The sight of Hondschoote seems fairly typical of the very catholic Flanders with its churches and chapels. It is difficult to imagine that this region was a stronghold of Protestant faith in the sixteenth century. You will need informed eyes to retrace this forgotten slice of history. Thus the expiatory chapel shown here recalls to mind the admittedly disgraced Protestant preachers whose names are inscribed on the pediment. It was erected at the place where they held their open-air services, which welcomed hundreds of believers, before a temple was built in the town !
The route that we propose is paradoxical. We'll set out, via selective Catholic memory, churches, chapels and altar-pieces, to discover the Protestant people, who were, at various times, called beggars1, iconoclasts or heretics. Many commemorative memorials remind us of the destructions and assassinations carried out by the protestants, but none reminds us of the persecution of the protestants, of the 30 000 protestants exiled and of the 1000 or more executions ! We will need to fill in the gaps in a story written by the victors.
Three areas stand out on this route. The church of Englos is unique because it is the only place where the iconoclastic destruction is still visible. The area around Bailleul retains the memory of martyred Catholic priests in a region largely destroyed during the First World War. Further to the North, the churches of Bambecque, Killem and Hondschoote, have kept very rich furniture, including altar-pieces, which illustrates the Catholic counter-reformation.
Traduction : Pierre Coester
1 In 1566, a league of about 400 members of the nobility presented a petition to the governor Margaret of Parma, to suspend persecution until the rest had returned. Count Berlaymont called the presentation of this petition an act of 'beggars' (French gueux), a name taken up as an honour by the petitioners (Geuzen).