The Cellite Convent

In 1519 an epidemic of plague threatens the country of Liège. This serious risk determines the authorities of the City to ask the help of the Cellite Brothers, a community of religious carers, also assigned to burials. They are also called Alexians or Lollards. On October 7, 1519, the City concludes an agreement with the General Chapter of the Order giving the Brothers an annual pension, setting their remuneration for the care they bring to the sick during epidemics as at any time and practically giving them the monopoly of burials. Less than a year later, on April 4, 1520, the City buys for the Brothers a property located at Montagne Sainte-Walburge, in a place called « Volière », near the centre of the City. In addition to the main building, called « La Licorne » (« The Unicorn »), various other buildings built at different times coexist on the same site. From 1527, the Cellites complain about the dilapidated state of their buildings and resort to funds raised by the generosity of the parishioners of the 32 parishes of the City to proceed to important works from 1530. It is also due to the generosity of the people of Liege that the Cellites owe the construction of their chapel between 1557 and 1563, but this time through a lottery, the first general lottery organized in Liège.

In the 17th century, the Cellites continued to treat patients at home and celebrate funerals, but because of the decrease in epidemics, they decided to receive other persons excluded from society, the insane, whom they cared for in their convent for remuneration, as did other convents of their order. To respond to this new activity, the Cellites had to enlarge and transform the places. As the number of patients increased, the eighteenth century again saw the Brothers adapt their convent to its new functions of private hospice.

Revolutionary disturbances and changes in political regimes brought difficult times. But the tenacity of the Brothers, the only volunteers in the care of the insane, imposed the maintenance of the hospital during the French regime, under the leadership of the new Commission of « Civil Hospices » with the denomination of « Humanity Hospice ». The buildings of the old convent again and quickly became insufficient to accommodate the growing population. They were quickly becoming unsuited for the progress, yet modest, of the medicine of the time. Despite the acquisition of the former nearby convent of the Capuchins (1809), the situation continued to deteriorate during the Dutch period when the institution took the name of « Hospice of the insane ».
The project to build a new asylum complex occupied a large part of the nineteenth century and threatened the old convent and its chapel. Finally, the construction of a large building south of the whole was retained in 1881. It allowed the maintenance of the hospice.

In 1932 the last two Cellite Brothers who remained in the hospital until their deaths received the help of Brothers from the congregation of Saint-Jean-de-Dieu from Ghent. In 1946 the Congregation of Notre-Dame de Lourdes took over. The first pavilion of the new hospital of Volière was erected and inaugurated in 1958 on the site of the convent of the Capuchins, which was itself destroyed with the exception of its brewery. In 1968 the secularization of the management of the institution became reality. All the old buildings remained occupied until the end of the 1980s.

The hospital of Volière was demolished in 2004 and replaced by the site « Agora », which continues the tradition of hosting psychiatric institutions. As for the old buildings of the Cellite Brothers, they were acquired in 1992 by the Housing Fund of Large Families of Wallonia, which made a remarkable restoration and developed 14 homes for low-income families. Historical research, archaeological and archeometric studies, excavations, analyzes and various expertises were realized before this restoration.

The Cellite Convent

As the date on the facade confirms, the main work of the Saint-Roch chapel was completed in 1558 thanks to the first general lottery held in Liège. Dedicated to the Virgin Mary and Saint Roch, the building was consecrated in 1563. Built in bricks, limestone and tufa, it has only one nave and four bays. From 1579, the Cellites and pious bourgeois created an archconfraternity to propagate the worship of Saint Roch. Approved by the Prince-Bishop Gérard de Groesbeeck and directed by the « pater » or superior of the Cellites in Liège and two masters elected annually, this religious association was responsible for the costs of maintenance of the chapel. In the middle of the 17th century, the nave is enlarged and a mezzanine above the chapel is arranged to allow patients to attend services without any contact with the public. The building is modified to extend its roof. A stucco lattice vault of the master builder Paquay Barbière replaces the original one. A large stoop (1683) gives access to the chapel and the old entrance to the hospice. During the second half of the eighteenth century, the choir is moved to the West and receives a new bell tower.

The interior seduces with its harmonious proportions, its well-preserved and particularly homogeneous eighteenth century furniture.
Thanks to remarkable acoustics, the chapel is endowed in 1769 with a historic organ attributed to the famous organ builder Guillaume Robustelly. This instrument is a witness of great importance of the Liège tradition of the second half of the 18th century. It has been registered on the list of « Exceptional Heritage of Wallonia » since 2002 and is today restored. In the choir of the nave, we discover four Renaissance funerary slabs of paters of the community.
A series of mostly Baroque sculptures decorate the nave, among which a Saint Roch attributed to Robert Verbure and a Saint Alexis due to Guillaume Evrard. In the choir, paintings on canvas depicting the life of Saint Roch by Jean Latour and, at the high altar, a painting on canvas dated 1789 by Henri Deprez.

The Saint-Roch chapel has been classified in its entirety as a Protected Monument » since May 13, 1970.