Clervaux: a great surprise
Clervaux is a small town in the Luxembourg Ardennes located on the River Clerve inside the Our Nature Park, not far from the point where Belgium, Germany and Luxembourg meet. Its two main attractions are its abbey and its castle, with its photographic exhibition “The Family of Man”.
In 1901, the Benedictine monks of Glanfeuil Abbey in France were obliged to leave the country by new legislation. They first moved to Belgium, and then chose Clervaux as their new home. They hired the Dutch architect Johann Franz Klomp, who was busy finishing the new parish church in Clervaux, to design their new abbey, and moved there in 1910. The community has lived in Clervaux ever since, apart from four years during the German occupation in the Second World War. The monks have become famous for reviving the tradition of Gregorian Chant, and have made several recordings. The Icelandic writer Halldór Laxnes (1902-1998) converted to Christianity during a retreat at the abbey and helped it set up a mission in Iceland. Klomp’s distinctive Rhenish-Romanesque architectural style can be admired in the abbey buildings and also in the parish church of St Comus and St Damien, completed in 1912.
Clervaux Castle and “The Family of Man”
Clervaux Castle can trace its origins back to the twelfth century, but most of what we can see today is the result of a rebuilding in the seventeenth century. In 1994, it became the permanent home of a touring exhibition of photographs collected by Luxembourgeois curator Edward Steichen (1879-1973) when he was Curator of Photography at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMa) in New York. Entitled “The Family of Man”, the original exhibition aimed to present a portrait of humanity and opened in New York in 1955. It contained 503 photos by 273 photographers from 68 countries, including such famous names as Ansel Adams, Richard Avedon, Bill Brandt, Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Doisneau, Dorothea Lange and Lee Miller. After closing in New York, the exhibition toured around the world and was seen by an estimated 9 million people. It is displayed at Clervaux as it was in New York in 1955. In 2003, UNESCO added it to its “Memory of the World” list.
The castle also includes the Battle of the Bulge Museum, with an extensive collection of American, German and Luxembourgeois artefacts from World War II, and an exhibition of models of the castles and palaces of Luxembourg. A Sherman tank that participated in the Battle of Clervaux in 1944 and a German 88 anti-aircraft/anti-tank field gun are on display at the castle entrance.