Sacre-Coeur, the sacred heart, bleeds. Year in, year out, and a little more with each winter, the basilica on the hill of Cointe Brooks bleeds rust.
The foundation stone for the cathedral was laid in 1928. At the highest point of the hill of Cointe, which at that time already housed the district of the same name, the monumental building was erected as part of a memorial, visible from afar, to the war of 1914 to 1918, a war that had scarred Belgium like hardly any other country in Europe. The architect of the church, Joseph Smolderen, was not a native Walloon, but came from the city of Antwerp in Flanders.
Smolderen, fully aware of the sensitivities of his French-speaking compatriots, maintained the façade of the traditionalist. At first glance, he copied the features of famous models from Rome, Constantinople, and Paris. Entirely a child of Art Decó and the new, ostentatious style of the 20th century, he translated the formal languages of earlier centuries into the granite-stiff dimensions of the 1920s and 30s. At a height of 60 metres, the small cathedral still towers over everything in the surrounding area and dominates the Meuse valley from afar.
Ten years ago: The desecrated interior
In 2008, I was in Cointe, the former mining hill, for the first time. At that time, the church was already desecrated. Damp, cracks and plants were growing on the walls. Coincidentally, the doors were open, although a large sign on them was urgently warning against entering. Inside, we met a few elderly men who were apparently hoarding stocks of books for the surrounding flea markets. We only had a quick look around because, frankly, we were afraid of being locked in when trying to further advance into the building. Surely one could have entered the galleries, but the staircase next to the confessional looked anything but inviting. Cracks were gaping in the walls, large holes had already formed in the plaster on the ceilings, it smelled of old furniture and mustiness, and I couldn’t even spot light switches for the stairways. We didn’t have smartphones with decent flash lights with us back then.
Nevertheless, these few photos taken with a small Lumix (I was already tired of my heavy Canon by then) could almost be historic today: the church has been permanently closed for years now, and a high construction fence is supposed to provide additional protection from urban explorers.
The decay continues unhindered. Despite ongoing discussions, the city has apparently not been able to agree on a concept for the building; only the neighbouring tower of the war memorial has been renovated in the meantime.
From there, a spotlight has recently been shining across to the Montagne de Bueren at night. Sacre Coeur, on the other hand, continues to bleed, and if someone doesn’t intervene soon, the end may not be far off.