- Early Protestant preachers and practitioners include the Cathars in the 13th century. In the early 15th century, a Carmelite monk, William of Hildernisse, preached doctrines that recalled those of John Wycliffe. The bishop of Cambrai compelled him to recant on 12 June 1412. In 1502-1503, two preachers who attacked veneration of the Virgin Mary were burned, and, on 30 August 1518, Lauken van Moeseke was decapitated because he expressed doubts about the value of the sacraments. In 1521, Augustinian monks were arrested in Antwerp for preaching Martin Luther's (1483-1546) precepts and sent to Brussels. On 1 July 1523, two of them, Henri Voes and Jan van Esschen, were burned at the Grand' Place. Nonetheless, Lutheran beliefs spread and sermons were preached, including at the workshop of Bernard van Orley, despite a prohibition in 1521 against possession of Lutheran books and even, in 1526, against pronouncing his name. Several tapestry weavers were punished in 1527 for attending sermons by the Lutheran Claes van der Elst, including Pieter de Pannemaker.In the 1530s, Munsterites and Mennonites arrived. Executions in 1534 were followed by a relatively tranquil period until 1541, when they were renewed. In 1543, Calvinists established a Dutch-speaking and a French-speaking community, the latter composed largely of the court nobility and the well-to-do, who met in conventicles at secret places. By 1561-1563, Calvinists were meeting nightly, and, in June 1566, grand prêches ("large preachings") took place. Iconoclasts wreaked havoc, and Protestants dropped the 15th-century limestone statue of the Virgin and child (the celebrated "Black Virgin" now in the Sainte-Catherine church) into the Senne River.The arrival of the duke of Alba in 1567 launched the wars of religion that saw Protestants executed and expelled. Many returned in 1573, but tensions rose, especially after 1575 when Protestants were allowed to worship publicly. The Calvinist-dominated city government granted open tolerance, which ended with capitulation to the forces of Alessandro Farnese. Protestants were given two years to either abjure or leave. Many departed but many also stayed.Services were held in secret during the Counter-Reformation, but Protestants could worship at the chapel in the Dutch embassy after its opening in 1656 and also at the English mission. Despite official disapproval, 400 Protestant exiles arrived from Geneva in 1762. English residents established an Anglican church in 1783.In 1803, Protestants were given the former Chapelle royale in the Palais de Charles de Lorraine to use for worship. On 25 July 1805, Protestant faiths were accorded official recognition. A Methodist mission run by the London Missionary Society arrived after Waterloo, and the Dutch Reformed Church—the Temple des Augustins— was the central place of worship for that sect during the Dutch regime. It was occupied by Belgian revolutionaries on 5 September 1830. They ransacked the premises the following day in search of arms and munitions. Swiss theologian Jean-Henri Merle d'Aubigné (1794-1872) served as a preacher to the Dutch royal court in Brussels in 1823.King Leopold I, a Protestant, worshiped at the former Chapelle royale. The Société evangélique belge was founded in 1837 and, by 1865, Brussels counted eight Protestant churches—two French-speaking, two Dutch-speaking, three English-speaking, and one both French- and German-speaking. The numbers grew to 13 by 1914 and to 44 for the 19 communes just after 1945. The American preacher Reverend Billy Graham led a crusade in 1975. At present, Protestant churches are supported especially by the many expatriates living in the metropolitan area.
Historical Dictionary of Brussels. Paul F. State.