History of the Basilica

It was the dream of our first kings to build at the plateau of Koekelberg a “Royal District” . At the end of the government of Leopold I, we already find plans and sketches for its construction.

In the framework of the redevelopment of the Elisabeth park and following the example of Paris, King Leopold II had been playing with the idea since 1880 of building a national Pantheon at the end of a long avenue on the Koekelberg plateau, on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the independence of Belgium.

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As he was so impressed by the ‘Basilique du Sacré-Coeur’ in Paris, he opted for a religious building. In his book Léopold II, Souvenirs des dernières années (1901-1914) E. Carton de Wiart writes:

‘There is a mountain of Justice, and over there in Koekelberg we need the mountain of the good Lord and here we need the mountain of Art.’ Besides Poelaert’s Palace of Justice, King Leopold II imagined two other architectonic beacons in the city.

Only twenty-five years later, on the 12th of October 1905, King Leopold II would lay the first stone of the national basilica. The first design (1903) by Pierre Langerock, planned a massive building in Neo-Gothic style, to the example of Eugène Viollet-le-Duc’s ‘ideal cathedral’.

When World War I broke out, only the groundwork had been finished. In his Christmas message in 1914, Cardinal Mercier gave a new meaning to the church: “As soon as our country knows peace again, we will rebuild our houses and we hope that as a coronation of this rebuilding, we can found a National Basilica of the Sacred Heart at the highest point of our capital.”

On the 29th of June 1919, this promise was confirmed by the authorities of the country and a large crowd. Due to the worsened financial situation after the war, Langerock’s design was put aside.

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Albert Van huffel, from Ghent, was proposed as architect by Dom Sébastien Braun from the abbey of Maredsous and he was accepted under the pressure of Cardinal Mercier. Van huffel was awarded the Grand Prix for Architecture with a scale model (1/40) at the ‘Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes’ in Paris in 1925. Since then, the monument grew step by step thanks to its promoter and, after his death the 16th March 1935, his right-hand Paul Rome (? 7 June 1989).

The adjustments and extensions of the foundations were started in 1926 and in 1930 they started to erect the apse, which eventually opened for worship in May 1935. The base of the dome was ready when World War II broke out. The works were not resumed until September 1944. The large nave was finished by 1951. The church was consecrated by Cardinal Van Roey on 13 and 14 October 1951. Pope Pius XII assigned it the title of ‘Basilica Minor’ on 28th January 1952. In 1953 the two towers were finished. The southern aisle was opened to the public in 1958 and the northern one in 1962. Seven years later, in 1969, the large dome was finished. On the 11th of November 1970, a big ceremony for the 25th jubilee of Cardinal Suenens crowned the completion of the Basilica.

Ontdek onze prachtige wandel- en fietsroutes
met als vertrekpunt de Basiliek van Koekelberg!

Worth seeing

The Black Sister Museum

Modern Religious Art Museum


Did you know:

That there are several rooms under the basilica you can use?

That there are several expositions organised in the Basilica?