Oud Leuven: Sint-Jobkapel

Oud Leuven: Sint-Jobkapel

  • Name in 1649:

    Sint-Jobkapel en het Godshuis van de Twaalf Apostelen

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Built in 1449, the Chapel of Saint Job (Sint-Jobkapel) and the Hospice of the Twelve Apostles (Godshuis van de Twaalf Apostelen) were located along what is known today as the Vaartstraat. The exact location is around today’s number 106. This chapel was closely tied to the pan-European cult of Saint Job that rose to its height between 1496 and 1520 centred in Wezemaal, north of Leuven.


When he died in 1422, a notable patrician of Leuven, Petrus Heyme left in his will that all his fortunes will be used to build – on the site of his house – a chapel and a hospice that will accommodate thirteen ill-stricken old men and two priests. The construction only began in 1449, after which both chapel and hospice were dedicated to the Twelve Apostles.

What's so special about this place?

The Mysterious Statue of Saint Job in Wezemaal

For unknown reasons, someone left behind a previously unseen wooden statue of Saint Job in the Saint Martin’s Church (Sint-Martinuskerk) a little before 1400. Carved with a high level of artistry, the representation of Saint Job was unlike the usual representation of this figure from the Old Testament: A patient long-suffering man covered with boils seated almost naked on piles of dung scratching his sores with a potsherd.

This version of Saint Job was seated on a gothic throne. He is adorned with a golden robe and cap, as a triumphant prophet who has overcome suffering and has been restored by God to all his wealth. In Job’s left hand is a bundle of flames, that symbolizes the purifying, purifying power of suffering.

In the open bible held in Job’s left hand are the words ‘God gaf, God nam’ (God gave, God took) that were added in the 18th century.

The Wezemaal statue is the oldest known image of Saint Job with a bundle of flames.

The Rise of Syphilis and the Cult of Saint Job

The story of the strange glorious statue of Job soon spread from Wezemaal. Job was in the Middle Ages venerated as the patron saint against skin diseases (due to his boils). The flow of pilgrims became so important to Wezemaal, that by 1437 the village fair was moved from April 23 to May 10 to coincide with the Feast Day of Saint Job when the tourist season was at its height.

The church factory was put into motion: pilgrims who came to worship Job also bought a Saint Job metal pendant as an object of devotion. The pendant depicts the normal representation of Saint Job covered in boils sitting on a pile of dung after losing all his possessions. Three musicians come to comfort Job with their music and he rewards them with a crust of his skin, which promptly turns into a piece of gold. But to showcase the pendant came from Wezemaal and not from anywhere else, Job’s left hand holds a bundle of flames.

Somewhere from 1495 onwards, the cult of Saint job grew even bigger. Thousands and thousands of pilgrims arrived in Wezemaal each year from all over Europe. A new deadly skin disease was spreading rapidly from Naples to the whole continent. They were brought to the Low Countries by the French soldiers who were fighting there. Showing many commonalities with the story of Saint Job – the long suffering and huge boils, this new disease was called “the sickness of Saint Job”.

Because of this, the cult of Saint Job grew to unprecedented heights. Today, we know this disease as syphilis.

How Leuven protected Saint Job

With Wezemaal being the centre of a pan-European pilgrimage site, Leuven quickly cashed in on the desperation of syphilis patients. In 1517, the Aarschotsepoort city gate that leads to Wezemaal via Aarschot was baptised as theSint-Jobspoort” (Gate of Saint Job), and a statue of Job was placed in a niche above the gate.

In the 1560s, with the rise of Protestantism in the Low Countries, Calvinist preachers from England, France, Germany and Switzerland arrived to hold open air congregations here, preaching against the offense of the Catholic Church. Violent iconoclasm became more and more common. Fearing that the miraculous Saint Job would be harmed, the treasurer of the Sint-Martinuskerk brought the church’s treasures to Leuven for safekeeping, including the precious Saint Job. More precisely, it was placed and honoured in the Chapel of the Twelve Apostles, where it remained for the next 42 years until 1620.

It was during this time that the chapel became known as the Chapel of Saint Job (Sint-Jobkapel).

The very year after the treasure was brought to Leuven, the Sint-Martinuskerk was plundered by English and Scottish mercenaries. The building was burnt to the ground the next year after a lightning strike. It was only during the Counter-Reformation when the miraculous Saint Job returned to Wezemaal. By then, the cult had died down.

Today, the statue sits behind a glass container in an air of quiet solitude, holding a glorious momentuous past unbeknownst to many.

Meanwhile in Leuven, the Sint-Jobkapel took on a new lease of life after the miraculous Job arrived. Each 10 May, a grand parade of faithful was held to celebrate the saint. The pilgrims who used to go to Wezemaal are now in Leuven, to the delight of the chapel. After the return of the miraculous statue to Wezemaal, Leuven made a new statue for its own Sint-Jobkapel and continued the veneration. The chapel had a single altar, with a painting of Saint Job by the 18th century painter Pieter-Jozef Verhaghen. The painting was last moved to the Sint-Michielskerk.

In 1804, the chapel and the hospice had to make way for the enlargement of the Vaartstraat, following the construction of the canal that leads to Antwerp. The site was completely demolished for private houses, which remained till this day.

Current situation

There is today not a single trace of the once-famous Sint-Jobkapel. On old maps, there was always a bridge that led across the river to the chapel. While traces of stonemasonry can still be seen on the site where the bridge should have been, it is unclear whether those were actually from the bridge.

Many heartfelt gratitude to Frederic Hecq of Lovanium for his advice and help in locating the site of the Sint-Jobkapel.



“Louvain dans le passé et dans le présent”, Edward van Even, 1895 (Image)
Beeld van Sint-Job voorgesteld als triomferende profeet gezeten op troon, met in de linkerhand een vlammenbundel, einde 14de eeuw (© Brussel, KIK/IRPA, cliché x007391) (Image)
Pelgrimsinsigne van Sint-Job uit Wezemaal, ca. 1450-1489, gevonden in het verdronken dorp Nieuwlande (Zeeland). Tin-lood, 6,4 x 4,3 cm. Opschrift onderaan: ‘S. JOB VAN WESEM[ALE]’. (Kunera nr. 00237. – Foto: Langbroek (NL), Collectie familie Van Beuningen) (Image)
‘De Leuvense Prentenatlas’, Cockx and Huybens, 2003 ( (Image)


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