Drève Saint-Anne is an ancient pilgrimage route. It connected the medieval church in Laeken with the fountain and St. Anne’s Chapel, from which the Drève gets its name. The painting above shows Drève St Anne sometime around 1725. It is amazing to reflect on the fact that today’s EEB4 scholars, when walking to school with Laeken church behind them, are retracing the steps taken by pilgrims since the Middle Ages. The medieval church visible in the painting was built around 1275. All of it, except for its “Gothic choir”, was demolished in 1904.The Gothic Choir, which is prominent in the painting, is located in Laeken Cemetery. The interior can be visited as part of a guided tour (e.g. Laeken Decouverte) and it is worth a visit: the painted walls alone are beautiful to see. The goal of the pilgrims was to pray before a statue of The Madonna and Child, which was reputed to have miraculous powers. The statue, which still exists, was extensively restored in 1872. This is what it now looks like:
Leaving the church, the pilgrims would then proceed up Drève Saint-Anne to the fountain of Saint-Anne.
The fountain, also known as the fountain of the five wounds (Fontaine des Cinq-Plaies) was reputed to have healing powers. In 1695, Infanta Isabella of Spain had the stonework around the fountain built in gratitude for the waters having ‘restored her to good-health’. Note the steps shown in the painting, to enable pilgrims to reach the waters. The fountain was renovated in 1957. Beside the fountain is the very beautiful St Anne’s Chapel, which was built in the 17th Century on the site of an earlier church dating from the 14th century. In 1974, the chapel was consecrated as a Russian Orthodox Church by Archbishop Basil Krivoshein (1900-1985). More details about the church can be found on the Russian Orthodox Church Website.
Lacking GPS systems, the pilgrims’ progress was guided by small wayside altars, which punctuated the pilgrimage route. One such medieval wayside altar can still be seen in Laeken. It is St Mellery’s Chapel, and it is located on the boundary walls of the palace, close to Laeken Church.