Church of Our Lady ('Onze Lieve Vrouekerk')
You never know what you'll find when you ask a local for directions. We asked the proprietor of a sweet little lace shop to send us on an interesting walk back to our hotel. She pointed us in the direction of a church, NOT the Cathedral please, just take 2 lefts after the church – "You know the church over there with the Michaelangelo?" No we didn’t know, and it became a highlight of the trip. Actually we thought the church was closed due to reconstruction and facelift of the exterior. We soon found why The Church of Our Lady is one of Bruges' top sights, whereas the Cathedral is not.
A massive brick structure that was cloaked in scaffolding when we arrived, the Church of Our Lady is worth a visit for its interior and not its exterior (the spire is 122 meters high - 400 feet: it is the second tallest brick structure in the world - just 1 meter below the spire of Antwerp Cathedral!). The Church, built between the 1200's and the 1400's, contains an unexpected treasure -- Michelangelo's Madonna and Child and the tombs of Mary of Burgundy and Duke Charles the Bold. The Michelangelo sculpture (1506) is believed to be the only one to have left Italy within Michelangelo's lifetime. A wealthy business man and his family bought it from the sculptor while visiting Italy. Michaelangelo had been commissioned by the Sienna Cathedral in Sienna to do this sculpture. They must have made it worth his while to part with such a commission.
When you approach the right side altar, one has in mind a larger scale, much like the Pieta I saw at the Metropolitam Museum of Art in New York years ago. The precious Madonna and Child, from the hand of the master, is about three feet high. Carved of white marble, one is moved by the sweetness and power of the subject. Lit only by candlelight, it gave a glow and aura that added to its mystery and beauty.
The monumental tombs of Mary of Burgundy (who died in 1482) and her father Charles the Bold (who died in 1477) were constructed fifty years apart - Mary's in 1502, and Charles' in 1563. The most interesting features of the Church are the open tombs both under the Burgundian monuments themselves and in a side chapel (south side): these are painted inside, and mostly date from the 1200's and 1300's. They were only rediscovered in 1979. Uniquely, one can see Mary of Burgundy's coffin (and a tiny box placed on top of it containing the heart of her son), beneath her monument.