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History

The Ursuline Convent is one of the most renowned and representative examples of architecture in Mons. Situated in Roosevelt Square, opposite St. Waudru's Collegiate Church, the convent has had a strong impact on the history of this district.

After leaving Givet in 1633, the Ursuline nuns took shelter in Mons, where they met a well-known local figure, Jean Malapert. He and his wife, Marie de Guise, had no children to inherit their wealth, and so wished to donate it to a monastery or convent. He named the Ursulines as the inheritors of his property and the nuns stayed in one of his houses in Rue du Kiévrois.On 26 January 1634, the Deputy Burgomasters of the City of Mons granted the nuns permission to open a school. However, lacking approval from the King of Spain, the Ursulines had to give up on the idea of settling here. They left Mons later in 1634, but never abandoned their plans, eventually returning in 1648 after obtaining the authorisation of King Philip IV of Spain. On 21 October 1648 – Saint Ursula's Day – the nuns solemnly entered Mons, accompanied by canonesses and the Grand Bailiff of Hainaut.

The success of their school motivated them to acquire more land quickly in order to construct a first building, between 1659 and 1662, which can still be seen today inside the convent.

This project was followed by further major building projects, which gave the convent the form we are familiar with today. In 1704, the first houses that the Ursulines had lived in were knocked down to make space for a large church, but this collapsed in 1706. In spite of this setback, they started again and completed a series of building projects: the construction of parlours in 1707, the chapel in 1707-1711, accommodation for their boarders in 1715-1716 and lodging houses for the schools in 1728-1729.

The lead architect for the work was Claude-Joseph de Bettignies, after whom the street is now named.Born in Mons on 23 November 1675, he was also the architect behind the chapel of the Visitandine Convent, the partial reconstruction of Saint-Nicolas-en-Havré Church, which was ravaged by fire in 1664, as well as the bell tower of St. Elizabeth's Church. In addition to this, in his capacity as a sculptor he also created a number of high altars, including that of the chapel of the Ursuline Convent, which has since been moved to St. Elizabeth's Church. This was the period when the convent was at its peak.

However, the French Revolution put a stop to all that. In 1793, the arrival of the French in Mons, after the Battle of Jemappes, led to the convent's closure. The church was requisitioned and Mass was forbidden. In April 1798, the Ursulines were driven out of the convent, but continued their teaching in hiding. They only returned to the convent in 1803.

The 19th century also brought with it a considerable amount of disruption, starting with a series of major urbanisation works. In total, three fifths of the convent's gardens were sheered off for the construction of the Mons-Condé canal in 1807, for the construction of ramparts in 1816, for the construction of the railway in 1841 and finally to make way for a new street, Rue de la Houssière, in 1872.

In the 20th century, the two world wars sounded the death knell for the Ursuline nuns' activities at the convent. In 1914, the convent was used as a military hospital by the Germans. Then in 1940, successive bombings turned the boarding school into rubble. The scale of the destruction led the Ursuline nuns to buy a new piece of land, running along the city's avenues. Named the "yellow building", the plans for the new settlement were finalised in 1948, with work being completed in 1957. Today, the building remains one of the landmarks on Boulevard Kennedy in Mons.


 

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