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The unknow British connection

It’s a little-known fact, but Douai has a very close link with England. A connection that goes back to the 16th century !

The Douai Bible, a whole history in English !

What is the link between Henry VIII, John Kennedy, Joe Biden and… the town of Douai? The Douai Bible!

In 1534, King Henry VIII of England founded the Anglican Church. Many English Catholics who remained loyal to the Pope fled the country, and the persecutions they had suffered, and settled on a charming and prosperous town in the Spanish Netherlands to found an English Catholic community. Douai!

William Allen, educated at Oxford, was one of these expatriate religious exiles. He was one of the founders of the English College of Douai and led the translation of the Bible into English from 1582 (until then it was only in Latin).

This translation was exported to the United States by Irish immigrants and is now the authority among American Catholics. It is therefore only natural that American Catholic presidents, since John Kennedy in 1961, take the oath of office on one of its editions, kept in the Library of Congress in Washington. The latest? A certain Joe Biden!

Another batch of three copies of the Douai Bible is also preciously preserved in the Marceline Desbordes-Valmore Library, in Douai of course!

The Chapel of the English Benedictines

The English Benedictines settled in Douai in 1610 on a piece of ground that belongs to the abbey of the Benedictines of Saint-Vaast in Arras. There they built a school with a chapel. During the French Revolution they went back to England and were replaced by the English congregation of Saint-Edmund. The elder chapel, which was in a bad condition, was replaced in 1840 by the current chapel designed by the English architect Pugin, of Houses of Parliament fame! It’s in neo-Gothic style. In 1903 when the monks left, the buildings, which were sold to the city, accommodated first a college then a secondary school for young girls. The buildings were enlarged by Henri Sirot, the architect of the city. Today it’s the Jean-Baptiste Corot secondary school, named after the painter who painted some landscapes of Douai. Often featuring the belfry. When the English Benedictines went back to England, they built a new college in Woolhampton called Douai Abbey.


Barry Flanagan is a Welsh artist known worldwide for his monumental bronze works of animals including rabbits and horses. The work, called ‘Field Day 2’, was installed in 1997 at the foot of the Collegiate Church of St Peter, the longest church north of Paris at 112 metres long, on the occasion of the Dialogues exhibition.

Here, the Horse is installed at the top of a large base and adopts a graceful and light posture that no rider comes to oppose. This is the artist’s strength: parodying the heroic statuary inherited from classical art through poses and materials that contrast architecture and contemporary art.


From the 16th century to the present day, Douai has thus maintained and still maintains a close and historical link with England. Come and continue this tradition!

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à 30 minutes de Lille

à 1h10 de Paris

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