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June 15, 2014 in Urban Exploration

Saint-Antoine: Convent

This decaying chapel once formed part of a convent that was built in the late 1800s. It hosted an order of Franciscan nuns who ran a Catholic boarding school for girls called Pensionatt Saint-Antoine. Situated near Henri-Chapelle and known locally as ‘Gensterbloom’, it was built in a sturdy yet humble style and lovingly clad with stained-glass windows manufactured by a Belgian craftsman.

The nuns who lived within the walls of Gensterbloom followed the teachings of St. Anthony of Padua, a much loved medieval saint of the Catholic Church’s Franciscan Order who was born in Lisbon. The nunnery provided sanctuary to clergy and dignitaries during the height of conflict between French and German forces in World War I, according to texts published in 1916. The events of war in Belgium and France were particularly damaging to Catholic affairs, with gruesome tales describing the “complete destruction” of the nearby city of Louvain.

Very few records survive to tell the story of the boarding school in the modern era, but it appears to have remained open for the best part of a century and was finally abandoned in the nineties, apparently having served some time as a geriatric home or infirmary. The rectory and school buildings have been ravaged by fire and are in a state of severe dereliction, but thankfully the old chapel has survived largely intact. Its rows of wooden pews, confessional box and stained glass windows are a melancholy reminder of the many hundreds of young souls who lived their lives here, worshipping at the Pensionatt, visiting the nearby town of Aubel and roaming the lush green farmland that surrounds the area.

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