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In comparison with towns bordering Sint-Niklaas such as Waasmunster, Belsele and Temse, Nieuwkerken is a much younger town. It was founded around 1143 and became independent from Sint-Niklaas on the 21st of June 1294. On the 1st of Januari 1977 it became a part of the larger Sint-Niklaas area.
According to historians Frans De Potter and Jan Brouckaert, the first church was built in 1294 by Jacob Van Lent, pastor in Sint-Niklaas. The church was largely destroyed by a fire in 1646.
At a certain evening a shepard walked home through the woods with his flock of sheep. He noticed a small Mother Mary statue standing in a hollow tree. He took the statue home, put it on the table and went to sleep. When he woke up in the morning, the statue was gone. As the man went back on the road with his flock, he was surprised to see the statue standing in the hollow tree again. He could not resist to take the statue home again, but this time he hid the statue from plain sight and put it in a drawer. The next morning the statue was standing again were it belonged in the hollow tree. The shepard was baffled, took it again and put it in a big wooden box, sealed with an iron chain around it. He could not believe it. The statue disappeared from the box and was to be found in the hollow tree. The story was heard by the community in the area and they decided to build a chapel for Mother Mary. The chapel became a pilgrimage.
The chapel was ultimately replaced by the church we know today.