Southern Door

Mark and I visited Southern Door today. I had made arrangements ahead of time for us to tour the Belgian Chapels in and around Brussels, WI. Alas, today was bitterly cold, overcast, and windy.

We started out at the Belgian Heritage Center which used to be a Catholic church. Our guide, Barb, told us that this clock actually came from the old country, but they haven’t been able to figure out where yet.

We were met at the door by Barb, a woman who grew up in this area and has been doing genealogies and research to preserve the memories of the Belgians that settled in this area. In the 1800s, on the same day as the great Chicago fire, both sides of Green Bay were caught up in a much larger fire called the Pashtigo fire. The reason it isn’t as famous is because the Belgians spoke Walloon and they couldn’t communicate about what had happened to them. The Chicago fire destroyed only a small fraction of the amount destroyed in the Pashtigo fire. Barb’s ancestors survived by going down into their well and passing their young child back and forth until the fire ended. When they climbed out of the well, everything they owned was gone. A group of 35 farmers and their families tried to hide under wet blankets in a cultivated field. All of them died. The fire traveled both underground where it sprouted up and in “dark balloons” that hit trees and other objects and burst into flame. After the fire, the Belgians built houses of brick, often with a small round window in the attic so that they could see at a distance if a fire was coming.

A Belgian chapel at the Belgian Heritage Center

Barb took us east from the Belgian Heritage Center to see all the Belgian chapels in that direction. She said that if we come back in the fall when it’s really colorful, she’ll take us to see the Belgian chapels to the west. These chapels were built for various reasons. They could be built to worship in until a larger church was completed, or they could be built as a result of a vow. People built them in their yards and named them after various saints, depending on what the saint was a patron of. A man who got lime in his eye prayed that if his eyesight was restored, he would build a chapel to honor the patron saint of eyesight. Another whose child was missing promised to build a chapel to the patron saint of children if his child were found. His child’s body washed up on shore after 3 years, so he built the chapel.

Barb’s cousin, sitting in the lower left of this picture, built a chapel in her garage because she had a home for disabled adults and she wanted them to have something close they could go to. She also survived 2 bouts of cancer.
Barb and me talking in her cousin’s chapel. The statue of Mary behind me in the picture was almost stolen by a couple of guys, so her cousin had to start locking the chapel.
This window in her cousin’s chapel is of the patron saint of music. To the left of the organ is a baptismal font.
This is a statue of St Michael next to a chapel dedicated to him. A lot of the artifacts used in these chapels were rescued when churches were throwing them away or selling them. This one had formerly been in a church that was torn down.
I believe this chapel belonged to a man who went back to Belgian often, and each time he came back with another statue he had bought there.
I loved this little statue that was in one of the chapels.
This was a different rendition of the Last Supper than I’ve ever seen before. The person leaning on Jesus’s shoulder appears to be a woman.
We walked back to an old cemetery where there was also a chapel.
Some of the tombstones are leaning precariously.

This reminds me that next to the Belgian Heritage Center, which as I said before used to be a church, there’s a cemetery where one of the priests didn’t like the nonconformity of the gravestones, so he dug them all up, and lined them up neatly at a small distance from where the bodies are actually buried. There is now no way to identify the names of the people lying beneath the ground.

The cemetery had some headstones that had pictures on them. Some of the pictures have been lost through people using them for target practice.
St Martin’s Chapel is dedicated to the honor of the local soldiers who returned from WWII.
Our final visit was to the church at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Champion or Our Lady of Good Help. This is the grave of Adele Joseph Brise who saw a vision of Mary 3 times when she was young. The third time, she asked Mary what she wanted of her and she told her that she wanted her to teach the children in the area what they needed to know to be good Catholics.
While Mark and I wandered the grounds for a few minutes, Barb went into the Apparition Oratory to worship. This is supposed to be the very spot where Adele Joseph Brice saw the apparition of Mary.
The Pieta
The upstairs chapel
This stained glass window in the upper chapel represents something that happened here during the Pashtigo fire. At the bottom of the window, you can just barely make out the log church that was originally on these grounds with flames burning above it.
During the fire, the congregation walked along the path you see next to the fence and around to the other side of this memorial. They were praying that the fire wouldn’t touch this area, and in fact, the fire divided and went around these grounds as they prayed.
This is from a brochure regarding the Feast of the Assumption that happens on August 15th every year. People still walk on the path around the grounds during the rosary procession commemorating what the congregation did during the fire.

Before Barb parted from us, she recommended we eat at the Belgian Delight restaurant in Brussels and then go to the local grocery store and get a Belgian pie.

Eating at Belgian Delight
We also bought a Belgian pie and brought it home. Besides apple pie, other traditional pies are prune pie and a rice pudding sort of pie. Barb said that her mother was always disappointed if her pie crusts weren’t strong enough to be picked up and eaten by hand. There’s a whole bunch of stuff in this pie we probably shouldn’t eat, but we wanted to try it this once.

One thought on “Southern Door

  1. I’ve never heard of the Pashtigo fire. Now I am very curious about what the Barb’s ancestors did after they climbed out of the well with everything being burned down.
    Thanks for the interesting information, Denise!

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