12 August 2016

Bruges, Belgium

The film THE NUN’S STORY tells the story of Gabrielle van der Mal (Audrey Hepburn), a young Flemish woman who at the end of the 1920s chooses to devote herself to a life in the convent. The movie is based on the book with the same name from 1956 by Kathryn Hulme who was inspired by the real life events of Marie Louise Habets.

The Nun's Story, 0:39:50
The movie was filmed in Europe and Africa. Shooting on location was done in Belgium and Belgian Congo (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo). All interior scenes were filmed at Cinecittà in Rome, Italy, were preparations started on 20 January 1958. February and March were used to film in Africa, followed by a studio shoot at Cinecittà. Finally, filming was completed with a location shoot in the Belgian cities Bruges, Brussels, Antwerp and Aalst during the last two weeks of June.

Before the shoot in Belgium started, Audrey Hepburn visited Expo 58, the World’s Fair in Brussels, the city she was born in 1929. Between 1935 en 1948 she lived with her Dutch mother in Arnhem, the Netherlands.

The film starts in Bruges, famous for its medieval centre that has largely been preserved. Gabrielle is standing on the bridge between the Spinolarei and the Spiegelrei near the Koningstraat. During the opening credits she walks on the Spinolarei along the canal. In the background the tower of the Poortersloge at the Jan van Eyckplein is visible. In the years that have passed little has changed, although the present photos show that there are often restorations and renovations going on.

The Nun's Story, 0:00:18
Bridge Spinolarei and Spiegelrei, Bruges, 26 July 2016
The Nun's Story, 0:00:37
Bridge Spinolarei and Spiegelrei, Bruges, 26 July 2016
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Spinolarei, Bruges, 26 July 2016

View at Sint-Annarei, Bruges, 25 July 2016
In the film it cannot be seen that Gabrielle has a direct view from the bridge on her parental home, situated at Sint-Annarei 22. The facade dates from the 18th century. Today, the mansion is listed as protected heritage. The movie shows that the windows used to have shutters, these have been removed. The houses with the gables on the right have been painted light grey. When Gabrielle says goodbye to her family en looks up, the Spiegelrei can be seen behind her.

The Nun's Story, 0:01:25
Sint-Annarei 22, Bruges, 25 July 2016
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Sint-Annarei 22, Bruges, 25 July 2016
The Nun's Story, 0:06:04
Sint-Annarei, Bruges, 25 July 2016
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Sint-Annarei 22, Bruges, 25 July 2016

Gabrielle and her father, dr. Hubert van der Wal (Dean Jagger), go the convent by car. In real life, this is Onze-Lieve-Vrouw ter Potterie (Our-Dear-Lady at Potterie), a religious hospital at Potterierei 79, founded in the 13th century. The former hospital, nowadays a museum, is within walking distance of the Sint-Annarei. In the passing years it has hardly changed, even the heart shaped pull bell is still there, only the chimney on the left is gone.

The Nun's Story, 0:06:22
Onze-Lieve-Vrouw ter Potterie, Bruges, 25 July 2016
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Onze-Lieve-Vrouw ter Potterie, Bruges, 25 July 2016
The Nun's Story, 0:07:22
Entrance Onze-Lieve-Vrouw ter Potterie, Bruges, 25 July 2016
The Nun's Story, 0:07:25
Entrance Onze-Lieve-Vrouw ter Potterie, Bruges, 25 July 2016

The Potterierei, the street where Gabrielle and her father are walking, was named after the many potters that used to work there. The buildings on the other side of the canal are still the same, although some have been painted in a different colour.

The Nun's Story, 0:06:24
Potterierei, Bruges, 25 July 2016
The Nun's Story, 0:06:44
Langerei, Bruges, 25 July 2016

When sister Luke returns from Africa the Onze-Lieve-Vrouw ter Potterie can be seen again, this time in the rain, filmed from the Langerei, the street on the other side of the canal. During our visit the weather was much sunnier.

The Nun's Story, 1:56:56
Onze-Lieve-Vrouw ter Potterie, Bruges, 25 July 2016
The Nun's Story, 1:57:05
Onze-Lieve-Vrouw ter Potterie, Bruges, 25 July 2016

Audrey Hepburn and Mel Ferrer in Doorn, 1 October 1959
While filming her next movie, The Unforgiven, Audrey Hepburn was severely wounded after she fell off a horse. Marie Louise Habets, the former nun whose life story was the basis of both the book and the movie, offered her help and during four weeks nursed her back to health. In October 1959 Audrey Hepburn returned to Europe to attend several premieres, amongst others on 1 October in Amsterdam, on 2 October in The Hague and on 15 October in Brussels. During her visit to the Netherlands Audrey Hepburn and her then husband Mel Ferrer revealed the nameplate of the street in Doorn that was named after her. Five years earlier she had started a fundraising to build a home for veteran soldiers who had became invalid during the war. The street that was chosen to built the complex was named in her honour.

Update 18 March 2021 Following a question about the film locations in Antwerp, I found out that there is another location in Bruges in the film, although the scene is set near Brussels. Sister Luke is walking with Mother Christophe (Beatrice Straight) along a lane near the sanatorium they work. Loes Maveau of City Film Office Bruges recognised the Begijnenvest between the Poer Tower and Sashuis. The fence was probably a set piece.

The Nun's Story, 1:00:13
The Nun's Story, 1:01:21

Update 20 March 2021 Gudrun Lemmens, from Visit Bruges (dienst Toerisme Stad Brugge), recognised another location in Bruges. The entrance of the Institute for Tropical Medicine in Antwerp is in reality the inside of the monumental entrance gate to Oude Zak of the Professor Dr. J. Sebrechtspark. Originally a monastery garden, from 1928 to 1958 (the year the film was shot) it was the property of surgeon and university professor Joseph Sebrechts (1885-1948) and his relatives. Today, the park is city property.

The Nun's Story, 0:46:24

Screenshots © Warner Bros.
Photo Audrey Hepburn and Mel Ferrer © Spaarnestad


  1. Thank you for taking the time and effort to present this. I, for one, appreciate it. Mark.

    1. Thanks for comment, I highly appreciate it, Arjan.

  2. Quite an interesting and informative article - thank you!

  3. Superb & interesting overview.
    Any idea where the "Tram 60" scene was shot ? Maybe Antwerp ?

    1. Thanks!

      I am not quite sure but it seems that besides Bruges all scenes in Belgium were filmed in Antwerp.

      The scene where the ship leaves for Congo was filmed at Steenplein in Antwerp.

    2. I sent some screenshots to Visit Antwerp and they identified the tram scene as Melkmarkt and the garden where the nuns receive their diploma as the Begijnhof.

    3. Because I could not find the exact location when visiting Antwerp, I contacted MIVB (Brussels Public Transport). They informed me that the tram 60 scene was filmed in Brussels, more precisely corner of Gustave Fussstraat, André Van Hasseltstraat and Thomas Vinçottestraat. Although trams no longer ride here, most building have remained, see Google Street View.

  4. Op imdb word ook Froyennes vermeld! Iemand enig idee?

    1. According to this article in the Washington Times: “It proved impossible to secure the cooperation of her actual Belgian order, the Sisters of Jesus and Mary in Ghent, although the filmmakers tried and went through a period of script consultation with a nun who professed to remember Sister Luke well. Miss Hepburn and the other actresses ultimately spent their training periods with a French order, the Sisters of the Oblates d’Assumption in Froyennes.”

      As far as I know, no scenes were filmed in Froyennes; all interiors were shot in Cinecittà in Rome.