Belgian pilgrimage sites stay popular: 1.27 million visitors in 2022


After a few quiet years due to the pandemic, visits to pilgrimage sites are on the rise again. The four largest Belgian sanctuaries together recorded around 1.27 million visitors in 2022. In anticipation of the Assumption of Mary on August 15th, the pilgrimage sites are preparing for another influx of visitors.

Last year, Scherpenheuvel received around 600,000 visitors, Oostakker 250,000 visitors, Banneux 220,000 visitors, and Beauraing 200,000 visitors. This brings the pilgrimage sites close to the pre-pandemic annual average of 1.5 million visitors. Together, they employ just under 43 full-time staff members. Additionally, there are 252 volunteers ready to assist.

Foreign destinations are also gaining popularity again. In 2022, 10,640 Belgians embarked on organized pilgrimages to Lourdes. The pilgrims’ office in Santiago de Compostela, on the other hand, recorded 2,683 Belgian pilgrims.

The Belgian bishops extend their gratitude to everyone who contributes to the care and maintenance of all pilgrimage sites in our country, and especially for the welcome and guidance provided to the sick.

Scherpenheuvel is a town located in the Flemish region of Belgium, known for its significant religious and cultural importance. The town is situated in the province of Flemish Brabant, and its name translates to “Sharp Hill” in English. Scherpenheuvel is renowned as a prominent pilgrimage destination and a center of Catholic devotion.

At the heart of Scherpenheuvel is the Basilica of Our Lady of Scherpenheuvel (Basiliek van Onze-Lieve-Vrouw van Scherpenheuvel), which is the main attraction of the town. The basilica is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and is one of the most visited pilgrimage sites in Belgium. It holds historical and spiritual significance, attracting not only local devotees but also visitors from various parts of the country and beyond.

The basilica was constructed in the early 17th century, following a tradition of pilgrimage to the site that dates back to the late Middle Ages. The story goes that in 1603, a local resident had a vision of the Virgin Mary atop a hill, which led to the construction of a small chapel. Over time, the devotion to Our Lady of Scherpenheuvel grew, resulting in the construction of the grand basilica we see today.

The basilica’s architecture is characterized by its Baroque style, with intricate detailing and decorative elements. The interior houses numerous artworks, sculptures, and altars, all dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The site also features a holy well, believed to possess healing properties, which pilgrims often visit.

Scherpenheuvel holds special significance during religious feast days and celebrations dedicated to the Virgin Mary, drawing large crowds of pilgrims and tourists. The town’s serene surroundings and religious atmosphere make it a tranquil place for reflection and devotion.

Beyond its religious importance, Scherpenheuvel offers visitors the chance to explore its historic streets, local shops, and cafes. The town’s connection to pilgrimage, tradition, and spirituality continues to make it a noteworthy destination for those seeking a unique cultural and spiritual experience in Belgium.

Oostakker is a district located in the city of Ghent, which is situated in the Flanders region of Belgium. It holds historical and religious significance, making it a notable destination for both locals and visitors.

One of the most prominent attractions in Oostakker is the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Oostakker, also known as the Oostakker Basilica (Basiliek van Onze-Lieve-Vrouw Oostakker). This basilica is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and has been a significant pilgrimage site for centuries. The sanctuary’s history dates back to the 17th century when a local resident had a vision of the Virgin Mary. This event led to the establishment of a chapel, and over time, the site gained popularity as a place of devotion and prayer.

The sanctuary’s architecture is characterized by a blend of styles, including Gothic and Baroque elements. The basilica is known for its impressive altar, stained glass windows, and religious artworks that attract visitors interested in both art and spirituality. The serene ambiance of the sanctuary, surrounded by gardens and greenery, provides a tranquil setting for contemplation and prayer.

Throughout the year, various religious events, processions, and feast days are celebrated at the Oostakker Sanctuary, drawing pilgrims and visitors from different parts of Belgium and beyond. These occasions often involve religious services, processions, and ceremonies that pay homage to the Virgin Mary.

Oostakker is also known for its historical significance, with several old buildings and sites that reflect its heritage. The district’s connection to spirituality, religious devotion, and cultural traditions make it a place where visitors can experience the intersection of faith and history.

In addition to its religious and historical attractions, Oostakker offers a peaceful environment for those seeking a retreat from the bustling city of Ghent. The district’s green spaces, parks, and gardens provide opportunities for relaxation and reflection.

Overall, Oostakker’s rich history, religious importance, and serene atmosphere make it a destination that appeals to individuals interested in exploring Belgium’s cultural and spiritual heritage.

The author: Michel DEURINCK

Michel Deurinck, born in Brussels in 1950, started his career in the Belgian civil service, dedicating over 30 years to public service. Upon retirement, he pursued his passion for journalism. Transitioning into this new field, he quickly gained recognition for his insightful reporting on politics and culture. Deurinck's balanced and thoughtful approach to journalism has made him a respected figure in Belgian media.

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