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Arlon Religious Heritage

St Martin’s Church
The church’s interior is in the shape of a Latin cross with flat ends. Its dimensions are impressive: 68.8m long, 35m wide across the transcept and 23m from the floor to the top of the vault. The church tower is 97m high.

The stained-glass windows depict: The Dream of Countess Ermesinde, St Bernard, Joan of Luxembourg, Count Henry V “Blondel” of Luxembourg, St Francis Xavier, St Stanislas Kosta, St Ignatius of Loyola, Countess Marguerite de Bar of Luxembourg and the Blessed Hombeline.

The church contains many symbols. To prevent evil spirits from entering the church, a selection of symbolic creatures is carved into the stone of the flying butresses and the pillars inside the church, including chimera, gargoyles and apocalyptic monsters. Higher up, birds decorate the balustrade around the viewing platform and the ceiling. All of these creatures were carved by a stonemason from Ghent called Sinia.

The St Martin's Church has seen its location moved several times. The church was first built in the eighth century outside the city walls and then was destroyed in the sixteenth century. In 1570, the church was moved inside the city's walls but was again destroyed in 1935. The existing church was built between 1907 and 1914. The church results from the willingness of the second king of the Belgians Leopold II, who wanted to raise majestic buildings in the main cities of the country and also the wished of the inhabitants of Arlon to have a church worthy of the status of the administrative capital of the province of Luxembourg. The church is a listed monument since 2002.

St Martin of Tours:
St Martin of Tours (317-397 AD) was a Roman soldier who gained great renown after cutting his military riding-cloak in half to give half to a freezing beggar. He later left the army and became a monk, and tales of his miraculous cures of the sick and raising of the dead spread far and wide throughout Gaul. He was elected Bishop of Tours in France on the death of Bishop Litorius in 370 AD, and enthroned in 371 AD. Later, Martin was sent by the King of the Franks to negotiate a peace treaty with the Roman Emperor Flavius Claudius Julianus,  known as “Julian the Apostate” at Trier in Germany. On his way there from Tours, he stayed overnight with the Christian community at Arlon. In the seventh century, the Christians in Arlon changed the dedication of their church from St Mark to St Martin, in memory of his visit.

The staircase leading to St Donatus Church
The staircase was built in the 17th century by a Spanish engineer. Originally the “Montée Royale“ was made of 7 platforms, each separated by 3 steps. Each platform had a station decorated with a Cross and a tree. Following the occupation of Louis XIV’s troops, a reconstruction was assured in 1735. The “Royal Way of the Cross” was then made of 9 platforms. The stairs collapsed in 1830 and new ones were built, supported by arcades. There were a number of terraces. The new “Way of the Cross “had 14 platforms in 1846 but yet again, another collapse led to another reconstruction in 1851. The stone crosses are identical and these stairs are now listed since 1992. 

St Donatus’ Church
A castle belonging to the first Count of Arlon, Waléran was built at the top of the town during the 11th century. However, in 1558 the castle was completely destroyed when it was attacked by the Duke of Guise’s troops. When the Capuchin monks arrived in Arlon in 1621, they built their monastery on the ruins of the castle. In 1681, a fortified wall designed by Sébastien Le Prestre Vauban was built, who under the reign of the King of France Louis XIV, was the most famous engineer and architect for military engineering and fortifications. This fortified wall transformed the monastery into a fortress. When the church of the monastery was victim of lightning, it was decided to dedicate it to St Donatus. The old monastery was eventually abandoned in 1796. The church has been gradually restored during the 20th century. 

St Donatus:
St Donatus was a Roman soldier who was martyred for his Christian faith and this church dedicated to him was built by Capuchin Franciscan monks as part of their monastery. In 1806, part of the parish of St Martin was transferred to the new parish of St Donatus, which lay around the church, after the closure of the monastery during the French Revolutionary period.

Church of the Sacred Heart
In 1855, the Jesuits Order decided to establish a convent and Arlon seemed to be the ideal place for it. As a result of the French Revolution, not a single religious order was to be found at the time. Such was the Jesuit’s success that, in September 1895, the construction of a new church, dedicated to the Sacred Heart, began. In 1967 Arlon welcomed the second novitiate of the Company of Jesus in Belgium. The Jesuits’ social and cultural activities were very important for the town.  

In addition to the ruins of an abbey and a mediaeval garden of medicinal herbs, there is a nineteenth century chapel built by the Jesuits to house a thirteenth-century statue of Our Lady of Clairefontaine, and a sixteenth-century statue of St Bernard carved out of lime-tree wood. In the crypt, next to the tomb of Countess  Ermesinde of Luxembourg, there is a lapidary fragment with a lion design, which was part of the thirteenth-century tomb of Count Henry V “Blondel”.

Clairefontaine Abbey
A remarkable former Cistercian abbey located 4km from Arlon on the border with Luxembourg. The abbey was founded by Countess Ermesinde of Luxembourg and paid for by Count Henry V “Blondel”. The countess Ermesinde (1186-1247) dreamed about this abbey, located symbolically on the verge of the lands of Arlon and of Luxembourg. This abbey, with a vocation of dynastic burial, was reserved for existent women of the nobility. Building and allocation of the abbey in 1253 were assured by Henry the Blondel. In 1794, during the French occupation, the nuns ran away towards Luxembourg and the fire of the French troops mutilated the abbey. The nunnery was dismantled, sold and was used as a stone quarry. In 1874, the Jesuits bought back a part of the site to establish their villa there. They discovered the rests of the countess Ermesinde and built a Neo-Romanesque style chapel to receive its burial. Today, visitors can still explore its mediaeval physics gardens of medicinal plants and its Neo-Romanesque style chapel.

Arlon Synagogue
This is the oldest synagogue in Belgium, built in the nineteenth century in the Romano-Byzantine style, with a façade decorated with oriental motifs, to serve the town’s thriving Jewish community.





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