Anglicans in Brussels
by Roger Cox
Arthur C. Standen wrote a short book in 1931 entitled The Story of Christ Church Brussels - prompted in part, he confesses, by his thoughts ‘wandering back into the past while attending services at Christ Church as to the circumstances which have led up to the building of this beautiful little Church, and the events that have taken place affecting the Congregation!’ Christ Church is the original name of Holy Trinity Brussels which was formed in 1958 by the amalgamation of the congregations of Christ Church and the Church of the Resurrection (now closed) situated nearby in Rue de Stassart.
Before Christ Church and the Church of the Resurrection were built, a number of Anglican congregations worshipped in buildings which are now demolished or used for other purposes. Most of these can still be seen and a map has been included to assist in their location. All are only a short walk from Holy Trinity Brussels. A former key member of Holy Trinity Brussels' congregation, Roger Cox, has written this book entitled 'Anglicans in Brussels', which is a history of the development of Anglican worship in Brussels, from after the battle of Waterloo (1815) when the first regular congregations were formed, to the end of the 20th century – a period of almost 200 years. This period spans the time at the end of the last century when congregations undertook the construction of new church buildings, through the disruption of two World Wars in which Belgium was occupied by German armed forces, through the evolution of Brussels as a centre for European politics and through the formation of Holy Trinity Brussels as a Pro-Cathedral for the Diocese of Gibraltar in Europe.
The Anglican Church in Belgium
Anglicanism in Belgium has an interesting history and dates back to the 16th century, when merchants founded an anglophone church in Antwerp. Worship was celebrated with discretion and it appears that the authorities turned a blind eye so as not to disrupt their lucrative trade.
In 1627, an act of King Charles I installed an Anglican parish in Spa. Following the 1781 Edict of Tolerance, an imperial decree of 28 December 1783 permitted the establishment of a community in Ostende.
At the battle of Fleury in 1794, France defeated Austria and the nine Southern Provinces of the Low Countries came under French domination. All church property was confiscated, priests were evicted and the Roman Catholic Church became the State Church in France and Belgium.
The Concordat of 1801 between Pope Pius VII and the first Consul Napoleon Bonaparte enabled churches to re-open, and assured freedom of worship and a salary for clergy. This substituted the restoration of stolen goods, mainly real estate, in the form of a limited interest on the capital.
This was enshrined in the Belgian fundamental law of Constitution (1831) which states that:
- "freedom of worship to be exercised in public is guaranteed" (Article 14)
- "the State has no right to intervene neither in the installation of the ministers of any denomination..." (Article 16)
- "the salaries and pensions of the Ministers of the cults are owed by the State; the necessary dues are annually registered in the budget" (Article 117).
To the three churches initially granted the benefit of Article 117 - the Roman Catholic Church, the Protestant Churches and the Jewish religion - the Anglican Church was later added by King Leopold I, who saw a means of affirming Belgian sovereignty by favourably influencing Great Britain. He was, himself, an Anglican all his life and regarded the British chaplain in Brussels as "Royal Chaplain". This followed the logic of the jurisprudence relating to the freedom of worship in that the State, forbidding itself to interfere in matters of conscience, extended the benefit of the repayment of the debt not only to the Roman Catholic Church, but to other denominations as well.
Since 1875, a Central Committee of the Anglican Church in Belgium has represented its faith at the Ministry of Justice.
To parishes already established in Bruges, Brussels and Gent were added Charleroi, Knokke and Liège. A church was inaugurated in Ypres in 1929 to commemorate Commonwealth victims in Flanders of World War I.
Holy Trinity Brussels planted All Saints' Church in Waterloo in 1981. This became a member church of the American Convocation of Churches in 1991. A further church, St Paul's Tervuren in Vossem, was planted jointly by Holy Trinity Brussels and All Saints' Waterloo in December 1988, granted sister status in February 1990 and full independence in May 1994.
To read more about Anglicanism in Belgium, click on the links below.