« Mechitarists Archdiocese of Mechline Johann Mechtel »

Archdiocese of Mechline



Archdiocese comprising the two Belgian provinces of Antwerp and Brabant. This diocese derives its present configuration from the French Concordat of 1801. The ecclesiastical province of Mechlin is coextensive with the Belgian Kingdom (suffragan bishoprics: Tournai, Liège, Namur, Gand, Bruges); it extended to the Rhine under Napoleon I. The city of Mechlin, prior to 1559, belonged to the deanery of Brussels and to the archdeaconry of the same name in the diocese of Cambrai. Its importance ecclesiastically was due to the ancient Chapter of Canons of the collegiate church of St. Rombaut. Paul IV, by his bull "Super universi orbis ecclesias" (12 May, 1559) created a new hierarchy in the Netherlands composed of three metropolitan (Mechlin, Cambrai, Utrecht) and fifteen episcopal sees. The Archbishop of Mechlin was raised to the dignity of primate by the Constitutions of Pius IV in 1560 and 1561. The Christian Faith was zealously preached in the present diocese during the seventh and eighth centuries. It is known that Antwerp was visited by St. Eligius, Bishop of Tournai (d. 660), and by St. Amand, the Apostle of Flanders and Bishop of Maestricht (d. 679). The latter's successors in the see of Tongres-Maestricht-Liège, St. Lambert (d. about 700) and St. Hubert (d. 727) are said to have visited Mechlin and Brabant. This evangelical work was followed up by the Anglo-Saxon missionaries St. Willibrord (d. 738) and St. Rumold or Rombaut (d. about 775). St. Rombaut was martyred at Mechlin, and became the city's patron saint, and subsequently the patron of the whole diocese. Among the saints of this diocese are several members of Pepin of Landen's family, his widow St. Itta, foundress of the Abbey of Nivelles, his daughters, St. Gertrude (d. 659) and St. Begga (d. 698); the two sisters St. Gudule (d. 712) and St. Rainelde; in the ninth century St. Libert of Mechlin and St. Guidon of Anderlecht; St. Wivine, foundress of the Benedictine abbey of Grand Bigard (d. 1170); St. Albert of Louvain, Prince Bishop of Liège and martyr (d. 1192); St. Marie d'Orignies (d. 1232); St. Lutgard (d. 1246), and Blessed Alice (d. 1250), both Cistercian nuns, the former in Aywières, the latter at la Cambre; St. Boniface of Brussels, Bishop of Lausanne (d. 1265); Blessed Jean de Ruysbroeck, an Augustinian monk of Groenendael, because of his mystical writings known as the "divine and admirable doctor" (d. 1381); several priests put to death by the Calvinists at Gorcum (1572); the Jesuits, St. John Berchmans of Diest, patron of student youth (d. 1621), and Venerable Leonard Leys (Lessius) of Brecht, renowned for his piety and his theological works (d. 1623).

It was at the beginning of the twelfth century that Tanchelm, a native of Zealand, became known, chiefly in Antwerp, for his violent attacks on the hierarchy, and the Sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist. He shared the pernicious errors of the Adamites, and gave an example of the worst kind of debauchery. Toward the middle of the century, Bishop Nicolas of Cambrai excommunicated Jonas, one of the promoters of Catharism in Brabant. A little later numerous Beghards and Beguines fell into the errors of the sect known as the Brothers of the Free Spirit. To this sect also belonged the nun, Sister Hadewijc (Hedwig) or Bloemardine, who gained numerous partisans in Brussels. Her writings were refuted by Jean de Ruysbroeck. Bloemardine died about 1336, but her followers lived on, and as late as about 1410 Pierre d'Ailly, Bishop of Cambrai, was compelled to take measures against them. The Black Plague of 1349 gave rise to the processions of Flagellants. These hailed from Germany and traversed the country practicing the mortification from which their name has arisen. The ecclesiastical authorities were obliged to intervene on behalf of the Jews detested by the Flagellants. On the other hand, religious sentiment manifested itself in numerous monastic institutions. Afflighem, the principal Benedictine abbey, dates from 1086. The people of Antwerp, whom Tanchelm had fanaticized, were brought back by St. Norbert to a Christian mode of life. Soon arose in Brabant many Premonstratensian abbeys: St. Michel at Antwerp (1124), Tongerloo (1128), le Parc near Louvain (1129), Heylissem (1130), Grimberghen (1131), Averbode (1132), Dieligem and Postel (1140). Among other abbeys for men may be mentioned: the Benedictine abbeys of Vlierbeek (1125); the noble abbey of St. Gertrude at Louvain, belonging to the Augustinian canons; the Cistercian abbeys of Villers (1147) and of St. Bernard (1237). Some of the numerous colleges of Austin Canons are: St. Jacques sur Caudenberg at Brussels, Hanswijck at Mechlin, Corssendonck, Groenendael, Rougecloitre and Septfontaines, all three in the forest of Soignes. In most places of consequence Augustinians, Franciscans, Carmelites and Dominicans were established. The military orders were represented at the Teutonic Commandery of Pitzemburg in Mechlin and in Becquevoort. The leading abbeys for women were: Grand Bigard and Cortenberg (Benedictines); la Cambre, Roosendael, Nazareth (Cistercians). The semi-monastic institution of the Beguinages (q. v.), small settlements in the heart of cities or just outside city walls, is a peculiar feature of religious life in the Netherlands. They were once numerous (the number of Beguines who went forth from Mechlin to greet Charles the Bold, on the occasion of his joyful entry in 1467, was 900), and still endure, though much reduced in numbers, at Mechlin, Antwerp, Louvain, Diest, Lierre, Turnhout, Hoogstraeten and Herenthals. The increase of the secular clergy and its improved material conditions caused the chapters of Canons to grow in number, and eventually the collegiate churches of the diocese reached a total of twenty. Public instruction was conducted by parochial and chapter schools. Finally Martin V, by his bull of 9 December, 1425, erected a university at Louvain.

