Culture & Heritage
Hoogstraten has a rich past, reflected in centuries-old monuments and landscapes. With no less than two Unesco World Heritage Sites, there is a lot of high-quality heritage to discover in Hoogstraten.
St Catherine's Church
The St Catherine’s Church is by far the most impressive historical building in Hoogstraten. It also reflects the history of the city. As you wander around the church, you will find yourself walking past the lords, counts and dukes of Hoogstraten, who are portrayed in its beautiful stained glass windows and on its unique funerary heritage.
Even today, St Catherine's continues to dominate Hoogstraten and its surroundings. The church itself was and is considered a marvellous architectural feat. The church and its 104.7-metre high tower has an 80-metre long nave and is often referred to as the “triumph of brick” as it is one of the highest brick buildings in Europe.
St Catherine’s Church was spared during the religious upheavals of the sixteenth century, but on 23 October 1944 the spire was blown up with dynamite by German troops as they retreated, shortly before the liberation. Under the impulse of Deacon Lauwerys, the church and spire were carefully restored in the 1950's.
St Catherine’s interior comprises a number of valuable art objects, including stained glass windows, choir benches, tapestries and monumental gravestones. The smaller choir benches, which were created for the old church, are in Brabant style and were probably carved in the fifteenth century. The large, late-Gothic choir benches were manufactured by Albrecht Gelmers between 1532 and 1548. Next to the apostles and the saints, the choir also depicts spiritual moralizing popular sayings and scenes from pagan antiquity.
Above the high altar, you will notice seven striking stained glass windows (each 14 metres high), which depict the seven sacraments. They were made by Anton Evertz, a sixteenth-century glass painter from Culemborg. The stained glass window in the northern nave (1535), representing the Last Supper, is attributed to Pieter Coecke van Aelst. The six windows above the choir were created by Claes Matthijs, who hailed from Hoogstraten.
UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE
The origin of Hoogstraten’s Beguinage probably goes back to around 1380. In the sixteenth century, the Beguinage was struck by several fires. During all this time, the Beguinage was limited to a few houses, surrounded by a stone wall in 1534. In 1553, there were fourteen small cottages.
Half a century later, only two beguines remained. The Beguinage’s golden age spanned the last half of the seventeenth century. The number of beguines at the time soared to 160, meaning new houses had to be built. During this time the construction of a new church started as well. From the second half of the eighteenth century, the number of beguines gradually dropped until the last beguine closed the door of her cottage, leaving the Beguinage in 1972.
A unique restoration project has saved the Beguinage from its demise since 1999. Currently, the houses are once again occupied.
The Municipal Museum of Hoogstraten can be found in houses 9 through 11 of the Beguinage.
This museum showcases the beautiful heritage of the historic ages of Hoogstraten. A prehistoric archaeological site allows you to find out more about the earliest residents, while the beguines introduce you to the city’s medieval past.
In addition, the museum organizes several temporary exhibitions every year.
Historic mill 'The Laermolen'
This beautifully restored mill is situated along the bridge across the river Mark, in the Molenstraat. There has always been a mill in this location, even as early as 1381, known as the ‘Laermolen'. The Laer was a stretch of swampy meadow.
Originally, the mill was only used to mill corn, but subsequently, mentions are made of an oil mill for crushing oleaginous seeds. Over the years, the mill was devastated and rebuilt on several occasions.
A number of enthusiastic Hoogstraten residents restored this mill to its former glory between 2000 and 2004. Even the water wheel is turning once again.
The Colony of Wortel: Colony of Benevolence
UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE
The Colony of Wortel is part of a unique history of a large-scale social experiment in the Netherlands and Belgium. Experience this unique landscapes that tell a powerful story.
In 1822, a Dutch general purchased approx. 532 hectares of land in Wortel. He developed the land, established the free Colony of Wortel there and built small farms to accommodate a large number of poor families. The project was not a success and was shelved after Belgium became independent.
From then on, Wortel-Kolonie became a haven for vagabonds and the homeless. After the Act on Vagrancy was abolished in 1993, the central buildings were refurbished as a prison. The remaining buildings and land were given a new use. The estate, a unique compartmentalized landscape with forests, pastures and monumental lanes, has been protected as a cultural-historical landscape since 1999 and has been on the Unesco World Heritage list since 2021. Today, it is generally a beautiful place for walks and cycling tours.
Visit Meersel-Dreef, the most northern point of Belgium. In 1637, the Capuchins built a simple settlement on the banks of the river Mark, where they subsequently founded a Capuchin convent in 1690. Hoogstraten was located only 10 kilometres from Breda, where the Capuchins had retreated after they had been driven out by the Calvinists during the religious upheavals (1618-1648). Dutch Catholics, who wished to practice their religion, followed them.
The Lourdes grotto in the Maria Park still attracts pilgrims after all these years. Padre Pio, the most famous Capuchin monk, is also commemorated here with a beautiful statue.
In the Gothic chapel (1420) dedicated to St. Lucia, people have traditionally prayed for cures for eye diseases. Indeed, her name Lucia is derived from the Roman word lux, which means light. Meersel-Dreef is also an excellent location to enjoy a drink on a terrace when the weather is nice.
Where street art used to be related to the often illegal graffiti movement, nowadays it has become one of the most popular art forms.
Hoogstraten has a famous array of street art artists who realised some impressive projects. Big names like Cee Pil, Pol Cosmo, Letterknecht and Jellyfish have hidden their signature in the streetscape. All the artworks are brought together in a street art walking route through the city center. During the walk you'll pass bugs, bums and an impressive ode to all healthcare workers.