on December 8, 2010
A very cold day in Bruges found me walking up to the ornate entrance to the Basilica of the Holy Blood. The snow had been falling all morning and the Burg square (just a few minutes walk away from the main square and the tourist shops and chocolateries) and the enormous tree in it's centre were still dusted with snow, and the cyclist passing seemed too cold to imagine. I'd just arrived from Inverness and still I found the weather biting and harsh - and so after rubbing my hands together for a few minutes outside to capture at least a few photos of the incredibly ornate gilded building, I went inside. This was the first church I entered in Belgium, so I didn't yet know that I would leave with a special place in my heart for the beauty of Belgian sacred places. The steps were bare and cold and I wondered with dismay suddenly if it would be any warmer inside. To tell you the truth - I couldn't tell you if it was or not - the minute I arrived inside the basilica my attention was immediately and completely invested in the view around me. Most churches in Europe are rather filled with history - so to talk about the immense history of the basilica may seem redundant. However, how many churches claim to have Christ's own blood in safe keeping in the chapel? There is something different about The Basilica of the Holy Blood, that for me felt like more than the impression of faith and time and history and lives passed through that I normally experience in these old European chapels. There was something of living history here - and you felt that in those who came to share it. There were tourists there as well as locals there to worship on the cold morning I arrived, but even the tourists seemed to have a sense of something important and worth seeing here - rather than just standing idly snapping photos. There was a hush over the place - even when it was crowded - that I've not seen exhibited in one of these places in some time. There was quite a large group of people hoping to see the holy blood relic (a rock-crystal vial said to hold a cloth covered in the blood of Jesus Christ, wiped off by Joseph of Arimathea.) and so I sat down in a hard wooden chair in the middle of the ornately Gothic upper chapel to stare in wonder at the brilliantly colorful mural before me. It was truly stunning - and ran from the floor to the ceiling. I sat for quite some time and still felt I had not truly taken it in. The quiet of the place had the weight of importance to it, and for the size of the chapel I was impressed that it had had such an effect. I've stood in the towering grandeur of Notre Dame, York Minster and even the Sistine Chapel and yet they did not exude the respectful hush I found in the Basilica. I left impressed. Even if seeing the old churches, chapels and cathedrals isn't your highest priority on a trip - I would recommend maybe making an exception for this one. Aside from the unique Gothic and Romanesque beauty of the place, it's worth having a look for yourself at the vial that is said to have travelled from the Holy Lands via Constantinople to end up in the little city of Bruges which contains the blood of Christ.
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