Geel Tourist Attractions
The town of Geel is situated in the center of an agricultural region in Kempenland in the eastern part of the province of Antwerp. It is well known for its pioneering method of treating psychiatric patients and the mentally ill.
They receive treatment at a large psychiatric hospital but live in the community with families, taking part in everyday life. There are about 1,400 patients living in Geel.This tradition is derived from the legend of St Dymphna or Dimpna, the patron saint of the possessed and insane. Dymphna was an Irish princess from the sixth C. who fled from her father who wanted to marry her after the death of his wife. With her confessor Gerebernus Dymphna sought refuge in Geel, but she was discovered by her father who, in a frenzy, is supposed to have decapitated her. The town soon became a place of pilgrimage for the mentally ill. The pilgrims who came to visit the tomb were accommodated by the townspeople, a custom which has remained, although in a different form, until the present day. An annual fair, the oldest in Belgium, resulted from the pilgrimages.
Situated on the road to Mol, Sint-Dimpnakerk is late Gothic, built 1349-1479. The massive tower (16th C.) made of alternating white sandstone and brown ironstone was never finished.The church's art treasures include the Sint-Dimpna retable of 1515 on the main altar with fine wood carving, a Brabant retable of the Passion in the right transept (wood; 1490), a stone retable depicting the 12 apostles (14th C.) and the silver reliquaries of St Dymphna and her confessor, Gerebernus. In the choir the Renaissance mausoleum in marble and alabaster of Jan III de Merode and his wife was the work of Cornelis Floris de Vriendt in 1554. From 1484-1601 Geel was owned by the de Merode family. The so-called "sick room" built against the church tower housed the sick during the nine day pilgrimage and from here they were carried into the church three times a day to pray.
The first hospital was founded in Geel in 1280; the present day buildings are primarily from the 17th C. and have been converted into a local museum with collections of furniture, paintings and church exhibits.
Tongerlo - Abbey
The abbey of Tongerlo, 9km/5mi southwest of Tongerlo, was founded by the Premonstratensians of Sint-Michielsabdij of Antwerp in 1130, who set about converting the heathens. Following the French Revolution the abbey was abandoned and only re-inhabited and restored in 1840. The oldest parts of the building are the 14th C. tower and a barn dating from the 15th C.; the remaining buildings originate from various later epochs to the neo-Gothic Onze-Lieve-Vrouwkerk (1851-1858). A splendid avenue of lime trees, planted in 1676, leads up to the entrance.
Museum da Vinci
In the abbey is the Museum da Vinci, which has a remarkable copy of "The Last Supper", painted barely 20 years after Leonardo had finished the original for the Santa Marie delle Grazie church in Milan. The copy in Tongerlo was acquired for the abbey church in 1545. Other paintings include a small Pietà by Roger van der Weyden.
Kasteel van Westerlo
The small town of Westerlo, situated in woodland only 2km south of Tongerlo, is famous for the two châteaus of the van Merode family, who lived here from the 14th C. and were engaged in Belgian politics from time to time.The right-angled keep of the château surrounded by park land belonged to the van Merode princes and was built around 1300 as part of the new château, which replaced the first 11th C. house. Further extension and conversion work took place from the 16th C. and during the next two centuries. A second château was built along the Boerenkrijglan in 1910. Since 1972 the neo-Gothic building has been the parish house of Westerlo.
Lommel - German Military Cemetery
South of Lommel which lies 30km/18miles northwest of Geel is a military cemetery where German soldiers killed in Belgium during the Second World war are buried. The 20,000 crosses represent the 40,000 graves.Also here are 541 soldiers killed in action in the First World War and Polish soldiers killed in action in the Second World War.