YOT - Space, man and religion: an experiment in the Saint Magdalene’s Church

Pierre Buyck, architect in Bruges, drew the plans for the Saint Magdalene’s Church at about 1848, instructed by the English architect Thomas Harper King and the man who taught him, August Welby Northmore Pugin. Both knew the city, which was very anglophile at that time. The result was a remarkable construction, built between 1850 and 1853 by Antoine Verbeke south of a former friars minor domain. Once the interior decoration was completed in 1910, the church became a unique neo-gothic piece of art thanks to its architecture, its furniture, its decoration and its colours.

However, the church was to undergo serious changes in the sixties, as a consequence of new but misunderstood religious conceptions and a lack of interest in the neo-gothic style.

Many pieces of furniture and stained-glass windows were lost, and the church’s interior was completely (altars and sculptures included) painted white.

Following new attention for the church in 1986, the 2002 YOT project was a modern intervention with special attention for what was left of the neo-gothic heritage.

In 1853 the parish church of –in full– Saint Magdalene and Saint Catharine was the church the people of the Saint Catharine community had been waiting for. They used to live just outside Bruges (1380), but warfare had made them move into the city: their first refuge was with the Franciscan ‘Willemijnen’ near the ‘Gentpoort’, then they used one of the chapels of Our Lady’s Church, after that a chapel near the ‘Katelijnepoort’ and around 1840 in the chapel of the Saint Magdalene’s home near the ‘Garenmarkt’. At that time they decided to build a new church in the former friars minor domain which was converted to a botanical garden, now called ‘Astridpark’.

Many poor people lived in the parish. As a consequence, the church has a simple and austere design and decoration, giving priority to spiritual welfare rather than to historical references. This particular vision is reflected in the fact that the church faces the north, in its English inspiration and in its attention for the human and natural environment. It is no coincidence that this church, just outside the pride skyline of Bruges, is the home of the Yot experiment for a broader spiritual vision, where every passer by of any belief is our guest.

YOT is an experiment of a group called ‘Christians for Europe 2002’ and was included in the official programme of Bruges, Cultural Capital of Europe 2002.

The project is based on the fact that the liturgical functions of more and more religious buildings are vanishing, and that their design makes it difficult to use these buildings as public space.

YOT chose to respect the existing functions, allowing the church to continue to be a place of spiritual expression, more and more needed these days.

Contact: YOT vzw, Koen Dekorte, Stalijzerstraat 19, 8000 Brugge, info@yot.be, 0032 50 33 68 18