on December 8, 2010
The second church I visited in Bruges could hardly have been more different from the first (that being the Basilica of the Holy Blood) but I loved it with almost as much ardour as the first and for completely different reasons. Where the basilica was dark and Romanesque with strong Gothic structures and vibrant murals against low lit walls with the wonderful and almost foreboding awareness that the blood of Christ was kept just around the corner - the Church of our Lady is high vaulted grandeur and golden lit simplicity. The tower of the church climbs relentlessly into the skyline and you can see it's spire from around the city (it is, I believe the tallest structure in the city, and I have heard that it's the second tallest brickwork structure in the world) But its' not the size of it that will blow you away. Some churches and cathedrals wow you with their size, but for me it was a very majestic simplicity that set this church apart. It was a different (but equally cold) morning that I made my way to this church. Each of these Belgian churches held more interest for me than the simplicity of visiting a beautiful, historic building. As much as I do enjoy visiting these places - you can only go to so many ancient European churches before they lose their charm. (Or can you? Even as I wrote that I wondered if it were true...) But on this trip I did want to visit both of these specifically for the treasures that they held. The Basilica's obvious draw is right in the title, as is - (though perhaps not quite so obvious) the Church of Our Lady. Not only is it a spectacular church to see in it's own right (and it is - at this moment it sits as one of my favourite in the world - perhaps largely because once again the tourists that did visit it visited it with a sense of awe and respect and quiet dignity which I find so painfully rare these days) but because it houses what is also becoming one of my favourite works of art by Michelangelo. Funnily enough, I almost walked out of the church entirely without seeing it. I was so engaged by the way the light burst through the large windows across the pale yellow stone and lit up the various beautiful statues, vaulted ceilings and unbelievable carved pulpit (done by Belgian artist Jan Antoon Garemijn) that I almost left the church without seeing it's most amazing treasure. I had walked right past the big area where the Madonna and Child sculpture sits, and because I was so focused on this other smaller statue that was picking up the light beautifully from a window high above, I somehow turned and missed the only work of Michelangelo's ever to leave Italy in his life time and headed to walk out the door. For me - this really says something about both Bruges and the Church of our Lady which is one of the reasons I've come to love them both so thoroughly. I can't imagine anywhere else I've been where I could be standing but a few feet from a sculpture by Michelangelo and not be poked and prodded by signs and tourist information and lines of gawking tourists and flashbulbs going off and guards reminding me where to stand and how close I can get. No - this was a beautiful piece of art by an amazing artist - in a church. Pure and simple. And when I realized my mistake (there was a small notice by the door of the church telling about the sculpture) I returned to stand in the quiet awe of a brightly lit winter morning for as long a silent moment as I chose. Others came to view it as well while I stood there - but they too admired it quietly and moved on. It was a fantastic moment for me, which undoubtedly colored my feelings both about the church and the art (Michelangelo's is far from the only piece of noteworthy art here) but that's certainly not a bad thing. And I recommend that you try the same - you may come away feeling as grateful for it's existence as I do.
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