|Package 5: Nivelles - Villers-la-Ville|
The Collégiale Saint-Gertrude of Nivelles and the Cistercian Abbey of Villers-la-Ville.
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The Collégiale Saint-Gertrude.
The town sprang up around the noble abbey founded at the dawn of Christian evangelisation in this country, and, a rare thing in Europe, consisting of a double community, ruled by women.
The exceptional architectural record includes the romanesque church of the 11th century, an archaeological basement, crypt, cloister, westwork and treasures from the 7th to the 18th centuries. Under the Carolingians, it became an imperial abbey, and later, part of the pilgrim route to Compostella. The St Jacques district, at the feet of the church, is a witness to this pilgrimage.
From 646 and the first Merovingian church, to the present, 1350 years of architectural history can be traced. The church is built in the Ottonian style of the great monuments of the Holy Roman Empire : Early Romanesque for the 11th century construction, and Late Romanesque for the exceptional westwork of the late 12th, which is complete and very rare. The ground-plan with a choir at each end is in the Carolingian tradition. The westwork features no less than 8 cupolas : this is unique in Belgium and emphasises the imperial nature of the foundation.
The Cistercian Abbey of Villers-la-Ville
Tradition relates that in 1146, at the invitation of the Lord of Marbais, and under the impulsion of St Bernard, 13 monks and 5 lay-brothers arrived in Villers from Clairvaux to establish an abbey.
The monastery buildings were completely rebuilt during the 13th century, when the abbey was at the height of its spiritual and temporal influence. At this time, it is said, the abbey numbered about a hundred monks and three times as many lay-brothers, and its precinct covered almost 10,000 hectares.
From the 16th to the end of the 17th century, the abbey lived through periods of both trouble and calm, while the 18th was the century of its second golden age. The final blow came with the French Revolution. The extensive ruins of Villers are both strikingly beautiful and romantic.