The church gives full meaning to the rest of the buildings that surround it.
It is the rallying point of the monastic community who come to pray together there at certain moments of the day. In the morning, there are Lauds, the first prayer of the day; at noon, the Eucharist gathers Christians around the Word of God and the Body and Blood of Christ; in the evening Vespers, and at night the Vigils or Compline office ends the day of prayer for the community.
The liturgy of the hours, the office, is celebrated in two different places : the crypt during the week in the winter; the church on Sundays, Solemnities, and in the summer. The church welcomes all the people who come, pilgrims, tourists, believers, non-believers. It is a place where people are able to take time for prayer, on their own or with the monks, a place to think, a place to feel themselves at peace. The church is a sanctuary of pilgrimage to St Benedict.
That is why all the people who come are asked to respect not only God, but also anyone who wants to collect his thoughts and to pray.
A neo-gothic design (1880-1900)
What the visitor sees today is not what was planned and created a century ago by the architect and the designers. The colour is missing because the neo-gothic style was basically polychrome. This style wanted to have a strong effect on the imagination of the faithful, in order to lead them outside time into the world of God and the Saints, in an ideal beauty extending everywhere. All arts were required to collaborate with creating this brilliant, flamboyant and shining design.
Around 1955-1958, a basic modification was made to the church. The new pastoral recommended a more active participation of the congregation in the liturgy. The high altar was brought back from the far end of the choir to the transept crossing, on a predella which dominated the nave. At the same time, St Benedict’s Chapel, which was at first in the northern transept (left), was transferred next to the main entrance, in the southern tower. In accordance with the post Vatican II Liturgy, and in a spirit of simplicity and sobriety, the neo-gothic ornamentation was removed, except for the stained glass windows. So now the Abbey Church of Maredsous seems to be a compromise between a neo-gothic building and an attempt to adapt this building to a new aesthetic and a new liturgy.
The church today
The Abbey Church remains one of the most beautiful examples of neo-gothic architecture, sober and severe. A long nave, with eight bays, is divided into two equal parts by a wide transept. From the entrance to this transept is the nave of the congregation. Beyond the transept, and raised up, is the monks' choir. In elevation, two levels of arcades topped by a white wall (but previously covered by frescos), upper tierce-point windows. In the façade, three thin lancets give light. At the end of the choir, and in the two arms of the transept, there are three lancets, with a rose window above. The whole recalls the choir and the transept of the cathedral of Laon (12th c.). In the side chapels are triple windows. The wooden vaults of the central nave, of the two arms of the transept, and of the choir, are broken barrel vault. They imitate a dark blue sky with stars, decorated with angels in the choir. The side-aisle vaults are ribbed.
The stained glass windows
The stained glass windows of the choir, the transept and the façade were designed by the monks and Béthune. The ones in the side chapels represent the patron saints of various donors. In the choir chevet, the rose window represents the angels’ choirs with, in the middle, the dove of the Holy Spirit received, on the day of Pentecost, by the twelve apostles glorified as carriers of the Gospel all over the world. In the northern transept, Christ is honoured in the Blessed Sacrament. The triplets and the rose window resume themes linked to the Eucharist. In the southern transept, the Virgin is exalted in the devotion of the Rosary, commemorating the Mysteries of our Lady. In front, are founders of the main religious orders.
Dom Marmion’s burial-place
In the second side chapel on the left, you can find the tombstone of Dom Marmion, third Abbot of Maredsous (1909-1923). He was beatified by the pope John-Paul II on 3rd September 2000 in Rome.