A miracle to the Romanesque style


The beautiful village of Celles, nestled in a wooded site, is part of the municipality of Houyet, in the dinant district.

By Frédéric Marchesani

This town of Condroz, agricultural and residential, is home to strong traditional limestone houses of the country, covered with slate and stacked in the valley of the stream of Saint-Hadelin, ubiquitous figure in the village. It is considered one of the most beautiful villages in Wallonia.

The origins

The old hermitage on the heights of the village. ©DR

According to tradition, the village was founded by Saint Hadelin, a figure who lived between 617 and 690. Originally from the Aquitaine, he was at the beginning of his career near the court of Sigebert, king of Australasia. Then he decides to live far from the world and retreats to a cave in the middle of the Condrusian forests. His Holiness, known in the region, attracted many companions who, to live by his side, built small houses. They are the origin of today’s village. The name Celles comes from the Latin “Cella”, which means cell, the name given to the small dwellings of the disciples of St. Hadelin.

In this newly developed village Hadelin founded a monastery, which he joined to the Benedictine Order. After his death, his companions appointed an abbot and a provost. Since the 10th century, the village has housed a canon school. The abbey then becomes a collegiate college. In 1338, after an open conflict with the lords of Celles, the canons left their collegiate ranks, left under the protection of the Prince-Bishop of Liege to Visé and took the shrine of St. Hadelin with them. This is still present in the College of Saint-Martin de Visé, a few centuries after the events. The church of Celles has remained a place of pilgrimage ever since, and although it has indeed become a parish church, it still retains its title of collegiate, a church that cannot be degraded.

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A building almost a thousand years old

Interior view of the college. ©DR

The venerable collegiate church of Saint-Hadelin in Celles, homogeneous and remarkably preserved, is today one of the most beautiful examples of Romanesque Mosaic architecture of the early 11th century. Apart from some modifications made in 1590 and again in 1857-59 during restorations, it retained virtually all its components in the second quarter of the 11th century (1030-1040). This is due to the relative anonymity in which the church fell after the departure of the canons. It was no longer used as a collegiate, it was never added to the list of buildings that had to undergo a major remodeling, extension or reconstruction over the centuries.

The stoned house, made of limestone and sandstone, is built in limestone and sandstone, and features a western tower surrounded by two stair towers, three naves, a low transept and a choir fenced by a semicircular apse. Under the tower and under the choir there are two crypts. The western massif is probably the most impressive element of the whole. Here is a four-storey square tower, massive and characteristic of The Romanesque architecture.

It is summoned with an octagonal arrow, probably added during the work done around 1590. The ground floor of the tower was of great importance for the design of the building: with access to one of the two crypts, it played the role of counter-choir or western choir, that is, liturgical counterpoint to the eastern choir. The western crypt consists of three vessels, which are also curved. Relics were originally found there.

The walls of the high nave and corridors are not very open, and are pierced with windows in full hangers. The same piercings can be found in the arms of the transept, lower than the nave, as the Carolingian tradition of building places of worship. The aim was to bring the direct lighting to the crossover. On the back, the choir also has a rather charged Romanesque layout. The choir and its semicircular apse are in fact flanked by two rather imposing absikeln. This part of the church has a height due to the presence of the second crypt.

Inside, the ship consists of five wingspans. The main nave and corridors are separated by archways that fall on square columns. The complex is covered with a flat ceiling, typical of the first Romanesque churches. The college has kept remarkable furniture, including excellent stalls before the canons left in 1338. They are among the oldest surviving in Belgium.

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The eastern crypt of the college is half buried. ©DR

They are made of oak and consist of two rows of seats, the hand rings of which are decorated with plant motifs. The collegiate church also contains several statues, mainly from the 16th and 18th centuries. There are also beautiful baptismal fonts and a benefactor from the 12th century.

Remarkable for various reasons, the College of Celles, as Professor Luc-Francis Génicot points out, is undoubtedly the building that remains the most representative of the mosan country’s architectural production for the pre-Roman era. It is undoubtedly one of the jewels of Walloon heritage.


The Gymnasium Celles is open daily from 12.30 to 18.00. It is located in the church square in 5561 Celles. If the containment measures stop, guided tours for groups of more than 20 people can be given on tourism and culture on 0497 30 73 34 or jacques.lebrun@publilink.be

A walk to the hermitage

A crossroads connects the college with the Hermitage Saint-Hadelin. ©DR

From the College, a beautiful neo-Gothic path of the cross made of blue stone allows you to climb the hill to reach the hermitage of Saint-Hadelin. It was restored in 2018 and presented by the artist Pierre Courtois, who added laser-cut and painted stainless steel plates. The ascent, interrupted by several stages, leads to the place where the saint was settled in the 7th century and where he founded his monastery. The latter became a hermitage when the canons left Celles in 1338.

At the end of the 18th century, the family of Liedekerke-Beaufort, owner of the nearby castle of Veves, decided to build a neo-Romanesque monastery there to house a religious community. Abandoned by the sisters in 1973, it has since been bought by the municipality of Houyet and converted into a tourist centre. It also houses a primary school.