The Salve Mater hospital in Lovenjoel near Bierbeek has served many patients throughout the years. However, after closing in 1997 and spending some time as an artist’s studio and gallery, the site is now home to several families in the renovated buildings.
The buildings were designed by Joseph Hachez while the surrounding parkland was intended to imitate an English garden. The main building held the convent and administrative offices. Attached to this building were a chapel, a morgue, and the kitchens.
The hospital was officially opened in 1926 by Queen Elisabeth of Belgium. It was set up and run by the Sisters of Mercy, and the remit of Salve Mater was to treat only women with mental health problems.
Although the hospital was managed by a monastic order, Salve Mater was also part of the nearby University of Leuven. This is because the land on which the hospital was built belonged to the institution and had been leased to the Sisters of Mercy. As a result, student psychiatrists would be trained at Salve Mater.
The hospital operated as a women-only hospital until 1997 when it was shut down. However, despite the closure of the central part of the hospital, reports suggest that some of the outlying buildings were still in use. Consequently, the last patients didn’t leave Salve Mater until 2007.
It seems that at one point, several of the buildings were also used as retirement homes, most likely for nuns in the Sisters of Mercy order.
From 2003, the main building was used by an artist and photographer named Pascal Baetens. He used it as a studio and as his gallery. Because he lived on-site, his presence there deterred vandals from completely destroying the abandoned property.
Due to its rich collection of trees and plants, the surrounding land was protected by the Administration of Monuments and Landscapes. However, both the grounds and the buildings soon fell into disrepair.
Urban explorers who visited Salve Mater claimed that it was relatively easy to gain access. They reported that scattered around the site they found not only patient data but also medication and possibly hazardous material.
In addition, some explorers came across more robust equipment like beds, chairs and wheelchairs, and one of the two autopsy tables in the morgue.
Some early pictures of the site show curtains and pictures still hanging on the walls as well as carpet on the floor. Several urban explorers commented on how the chapel with its stained glass window was one of the highlights of their visit.
In 2010, reconstruction work began on the abandoned buildings of Salve Mater. Because work was undertaken one structure at a time, the full renovation wasn’t completed until 2018. Today, the site is home to several families.
The pictures in this article belong to the photographer, Marco Delnoij. On his own website, Marco shares his experiences of exploring abandoned places. He has visited many locations and publishes them with associated stories. Visit his blog here to check out more of his work.
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