Saint Michael Church
and the Former Priory of Saint Bavo Abbey


Cities, Towns and Villages of South-East-Flanders


Saint Michael Church in Sint-Lievens-Houtem, flanked by the town hall.

The 7th century popular Irish saint, Livinus, was cut off hands and feet, and the tongue with tongs (2) during preaching in Sint-Lievens-Esse (village now belonging to the Town of Herzele, Belgium). On November 12, 657, he was beheaded. Shortly after, a local cultus focusing on Livinus came into existence. People invoked him for rheumatism, sciatica, foot and hand illnesses.

In 976, the Saint Bavo Abbey in the City of Gent (Ghent, Belgium) came into the possession of the feudal domain Sint-Lievens-Houtem. When the pilgrimage tradition revived in the 11th century, the Saint Bavo Abbey succeeded to get its hands on the old monastery in Sint-Lievens-Houtem and installed a priory in it.

In 1140-1150, a basilican pilgrimage church was built above the grave of Livinus in Sint-Lievens-Houtem, though the relics of the saint were translated to the Saint Bavo Abbey in Gent in 1007 (3). This pilgrimage church was an impressive building with similar measures as the 20th century Saint Michael Church of Sint-Lievens-Houtem. It had one or two towers on the west facade and a crossing tower.

It remains to be seen whether the choir came into existence in one phase, or whether a second phase enlarged the originally rectangular choir with a semicircular apse. In view of the Carolingian tradition to spread relics over several places in the church, the church building in Sint-Lievens-Houtem probably had an upper and a lower crypt.

Due to plundering by wandering soldiers, and due to increasing insecurity, the pilgrimage tradition declined in Sint-Lievens-Houtem from the 14th century on. Troops from the City of Aalst (Alost, Belgium) destroyed part of the church in 1490. The reconstructed church suffered again heavy desctruction during the religious war in 1579-82, and again in 1708 due to passing French troops.

Only the late-Romanesque choir with it large windows, the southern stair tower (once leading to the crossing tower), and the Saint Livinus Chapel remained. The nave was rebuilt in a style similar to classicism from 1769 till 1779. On grond level, the southern and northern towers bear wall paintings showing scenes from the life of Saint Livinus. Though no thorough scientific research has been conducted yet, it is probable that the paintings date back to the end of the 12th century.

Some more pictures of Saint Michael Church in Sint-Lievens-Houtem (4) :

Choir and South Tower -------- View on Nave and Organ ------- Inside View of Choir
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Livinus Gravestone -------------------- Detail Gravestone ------------------ Church Building in 1926
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(1) Main sources: Koenraad DE WOLF, Architectuurgids Zuid-Oost-Vlaanderen. Romaanse Bouwkunst (1000-1225). , 1996, pp. 57-58. (English translation: Architectural Guide of South-East-Flanders. Romanesque Architecture (1000-1225).) ; and Koenraad DE WOLF, Architectuurgids Zuid-Oost-Vlaanderen. Barok, Rococo & Classicisme (1625-1800). , 1998, p. 83. (English translation: Architectural Guide of South-East-Flanders. Baroque, Rococo & Classicism (1625-1800).)

(2) Jo CLAES, Alfons CLAES, Kathy VINCKE, Sanctus. Meer dan 500 heiligen herkennen., Leuven (Belgium), Davidsfonds, 2003 (4th print),320p., pp. 262-263.

(3) Paul ROLLAND, Un groupe belge d'eglises romanes. Les eglises bicephales a tourelles orientales, as published in "Belgisch Tijdschrift voor Oudheidkunde en Kunstgeschiedenis", XI, volumes 2 and 3, Antwerp (Belgium), 1941, and as appearing on a webpage in a Dutch translation entitled De Priorijkerk van Sint-Lievens-Houtem from the hand of Ignace VAN DER KELEN on the website of Darcos.

(4) For all pictures on this webpage, acknowledgement to Darcos.