It is located in a former church, which isn’t that surprising. As I have previously noted, when Ypres was rebuilt following the First World War there were a lot of churches that had been destroyed that were rebuilt just as they had been once the conflict started.
A century later there is no need for all those churches, the religious landscape of Europe has changed enormously. Christianity is no longer dominant and many once-thriving congregations have vanished. A new, secular, use needs to be found for those empty buildings.
In Ypres, old churches and alms houses have been converted into museums and art galleries. The Municipal Museum of Education is located in one of those. In what was once the church sanctuary of St. Nicholas are all the displays of the education museum.
I always feel sad when I am in a church that is no longer used for its intended purpose. Especially if it is a case where the congregation has shrunk and can no longer sustain the building. I’m a little less saddened if the congregation has outgrown the building and determined it cannot be adapted to present-day needs. After all, older buildings frequently aren’t suited to modern day uses, which is one of the reasons Canada’s Parliament Buildings are undergoing a multi-year, multi-billion dollar renovation.
For any community such situations present challenges. I don’t know how it is for churches in Europe, but in Canada such buildings are frequently given heritage designations. That means no changes can be made to alter the historic facade of the building. Sometimes there are also restrictions on what changes can be made to the interior. Such a designation makes it difficult for any new owner who wants to adapt the building to their own use (or for the original owner to try and adapt to changing times). In a lot of cases it would probably be cheaper to tear the building down and start from scratch, but with a heritage designation that isn’t possible.
In an ideal world the money would be available to preserve our heritage, no matter what the cost. This isn’t an ideal world, and there is no easy solution. Turning St. Nicholas Church in Ypres into a museum was a smart use of the space, and it is an interesting place to visit.
As for the other empty church buildings, in Europe, North America and elsewhere, maybe the churches involved should be looking at their mission and how best to fulfill it. Sometimes that may mean abandoning buildings that have lost their usefulness.