deep valley, Orval Abbey has many scenic areas. Tours of the medicinal plant garden, Cistercian Valley and Chameleux, a walking path between France and Belgium, are available. The abbey store sells specialty beer and cheese made by the monks as well as religious souvenirs. Savor Belgian dishes at Á l’Ange Gardien (A Guardian Angel) on-site restaurant while enjoying a perfect view of Orval Abbey.
St. Michael’s Church
St. Michael’s Church is the oldest existing religious site in Luxembourg, dating back to 987 A.D. It is located in the Ville Haute quarter of southern Luxembourg. St. Michael’s has elements of Baroque, Romanesque and Gothic architecture and has been restored many times to preserve its original form. The church has a decorative altar and a carved oak pietá, a statue representation of the Virgin Mary mourning over the dead body of Jesus. The church is open daily for religious functions and public viewing.
Amsterdam Biblical Museum
Located at the very center of Amsterdam by the Herengracht Canal, the museum exhibits Egyptian antiquities, artifacts from the Holy Land and Bibles. The museum’s Bible collection includes the oldest Bible printed in the Netherlands (1477) and the first Dutch authorized translation of the Bible (1637). Designed as an oasis for peace and serenity, the garden is landscaped with trees and plants common in biblical times. Not only does the museum house historic artifacts, it is one. The museum occupies two canal-side buildings known as the Cromhouthuizen. One can explore the garden rooms, painted ceilings and elegantly designed staircases. End your trip with a visit to the gift shop and café to enjoy lunch with a garden view.
Basilica of the Holy Blood
Built in the 12th century, Basilica of the Holy Blood transports you to the Middle Ages. The Basilica consists of two chapels—the Romanesque lower chapel of St. Basil’s Church and the Gothic upper chapel, Chapel of the Holy Blood. The chapels display many holy statues and intricate wall carvings. Chapel of the Holy Blood has a sacred vial believed to contain Christ’s blood, considered one of the holiest relics in Europe. The Procession of the Heilig-Bloedprocessie (Holy Blood) happens every year on Ascension Day. During the procession the vial is taken around the center of town to show its reverence.
Luxembourg City, Luxembourg
The Octave pilgrimage is an annual event that starts on the third Sunday after Easter. It attracts pilgrims from Luxembourg and beyond. The crusade honors the Virgin Mary and begins with a Mass at Notre Dame Cathedral. The Octave is centered in Place Guillaume II, a town square in Luxembourg City, and is a week-long event consisting of a series of Masses and festivities. After the pilgrimage events, people are encouraged to attend Octavemärtchen; similar to a fair, it has booths with food, religious souvenirs and games. The Octave ends with a procession where the Virgin Mary is carried through the streets of the city.
The Begijnhof is one of Amsterdam’s best known poorhouses. Built around a secluded courtyard and garden, the group of houses includes Amsterdam’s oldest surviving wooden house, the Houten Huis from 1420. The Begijnhof provided homes for the Beguines, a group of unmarried women who wished to live a life of religious service. The Beguines received free lodging in return for educating the poor and caring for the sick of Amsterdam. The last Beguine died in 1971 but the house is still occupied by single women. The Begijnhof Chapel is used for daily prayers, baptisms and marriages. It features a series of stained-glass windows that tells the story of the Miracle of Amsterdam.
Antwerp Cathedral, the largest Gothic-style church in Benelux, is a museum filled with sacred art as well as a place of worship. The church’s strong sense of sanctity is shown by pieces such as the sculpture Madonna and the Child, The Pulpit designed by Michiel van der Voort, an extravagant oak rostrum and the devotional statue Our Lady of Antwerp. The cathedral has two organs, the Schyven and the Metzler. With a 405-foot-tall spire, the cathedral is the tallest building in the city. The cathedral is adorned with 34 large stained glass windows. The vast interior has three aisles of seating and 48 pillars in each aisle.
Our Lord in the Attic
The museum is known for its many surprises with a concealed church occupying the entire upper floor. The church was built when Catholics lost their right to worship publicly when Amsterdam was under Protestant control. It is decorated with marble columns and pillars adorned with religious carvings. The rest of the house is a museum displaying various religious artifacts, sculptures and paintings. Rooms with 17th century furnishings include the chaplain’s bedroom and a drawing room.
Shrine of Our Lady of Banneux
The history of Our Lady dates back to 1933 when the Virgin Mary is thought to have appeared to 11-year-old Mariette Béco eight times with different requests. The last appearance is said to be in Banneux. The statue of Our Lady, also known as the Virgin of the Poor, is for confessions of poverty, suffering, pain and desires. The sacred spring is said to have healing powers. Pilgrims and tourists visit the shrine to express their hope in Jesus Christ through prayer and reflection. The Shrine of Our Lady of Banneux includes the Chapel of Apparitions, the Stations of the Cross and several smaller chapels.
–By Susan DiLillo