A difficult context
The 16th century was marked by religious problems. In Flanders, the iconoclast movement, destroyers of religious icons, stopped at Saint-Omer. Religious reforms led to the Protestant Churches being created. The Catholic Church, in order to survive, also had to make reforms. The Society of Jesus (called Jesuits), founded by Ignatius of Loyola, played an active role. Gérard d’Haméricourt, the bishop of Saint-Omer, called on the Jesuits of Wallonia to found a college in 1566, as educating young people was of great importance in this struggle. The Jesuits also engaged in thespian activities to attract the community during their sermons.
A blend of styles
The first church became too small to organise all these activities. A new church was built between 1615 and 1640, designed by Jean Du Blocq (1583-1656). The architect of “La Compagnie” chose a blend of architectural styles. Firstly, he sought inspiration in local architecture in the Gothic tradition. Consequently the church nave has three levels. It is edged by buttresses with side chapels in between them. The whole structure is covered by rib vaults. The choir is comprised of five sections. It is surrounded by two towers. However, he included several innovations. He decided not to include a transept to make it easier for the congregation to hear the sermon. Using stone and brick created an elegant grid pattern. Its imposing facade superposes the four orders of architecture. The portal was inspired by the Italian architect Serlio, author of several treatises about ancient architecture. Du Blocq’s design showed he had read them.
Return to Ancient history
The return to ancient history was also demonstrated by the building’s stone decor. Large volutes embellished the buttresses and the ends of the facade. At each level pilasters support capitals with different styles. The Belgian blue stone portal features ribbed columns and curved pediments. The base of the columns framing the door have lions’ heads sculpted on them. Above, the frieze is comprised of three vertical lines (triglyphs) and bucranes (ox skulls), a pattern that was very fashionable in ancient history! Inside the large building, a sculpted decor embellished the nave walls. What stands out the most is the frieze written in Latin illustrated with images. It served as a Christian moral guide.