History of Monasterium PoortAckere

History of Monasterium PoortAckere

 

Around 1100, the centre of Ghent was surrounded by natural and man-made waterways that formed a protective belt. In certain places, they were reinforced with ramparts, stone walls, locks and towers.

The land in front of the port (in Dutch akker aan de poort) (Torenpoort) was consequently named "Poortakker". From approximately 1278, the name was also extended to the Sint-Obrechts beguinage (or the Sint-Autbertus beguinage) that was built there.

Although the exact date of construction is still not known, that date is considered to be the date of foundation until proved otherwise.

On one of the ramparts of the current complex, a  stone from the 18th century can be seen on the façade  with the following reference:

"START DATE
S. AUTBERTI

DICTUM
poort-acker
FUNDATUM
An. 1278"

However, no script has been preserved referencing the foundation of the beguinage. The date subsequently deemed to be the foundation date probably refers to the request made by Countess Margaret of Constantinople to the municipal magistrate for the different beguinages distributed throughout the city to have a common residence in Poortakker that year.

In 1281 , the abbot of Saint Bavo's Abbey, who had been entrusted with its patronage, granted authorisation for the construction of a chapel with a combined cemetery. This was bestowed to the patron saint of bakers, namely H. Autbertus or H. Obrecht.

In the beginning, the beguinage was used as an  infirmary for sick and elderly beguines from the other beguinages of Ghent with room for 18 patients. When the beguinages of Sint-Elisabeth and Van ter Hooien built their own infirmary, it maintained its function as a sanatorium for old women.

During the French occupation , the Poortakker temple was under the administration of the Commission of Civil Temples until the liberal municipal administration decided to sell it in 1861. Count Joseph de Hemptine, a Catholic industrialist and great patron of the Neo-Gothic movement, bought the old beguinage in 1863 and put the buildings at the disposal of the  Congregation of the Perpetual Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar  (later the Sisters of the Holy Eucharist). This pontifical order was created in 1848  in Warermaal-Bosvoorde.

The existing chapel was originally meant to be refurbished.Jean-Baptiste Bethune, a central figure in the Neo-Gothic movement, created the designs for the choir's decoration.

These projects, however, were never carried out and a completely new monastery was built in its place instead. Arthur Verhaegen, one of Bethune's employees, created the designs. He was particularly inspired by examples  early gothic style. Bethune made several changes to the plans and Verhaegen's brother-in-law, Florimond Van de Poele, one of Bethune's employees, also collaborated in the project.

In 1873-1874, a chapel and one of the monastery's wings were built. After the festive inauguration of the new house of prayers, the old chapel was demolished. Over the following years, the monastery was expanded with several wings around the interior gardens. The large cross-wise wing was made into an orphanage and a  retreat housewas built alongside the monastery, whilst a residence was built for the priest in Houtlei.

During the same period, the chapel was built under the direction of Bethune and with the support of several patrons. In 1875, Bethune's workshop finished the choir's large stained glass window. Soon after, Verhaegen took charge of the workshop and between the period of 1876-1893 a series of small stained glass windows were made in line with Bethune's designs. Verhaegens's successor, Jospeh Casiers, was to conclude the series later on. The rest of the decoration was created by Bethune's fixed workforce. The painter, Adriaen Bressers polychromed the walls of the chapel.

In the early 20th century the buildings underwent multiple modifications. The priest's residence was moved up a floor and a tower was added. A new small wing was added to the monastery and the retreat house was moved up two floors.

The building's functions also changed. The orphanage was changed into a home for young women. The episcopal retreat house continued to exist until the Second World War.
In 1971, these two wings were changed into a residence for students, whilst part of the garden and buildings was sold to Sint-Lucasinstituut.

After the  Second Vatican Council part of the chapel's furniture was sold off. The space's surface was refurbished and some of the mural paintings disappeared under a layer of paint.

In 1998, the congregation sold the monastery to a private buyer. Due to this, the complex was protected as a monument.

After a year of refurbishment work, with the aim of preserving its ambience and character as much as possible, the space took on a completely new function as a hotel, guesthouse, restaurant and congress centre.