The Monastery of Bethune

February 28: Institution of the Monastery of the Annunciation, Bethune, France (1519)

The Abbot Orsini wrote: “Institution of the monastery of the Annunciation, at Bethune, in Artois, by Francis de Melun and Louisa de Foix, his wife, in the year 1519.”

Béthune is an appealing city located in Artois, the famous name of the former province that was renowned in the Middle Ages for its production of cloth. It is situated between Arras and Saint Omer, about 45 miles south-east of the city of Calais, and about 116 miles north of Paris.

There appears to be only one church in Bethune, and that is the church of Saint Vaast, which dates only from the 1920’s. According to tradition, the first church was built by the bishop of Arras, Saint Vaast, near the confluence of the two rivers nearby, at a place once called Catorive, in about the year 502. This church was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The first church dedicated to Saint Vaast was built by the Emperor, and dates from 1533. That church was destroyed, along with nearly all the town, during German bombing in 1918. The land around Bethune and the surrounding villages was the scene of intense battles during World War I, so that the entire region had to be rebuilt after the war. The church was quickly rebuilt in the Roman-Byzantine style, but the bombing and warfare probably account for the fact that there does not seem to be any current record of a monastery of Bethune.

The city’s main architectural attraction is its belfry, which is a kind of symbol or emblem of the city. The first belfry was made only of wood in 1346, and was used as a watch tower with one alarm ball, but then was rebuilt using sandstone in 1388. It was made taller in 1437, and was once above the entrance to the ‘Cloth Hall.’ When the building behind it burned down in 1664, only the isolated belfry remained standing. The belfry now has 35 bells.

There is also a famous Monastic Breviary and Missal known as the Bethune Breviary. It is an early 14th century parchment prayer book once used by the monks for prayer. It is unusual in that it includes the canon of the Mass. It is also highly illustrated, and was probably once used at the monastery of the Annunciation that no longer exists in Bethune, France.

Monastery of Bethune, France

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