At the close of the Middle Ages, it is well known, both faith and morals suffered a notable decay. More or less rightly, Jean Pupper de Goch (d. 1475), superior of the Thabor Convent at Mechlin, has been styled the precursor of Luther, who soon found numerous partisans in the diocese, especially at Antwerp where his Augustinian brethren declared in his favour. Protestantism, though vigorously opposed by Charles V, was again menacing at the end of his reign, when Lutheranism gave way to Calvinism. The creation in 1559 of new sees, though an indispensable measure, brought about a coalition of all discontented parties. Philip II, by removing the first Archbishop of Mechlin, Cardinal de Granvelle, deprived the Catholic and monarchical cause of its ablest champion, and thereby hastened the impending revolution. In 1556 the iconoclastic mob put to death both religious and priests, and sacked the churches and monasteries. Disorder continued until the advent of the Archduke Albert and Isabella. The people remained loyal to Catholicism and the University of Louvain proved a valiant defender, though Protestant theories exercised at the university a certain influence particularly on Baius and Jansenius. The Archbishop of Mechlin, Jacques Boonen (1621-55), evaded the publication of the constitution "In eminenti", by which Urban VIII condemned the "Augustinus"; he was even temporarily suspended by Innocent X. Boonen's submission did not put an end to the Jansenistic quarrels in the diocese. Oratorians, brought in by him, were inclined to rigorism. They opened colleges for the education of youth and found themselves both in this field, and in their Jansenistic views, in rivalry with the Jesuits already active in anti-Protestant controversy. The partisans and the adversaries of Jansenius took sides at once with one or other of the conflicting parties. The firmness of the archbishops at Precipiano (1690-1711) and of Cardinal d'Alsace (1715-59) repelled Jansenism, which endured however in Josephinism and Febronianism. Joseph II suppressed many convents (1783), and created the General Seminary of Louvain (1786), the doctrines of which were condemned by Cardinal de Frankenberg (1759-1801). Persecution broke out afresh in the wake of the French Revolution; Catholic worship was abolished, churches were pillaged, a multitude of ecclesiastics exiled, among them Cardinal de Frankenberg. The anti-Concordat schism of the Stevenists arose under Napoleon Bonaparte. Later, King William revived the General Seminary under the name of Philosophical College, but met with as much opposition as Joseph II. The Belgian Revolution of 1830 freed the Church from these fetters. For the later history of Mechlin see BELGIUM. The following archbishops of Mechlin were made cardinals: Antoine Perrenot de Granvella, first archbishop (1560-83) and a remarkable statesman (q. v.); Thomas Philippe d'Alsace (1716-59); Henri de Frankenberg (1759-1801); Engelbert Sterckx (1832-67); Victor Auguste Dechamps, theologian and pulpit orator (q. v.) (1867-83); Pierre Lambert Goossens (1884- 1906); Désiré Joseph Mercier (1906-), the chief originator of the neo-scholastic movement in Belgium.

Religious monuments: numerous edifices especially of Gothic style (Roman: St. Germain at Tirlemont, St. Gertrude at Nivelles). At Mechlin is the metropolitan church of St. Rombaut (thirteenth and fourteenth centuries), with a tower 318 feet high. There is also Notre Dame, and St. Pierre (Jesuit style). Principal other edifices: churches of Lierre, Hoogstraeten, Tirlemont, Hal, Diest; and the ruins of the Abbey of Villers, the most striking monastic ruins in Belgium. The ornamentation has suffered greatly from the disorders of the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries, particularly the organ gallery at Lierre, the tabernacle at Leau, the tombs at Hoogstraeten and the stained glasses in Lierre and Hoogstraeten. Of the paintings still preserved, many belong to the Antwerp School. At Mechlin there are works of Rubens in the churches of Notre Dame and St. Jean. See ANTWERP, BRUSSELS, LOUVAIN. Pilgrimages: St. Sang at Hoogstraeten, St. Sauveur at Haekendover (Tirlemont), Notre Dame at Montaigu, at Hal, at Hanswyck (Mechlin). Population (1909): 2,450,680 inhabitants; 745 parishes; 51 deaneries; one theological seminary; 3 petits seminaires; 24 episcopal colleges; 108 convents for men, and 726 for women.

The "Vie Diocésaine" is a monthly periodical founded in 1907. The "Theologia Mechliniensis" fundamental and sacramental theology, with treatises on virtues, indulgences, and reserved cases fills ten volumes; notable also are the "Scripture Commentary" of Ceulemans (nine volumes) on the Psalms and New Testament, and the work of Van der Stappen (five volumes) on the Liturgy.

Gallia Christiana, V (Paris, 1731); VAN GESTEL, Historia sacra et profana archiepiscopatus Mechliniensis (La Haye, 1725); CLAESSENS, Histoire des archeveque de Malines, II (Louvain, 1881); GODENNE, Malines jadis et aujourd'hui (Mechlin, 1908); FOPPENS, Historia episcopatus Antverpiensis (Brussels, 1717).


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