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Published Monthly Except July and August
THE CATHOLIC EDUCATION PRESS
Under the Direction of the
DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION
THE UNIVERSITY OF LOUVAIN.1
No incident in this present dreadful war which is devastating a large part of Europe has so gone to the heart of the Catholic world, and especially the learned part of it, as the destruction of Louvain. Here was a quiet university city, open and undefended, whose ways were peace, with ancient buildings of such beauty and historic associations that they had been spared through the wars of century after century, which was reduced to ruins and ashes in forty-eight hours.
It was the home of what had been, till the foundation of the Catholic University of America at Washington, the only purely Catholic University in the world-a center of learning which irradiated all Belgium with its light and influence, and through the students who came to it from other countries shed far-flung beams to the uttermost ends of the earth.
If asked why this destruction was wreaked we can only say that the reason alleged by the German invaders of Belgium is that the townspeople had fired on their soldiers. We must suppose, then, from this that the town and university were razed as an act of reprisal, though one cannot but have an uneasy feeling that the punishment was in dreadful excess of the crime alleged. Against this the Belgian Minister of Foreign Affairs has officially declared that the townspeople and the police had been disarmed a week before and that the German Commander-in-Chief would listen to no protests and made no inquiry into the facts. The order for destruction was given; the townspeople were ordered to leave and were sent to destinations unknown. What followed is thus officially described : “Soldiers furnished with bombs set fire to all parts of the town. The splendid church of St. Pierre, the University buildings, the Library and the scientific establishment were delivered to the flames. Several notable citizens were shot. A town of 45,000 inhabitants, the intellectual metropolis of the Low Countries since the fifteenth centuries, is now. no more than a heap of ashes."
1The article was written for the Review in May, 1915, but the whole world was so absorbed in the struggle then going on and in the rapid succession of the terrible events of the war that it was deemed wiser to hold it for calmer times. Today reconstruction of the devastated areas, in France and Belgium particularly, is receiving earnest attention from the nations assembled in Paris to map out the future of the world. Educators everywhere will now interest themselves in the restoration of Belgian schools and particularly in the rehabilitation of its great University.-EDITOR.
Fuit Ilium! With its church and schools, its library and laboratories burned and in ruins, with its students and professors dispersed, this ancient University of Louvain is no more. A great light has been quenched in Christendom; and that when peace shall once more reign it will be relit does not make the present loss any the less great or keen. An academic life almost unbroken for five hundred years has closed and gone down in blood and ashes. Please God, a new and more glorious era will soon open for the old University; but whilst for the dawn of that we wait in hope, we may well go back upon the past and as students survey how this great Christian school arose and developed from small beginnings till last year it stood forth with the honors of a world-wide reputation thick
The town of Louvain has nothing in its early history to indicate with what its later greatness would be associated. Like many of our modern cities, its early character was quite other than that which it took on later, the earlier being either a preparation for that which came afterwards, or replaced on its going by the later. Its beginnings were military-a Frankish settlement and a Norman camp, where the Norsemen may, in modern parlance, be said to have entrenched themselves early in the nineties of the ninth century and where they were defeated by Arnulf of Bavaria. The place which stood by the still waters of the Dyle in a forest clearing was known as Lovon or Loven, “100” meaning wood or lea, and "ven" meaning marsh or fen, thus corresponding etymologically very closely with "lea-fen," which is not far from its modern Belgian name of Louvain. In spite of the defeat, something remained of the old Norse camp, the castrum Lovanium, which, by the middle of the eleventh century, had become the feudal castle of the Dukes of Brabant, in which capacity it served early in the fourteenth century as a winter residence for Edward III of England. The old church of St. Peter, on the site of which, till August last, the great church of St. Pierre stood, had been built early in the eleventh century by Lambert the Bearded, and round it a population of "homines Sancti Petri,” Pietersmans or Petermen, had sprung up.
The people prospered and gradually accumulated privileges and rights and developed a flourishing trade. With their growing prosperity they became more and more jealous of their customs and franchises, which they sought to safeguard by repeated recognition on the part of their rulers. Thus, on his arrival in Louvain in 1356, Duke Wenceslaus was required to swear in the Hotel de Ville in presence of the representatives of the people that he would respect their rights and privileges, a ceremony which was called the "Joyeuse Entrée," and was repeated on the accession of his successors, much in the same way as in England new sovereigns were called upon to give a solemn confirmation of Magna Carta.
Meanwhile, the importance of the town had been developing. A market had grown up in the twelfth century; considerable trade was done with Cologne and Bruges; and the addition of the fortifications rendered necessary by its growing wealth and position raised it to the status of an "oppidum” or fortified town. By immigration and acquired wealth some of its families grew to patrician rank; whilst on their own side, following the trend of the time, the workers formed themselves into trade guilds. Between these two sections, each anxious for their own security and its protection, quarrels and feuds broke out. The struggle was a long one but it ended in the massacre of seventy patricians at the town hall on December 16, 1378. Thenceforth the city seemed doomed. Its citizens could no longer maintain their resistance to Duke Wenceslaus. After 1381 the decline was serious. The weavers sought fresh homes in Holland and England, and the reigning family departed, an act which prepared the way for the rise of Brussels as the capital of Belgium.