English Contacts

Gezelle was a real England lover. His ultimate dream was to become a missionary in England. His superiors preferred to keep him in Belgium. To fill the void he got in touch with the English students at the minor seminary of Roeselare and later with members of the Oxford Movement and the English settlers in Bruges. In this way he could enjoy English customs and culture.

Guido Gezelle
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GGA 9180 F Edmond Hicks

English Boys

Due to a shortage of boarding schools in predominantly Anglican England, many young Catholic Englishmen came to study at the mainland colleges and seminars in the course of the nineteenth century. Guido Gezelle got in touch with English customs and culture at a very young age. When he became a student at the Minor Seminary of Roeselare in 1846, the English boys belonged to his daily life. When he became a teacher there, he was entrusted with the care of English interns. These young students were far away from home and often felt homesick. They turned to their teacher Gezelle with their daily problems.

Guido Gezelle
GGA 3886r Letter from the English student C. Edmonstone to Gezelle


Gezelle corresponded with these students and their families and he had a close relationship with people such as George Gadd and his mother Anne, Edmond Hicks, Charles Edmonstone, etc. The majority of these students became missionaries in their home country or overseas territories. The contact remained. Leading a life as a missionary in England was Gezelle’s unfulfilled dream.

Nicholas Patrick Stephen Wiseman Nicholas Patrick Stephen Wiseman (National Portrait Gallery)

Oxford Movement

In Roeselare, Gezelle founded the "Confraternity", a secret spiritual and devotional society for the English and Flemish students. He was inspired by the works of Frederick William Faber, a follower of Cardinal Newman, one of the protagonists of the Oxford Movement. It provided Gezelle with informal contacts with the higher English ecclesiastical hierarchy, with people such as Cardinal Wiseman.

Guido Gezelle
GGA 9319 F

English College

In Roeselare, Gezelle often turned to his English colleague Joseph Algar, for English literature. Together with Algar, Gezelle founded the English College in Bruges, a project that had a short-lived existence (1860-61).

GGA 8960 John Sutton

English Seminary

In 1861 Gezelle also became vice-rector and professor at the English Seminary in Bruges. That Seminary was founded by the Englishman John Sutton. On August 19th, 1861, Cardinal Wiseman visited the English Seminary. He invited Gezelle to England. Gezelle left for London for the first time on September 13th. As far as we know, he would travel to England six more times. Gezelle kept on corresponding with his former students of the English Seminary who became missionaries in England such as Bruno Desplenter, Alfons Devos, etc.

Guido Gezelle
GGA 9257 F St Walburgha parish, where many Englishmen were living

English Colony

Meanwhile, the number of English residents in Bruges grew steadily. Many English people wanted to visit the battlefield of Waterloo where Napoleon was defeated in 1815. They also discovered Bruges as an attractive historic city. The English stayed in Bruges because of its convenient location, the presence of an English garrison, and cheap life.The Oxford Movement kept in touch with the Catholic “colonists” on the mainland and helped many of the converts to visit Belgium and especially Bruges.

Aanw 9180 Fbisr f1606123130 James Weale

English Contacts

Gezelle was an important contact for the Englishmen in Bruges. He gave them spiritual guidance and was their confessor. Gezelle maintained a lively English correspondence. Remarkable is the large number of female correspondents such as Kate Woodlock, Cecilia Galbraith, Laura Perkins, etc. Some of his other English contacts, such as James Weale, became prominent figures in Bruges' cultural life. Together they started the magazine Rond den Heerd (By the Fireside) (1865), inspired by English examples.

Guido Gezelle
GGA050903 08a

Linguistic Sympathies

Gezelle was concerned about the preservation of the old Flemish language and dialects. As he sympathised with endangered minority languages he got interested in the old English, Irish, Scottish and Welsh languages. Former students and members of the English colony in Bruges often provided him with literature on that subject. One of them was Frederick Rodgers from Manchester, a student in Roeselare (1863-64) and later at the English Seminary in Bruges. He gave Gezelle a book on the dialect of Lancashire, a region in the English Midlands with a high Irish-Catholic emigration.

Robert Burns Robert Burns (National Portrait Gallery)

English Literature

Gezelle was very familiar with English, Irish and Scottish linguistics and literature because of the works of Shakespeare, Milton, Walter Scott, Robert Burns, Thomas Moore and others. In September 1899, at the time that he was the director of the English Convent in Bruges, he undertook a final journey in the company of Gustave Waffelaert, bishop of Bruges. From his early childhood till his death, England was his magical country.

This website was composed by the Guido Gezelle Archives of the Bruges Public Library

Main Library Biekorf – Kuipersstraat 3 – 8000 Bruges- Belgium

050 47 24 00

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