An increasing number of religious buildings are being given a new lease of life

The Saint-Antoine church in Brussels will soon get a very special new use, as the religious building will be converted into a climbing hall. Due to growing secularisation, churches in Belgium are being used for a less and less religious function. 

Brussels will soon boast an exceptional sports complex. The construction of the new climbing hall in a local church, which will be called "Maniak Padoue", will start in October. The complex will be operated by a company that already has a successful climbing hall in Nivelles (30km south of Brussels). ​ 

The founder, Stéphane Dandois, stresses the importance of keeping the climbing hall accessible for everyone in the neighbourhood. "There are halls in Brussels where you pay €18 per visit. That's not our plan," he told Bruzz. Local residents will benefit from reduced fares and there will be regular training sessions for those who wish to learn to climb.

While most of the Saint-Antoine church has been closed for some time, the part that retains its religious function will remain open to the Catholic community. Only part of the church has been deconsecrated. 

Church policy plan

Also in Flanders, where there are some 1,800 Roman Catholic churches, religious buildings are increasingly taking on other functions. That is why Flemish minister of Home Affairs Bart Somers (Open Vld) and minister of Immovable Heritage Matthias Diependaele (N-VA) recently proposed obliging Flemish municipalities to think about the future of their parish churches. A church policy plan, mapping out the long-term vision, should help with this.

Figures from 2021 show that 236 out of 300 Flemish municipalities, i.e. four out of five, have such a church policy plan. Yet it is not an obligation and the Flemish Government wants to change this as of 2026. Such a church policy plan offers "a suitable framework for conducting a structural debate on the future of the parish churches on the territory of the municipality". ​ 

In concrete terms, during the next legislature and more specifically when submitting multi-year plans (for the period 2026-2031), municipalities will be required to submit a signed church policy plan. Such a plan is in fact a condition for receiving an increased heritage premium or a restoration premium. ​ 

Subsidy possibilities

In addition to this obligation, the government is also working on the subsidy possibilities, which are being refined and expanded. For example, projects for re-use or secondary use will also be able to count on subsidies for guidance to increase the involvement of citizens and local residents. Furthermore, projects involving former religious buildings will also be eligible for subsidies. ​ 

According to Ministers Somers and Diependaele, it is necessary "to move up a gear when it comes to reallocating buildings". "With respect for the past, but with an eye to the future. We have to give these buildings a second life. This decree makes that a lot easier and we are also providing the necessary financial support," the two ministers said. 

In the meantime, many religious buildings in Flanders have already been given a new purpose. An overview of reallocation, secondary use, shared use and valorisation of religious buildings can be found on the website of PARCUM, the museum and expertise centre for religious art and culture recognised by the Flemish government.



© BELGA PHOTO Axel Cleenewerck

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