Saint Gerlach of Houthem
The hermit Saint Gerlach van Houthem has lived in the south of the Netherlands from about 1120 to approximately 1165. Born in a noble family who lived in or nearby Maastricht he led for about thirty years the military life of a knight. It was a frivolous and not very devotional life but the death of his wife caused a fundamental change. He realized how insignificant his life had been.
Gerlach went as penitent to Rome and Jerusalem. After returning to southern Netherlands he went to live as a hermit in a big hollow oak near the parish church of Houthem.
Gradually Gerlach was known and admired for his strict and virtuous way of living. People visited him from afar and miracles were attributed to him.
But, since the monks from the nearby Benedictine priory in Meerssen were not at all pleased with all this, he was falsely accused by the bishop of Liege. Soon after the bishop realized he was misinformed and Gerlach was rehabilitated.
On January 5, 1165/1166 Gerlach died. Already shortly after Gerlach’s dead pilgrims visited his grave. In the early 13th century a Norbertine monastery was founded above his grave to take care of all the pilgrims.
Until today Houthem is a place of pilgrimage, focusing on the tomb of Saint Gerlach, located in the 18th century baroque church of Houthem.
Since 2014 Houthem is included in the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela, as probably was the case in the past.
© photos: Bea and Dick Hoeks-De Laat, 2007