History of the Order in the Low Countries

Study and Documentation Centre "Capuchins in the Low Countries"
Friary at Leuven

History of the Order in the Low Countries

During the Ancien Régime

Felix of Lapedona

In 1578 King Philip II appointed Duke Alessandro Farnese as governor of the Low Countries. He was able to recover many cities from the Calvinists (1583-1585). On the 17th of August 1585 he reconquered Antwerp.

On the 8th of September 1585 the annual Chapter of the Parisian Capuchin province decided to send friars to Farnese to discuss with him the possibilities of establishing friaries in the Low Countries. FELIX of Lapedona, then guardian at Meudon, who as a soldier had fought with Farnese in Lepanto, and three Flemish friars were dispatched. They arrived on the 13th of October, and Farnese immediately gave his full support to found friaries in Antwerp and in other cities.

Soon settlements were established in Antwerp (1585) and Brussels (1587), and together they formed the independent commissariat in regione Flandriae”.

This commissariat was in 1595 elevated to become the bilingual Provincia Belgica or Netherlandish province.

On the 4th of November 1616, Honoratus of Paris announced at an important chapter in Antwerp that the Provincia Belgica was to be divided into a Flemish and a Walloon Province.

Later, the region would split up into three provinces: the Lille Province (containing friaries from both Flemish and Walloon provinces), the Liège Province (with friaries from the Walloon Province) and the Custody of the Holy Trinity (with friaries from the Flemish Province).

These provinces of the Low Countries lost some of their friaries, because they were located in cities which were conquered either by the Dutch Republic (Breda, ‘s-Hertogenbosch) or by the French (Arras, Béthune, Thionville and Marville).

The Irish settlement at Charleville, which depended on the Walloon Province, became independent in 1625.

The bilingual province and the provinces which later arose from it extended over Belgium, the Grand Dutchy of Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Northern France (the Région du Nord and some cities in North-East France) and Germany (Geldern).

During the Ancien Régime the order boasted 67 friaries in the Low Countries, all of which were founded before 1700 (apart from Munsterbilzen and Wittem), and more than 8,300 religious. In the Low Countries the congregation of Capuchinesses of Flanders, founded in 1620 at Saint-Omer by Francisca Taffin (Third order), numbered 16 convents. 

Apostolate : Main activity: preaching and hearing confession

Missions : Rather limited in time as well as in size (Dutch Mission, Congo-Angola, Middle America)




After the Ancien Régime

The friaries were abolished in France in 1789-1792 and in the Low Countries in 1796.

The friary of Bruges, however, survived the suppression. Velp, located in the Land of Ravenstein, was abolished not until 1812, and already in 1814 the conventuals occupied the buildings again.

Both friaries, Velp and Bruges, were on the 30th of September 1845 united in the Dutch-Belgian custody, which on the 8th of September 1857 was elevated to become the Dutch-Belgian Province.

In 1882 this province was divided into the Dutch Province - with 5 friaries and 126 professed - and the Belgian Province - with 6 friaries and 99 professed.

On the 4th of July 1958 the Belgian Province was further divided into the Flemish Province and the Walloon Vice-Province.

On the 1st of January 2014 the Flemish Province numbered 7 friaries and 54 Capuchins (Antwerp (11+3), Bruges (9+4), Brussels (2), Herentals (11+2), Meersel-Dreef (5), Ypres (1), Izegem (3+2), and one friar without a friary. One Flemish Capuchin lived in Pakistan.

The Walloon vice-Province was in 2003 assimilated into the Province of Strasbourg-Wallonia, which later united with the other French provinces to become the Province Wallonia-France. Today, there are only a few Capuchins left in Wallonia : in Ayrifanges (3), Liège (1), Mons (3) and Tournai (2).

After the friary of Breda had closed its doors on 15 April 2013, the Dutch Province numbered 3 friaries : Den Bosch, Tilburg and Velp, and a rectory in Babberich.