Ever since the Flemish knight Dirk of Alsace returned to Bruges from the second Crusade in 1150 with a relic of the blood of Christ, the city has been a centre of pilgrimage and great piety. Various religious communities flourished and churches became rich with gifts from foreign merchants and wealthy benefactors. As a result of this, there are many treasures from the golden age of Medieval Bruges behind the doors of most places of worship in the city.
St Salvators Kathedral - Bruges
St Salvators Kathedral is in the main shopping street (Zuidzandstraat). It dates from the 9th century and was the original parish church, but underwent many changes mainly due to fires and the rebuilding afterwards. It has beautiful stained glass windows and flanking the altar you will find ‘The knights of the Golden Fleece’ and also a superbly carved pulpit. Many huge and beautiful paintings adorn the walls and wonderful treasures are on display.
Onze Lieve Vrouwkerk - (The church of Our Lady) - Bruges
Onze Lieve Vrouwkerk (The church of Our Lady) is in Mariastraat. Parts of it date back to the 13th century. Its tower, built of brick is 122.3 meters in height, and the tallest structure in the city. Entry to the main part of this beautiful church is free but in order to see the real treasures you need to buy a ticket. There is Michelangelo's statue of the Madonna and Child, which was purchased in Italy by two Brugean merchants, the brothers Jan and Alexander Mouscron, and in 1514 donated to its present home. The sculpture was twice recovered after being looted by foreign occupiers—French revolutionaries circa 1794 and Nazi Germans in 1944. The tombs of Charles the Bold and his daughter Mary of Burgundy, paintings by Pieter Pourbus, Gerard David, Anthony van Dyck, Dirk Boutts and Hugo van der Goes, and medieval frescoes are in this cathedral - all quite awe inspiring!
Basilica Of The Holy Blood - Bruges
On the right hand corner of the Burg square is the Basilica Of The Holy Blood, which was built in 1534 to house a venerated religious relic. This relic is housed in a richly ornate silver tabernacle in the upper chapel. It is believed to be the blood of Christ, collected by Joseph of Arimathea and brought back from the Crusades. Legend has it that after the Crucifixion, Joseph of Arimathea wiped blood from the body of Christ and preserved the cloth. The relic remained in the Holy Land until the Second Crusade, when the King of Jerusalem Baldwin III gave it to his brother-in-law, Count of Flanders Diederik van de Elzas. The count arrived with it in Bruges on April 7, 1150 and placed it in a chapel he had built on Burg Square.
Because of this it has been the object of pilgrimage for centuries and the relic is still paraded every year in May in a procession around the city, called the Procession of Holy Blood. The bishop of Bruges carries the relic through the streets, accompanied by costumed residents acting out biblical scenes. The tradition of the procession is first recorded in 1291. It followed a route around the city walls until 1578.
The exterior of the building is very ornately carved and gilded stone with arches, statues and towers. Inside there are two chapels - The lower one, rather sparse and plain is the Chapel of St Basil, is the only Romanesque church in West Flanders, dating from the first half of the 12th century. The upper one reached by a well worn stone staircase and is very different in style - Gothic and grand. It has stained glass windows and murals, including a colourful altar backdrop depicting scenes relating to the Holy Blood relic as it is in this chapel that it is housed.
The Jerusalem Church - Bruges
One of our favourite churches is the Jerusalem Church in Peperstraat, a little out of the centre near the Langestraat. It is quite small and has real atmosphere, built in 1428 by a rich pilgrim recently returned from Jerusalem as a copy of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The Jerusalem Church (Jeruzalemkerk) is still in the ownership of the Adorne family and services are still held here.
It has a tower, a macabre altar featuring skulls and ladders, and a replica of Christ's tomb. Include this visit when you venture out to the Volksmuseum, the Guido Gezelle Museum, the Lace Museum and the windmills near the Kruisport at the end of the Langestraat
Being a Mediaeval city, most people at that time were ‘God fearing’ and there are many churches, monasteries, and ‘God’s houses’ here. The rich tradesmen believed that they were securing a place in heaven if were generous enough to provide for the poor people, especially poor widows who were housed in little communities with an inner garden and a chapel. We would call these almshouses, and here in Bruges they are charming. It is always so peaceful there and seems a world away from the busy streets. Even William Wordsworth wrote of Bruges' quiet streets;
‘In Bruges town is many a street
Whence busy life hath fled;
Where, without hurry, noiseless feet
The grass-grown pavement tread’
The Almshouses De Meulenaere and Sint- Josef, with a garden full of irises and roses can be found in the Nieuwe Gentweg. and can be visited by the public, respecting the residents, of course.
Beguinage (Begijnhof) - Bruges
Beguinage (Begijnhof) - The beguine museum and the Flemish kitchen
The Beguine Museum is located in one of the little houses of the Beguinage of Bruges, situated in Minnewater. In the cities of the Low Countries Beguinages were monastery-like communities where beguines lived in an almost religious way, without, however, making the vows that real nuns had to make when entering a monastery. The Beguinage of Bruges is, since 1928, a real monastery with Benedictine sisters. The notices in several languages request silence is observed. It is therefore a very peaceful spot!
One of the little houses has been transformed into a museum, so that visitors can have an idea of how Beguines used to live here from the 13th century onwards. The house itself was built in the 17th century, when most of the houses of the Beguinage were renovated. The Flemish kitchen is charming with the 'Leuvense Stoof' ( cooker from the city of Louvain), a cooking device that generations of Belgians have used until after the second World War. The kitchen is completed with other nice furniture and tiles. In the living room are some valuable paintings from the 16th century (by Abraham Bloemaert and Jan Antoon Garemijn) as well as devices to make textile products such as lace (a spinning wheel, a bobbin lace cushion, etc.).Other typical 18th century furniture and decoration material can be seen in the bedroom and the dining room.
Beguinage (Begijnhof) - The beguine museum and the Flemish kitchen