The earliest mention of the Saint Jacob’s Church in Leuven dates back to 1187. Back then it was a parish church outside the city wall. The church quickly grew into a much visited stop for pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostella.
The oldest surviving part of the current church is the belfry that was built at the start of the 13th century. A succession of extensions to and renovations of the church over the centuries mean the building is now a mixture of styles.
The church was built on marshy ground and has had issues with stability for centuries. In the 15th century the vault of the aisle had to be replaced. Mass was celebrated for the last time at the church in 1963 as it was said to be too dangerous to continue holding services there.
In the years since the closure of the church work to stabilise the building has been carried out several times. First scaffolding and concrete support beams were put up in the nave of the church. Then the vaults and aisles were dismantled and finally the flying buttresses were removed from the exterior of the church.
The church was deconsecrated in 2002. A year later the City of Leuven was given a 27-year lease on the building during which time renovation work was to be carried out. If all goes to plan work to stabilise the building should get under way before the summer.
Once the work is complete the search can commence for a new use for this remarkable and historic former place of worship.