The Curious Case Of Belgium’s Transparent Church

What makes 30 tonnes of steel disappear?  
Belgian Borgloon church duo Pieterjan Gijs Arnout Van Vaerenbergh
The mysterious Borgloon Church is placed in a field outside Borgloon town (1 hr from Brussels) and is accessible only on foot or bicycle. Photo: Sylvia Adams/Shutterstock

Even though it’s made of 30 tonnes of steel, Borgloon Church looks like a surrealist painting. From certain angles, sections of the structure appear transparent, as if it has dissolved into its surroundings. It stands in the countryside outside Borgloon town, in Belgium, 70 kilometres east of the capital Brussels.

A spire and cross crown the building, but this isn’t a traditional place of worship. It’s an art project made from 2,000 evenly spaced, stacked horizontal steel plates. The installation is called “Reading Between the Lines” and was built in 2011, by famous Belgian architect duo Pieterjan Gijs and Arnout Van Vaerenbergh. Popularly referred to as the “transparent church of Belgium,” it is fashioned after the medieval churches of the region. As the position of the sun changes through the day, the facade of the church keeps changing, and can go from solid to transparent, depending on where the viewer is standing. The landscape around can be seen through gaps between the lines, creating the illusion of a pixellated image. This piece of art is placed in a field outside Borgloon and is accessible only on foot or bicycle. Visitors can see the green surroundings through the slats up-close but the installation is best viewed from afar.

The structure, which is 10 metres high, is part of a project that aims to bring art into public places. Its empty interior is said to be an architectural metaphor for the state of churches in the region, where attendance has dwindled to nothing.

Appeared in the September 2015 issue as “Between The Lines”.

The Guide

Borgloon is a small city 70 km/1 hr by road east of Brussels. The closest train station is Alken, which is 1 hr from Brussels and a 10 km/15-min drive from Borgloon. Alken is connected to Borgloon by bus and taxi.

“Read Between the Lines” is a little outside the city. A walking trail from Sint-Truidersteenweg (near the crossing with Grootloonstraat) leads to the structure. The Borgloon tourism office (; +32-12-673663) provides detailed information about the structure as well as free hiking and cycling maps outlining other unusual art projects in the region, such as Dré Wapenaar’s tear-shaped tents that hang from trees near the castle of Hex.

  • Rumela Basu is Assistant Editor at National Geographic Traveller India. Her favourite kind of travel involves food, literature, dance and forests. She travels not just to discover new destinations but also aspects of herself.

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