Sunday, 21 December 2008

The Basilica of the Precious Blood.

You can see the Basilica of the Precious Blood (in Bruges) here, on the upper left of the picture. It is the only Basilica I have ever seen on the second floor of a building. One walks into the square and then, as the pilgrims of old, goes into a sepulchre type chapel and meditates on the death and burial of Christ. Before going back into the square, into the light and turning back on oneself to ascend the steps to the Basilica proper.

This kind of pilgrimage was common to the Church, many of the old Abbeys on France have or had sepulchre chapels and calvarys in the grounds to help pilgrims enjoy a more spiritual time, think of Walsingham in England with the stations of the cross, the sepulchre and different chapels.

The chapel is full of quiet corners although in years gone by would have, in season, been full of constantly moving streams of pilgrims eager to gain spiritual blessings on their journey

And eventually, up the stairs, one is led to the focus of pilgrimage, the Chapel of the Precious Blood. Those of you who have seen the film 'In Bruges' will wonder if this is the same place, it is not, the film used the Church of the Knights of Jerusalem a little distance away for their scene with the precious blood. Pilgrims, for centuries, have climbed the steps to this chapel, sat on a chair or knelt on the floor to prepare themselves for the veneration and then ascended the steps on the right, put some money in a jar and then knelt in the centre where sits a Priest wearing the relic of the precious blood in a phial around his neck on a long chain which is resting on the table for you to kiss. The Rector sat there on Thursday as someone in his office has done for centuries. One then goes down the stairs to the left with a paper showing that one has kissed the relic.

As you descend the stairs, this vast reliquary faces you, there is also a more compact processional version, but this is where the relic is kept when not being venerated in the way described above.

Directly behind you then is the Basilica Church proper, with this beautiful pulpit. Pulpits are something of a theme in Bruges, with some staggering Baroque confections complete with double staircases, drapes and torches leading to the platform, but this I thought was the finest, with the globe surmounted by the sounding board showing the Holy Ghost and topped by the cross and various other representations. As in most Baroque pulpits, the uppermost ornamentation is supposed to represent divine truth, hence a mixture of a number of figures such as Moses with the ten commandments, the Papal tiara, the cross and John the Baptist are employed.

Here at the altar of the Basilica you can see the two symbols of a Basilica, the conopoeum or pavilion, designed to be half closed, these are only opened in the presence of the Pope, an unlikely occurrence, so were made in this closed fashion. The other symbol, on the other side of the altar, is the tintinabullum, a bell on a stick, which is used in processions. It is based on the old Roman fetish of the same name, which showed a phallus on a stick with a bell, or just a winged phallus without the stick. They were hung in doorways to play in the breeze, thus, it was held, warding off evil spirits.

This is the entrance to the Basilica square, which greatly improves if you expand the picture. Not far from here the bakers 'Le Pain Quotidien' (the daily bread) provides some of the best pastries in the city. My jumper is currently drying out over the radiator having been anointed with vanilla cream from one of their excellent eclairs.