Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Bruges, Beer and Dreams.

The three Kings make their endless journey around the Holy Family last night on my Christmas pyramid, following the star as they were this day two thousand and eight years ago. The story has become somewhat twee of late, but a dose of T S Eliot brings back to mind muddy pilgrimages and relentless rain or excessive heat. I remember kneeling in front of the blessed sacrament at the last stage of one pilgrimage in the sweltering heat, carrying an acolytes candle, surreptitiously opening my shirt buttons and cassock buttons and wafting the service sheet at my face lest I faint. A bit of discomfort does us all good, sometimes, particularly as we dwell on the fact that this redeemed world has been treated rather badly by the top economic portion of those with potential to be redeemed. I join not in condemning the Pope over his speech, nor praising him, for he needs not my praise, but wishing that instead of demonising many loyal Catholics, Priests and People alike, and mentioning the very real need to save the environment, he had rather concentrated on reminding the world in the midst of the terror, death and disease outside of Rome and the West, that there is the chance to be redeemed. That Christ comes once again, with a further chance for humanity, for peace, for justice and for the coming of the Kingdom of God, which is defined not by exclusion, but by His desire.

Last night I had the strangest dream. No, not the one where I am Patriarch of Milan, but where I am in a small monastery deep in the pinewoods of Scotland, digging up potatos and whittling statues of Our Lady. Brought on, no doubt, by drinking this beer last night made from hops which had been smoked over pine chippings. Rather like drinking kippers, in some ways.

I bought it here, in a lovely beer shop in Bruges, where the kindly proprietress sat me down by the fire (possibly mistaking me for the Patriarch of Milan, the normal serious tone will return after Christmas, reaching a crescendo in Lent) and gave me numerous samples of the local Dutch Gin, which, upon return to AW House, tasted nothing like it had here.

Mind you, everything tastes better with a view like this. Even though the restaurant in cream is far too expensive for your scribe, much to his annoyance on reading the menu outside.

This is the Church of the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem in Bruges. A dragon like lady will lean out of the window to the right of the entrance and demand five euros admission, which is, surprisingly, well worth it. It also continues our theme of pilgrimage a little.

The medieval pilgrim to Bruges would come mainly for the Basilica of the Precious Blood, but also for the other pilgrimage Churches opening which offered an unmissable experience. This Church offered a sepulchre experience in a most interesting way. The pictures are in reverse order, much to my bemusement. This is the end, the finis Africae, the sepulchre at the end of the pilgrimage. One bends down to enter on bended knee.

This way, through the doorway. You can see the stone was eroded through generations of streams of Pilgrims kneeling and crawling into the room to light candles at the shrine in what must have been unbearable heat.

This is the Chapel which the sepulchre is attached to. It is still used for Mass once a week, but, unlike my visit to Krakow earlier this year, I saw no Masses, exposition or public prayers in any of the Churches I visited.

This Chapel is directly above the chapel you have just seen. The hatchings (crests on the wall, erected after funerals) are interesting, I had assumed that they were an English tradition.

And this is the scene when you come into the Church. Up the stairs is the Chapel directly above and access to the pulpit is via a very perilous gangplank. The extent of catering to pilgrims is as evident here as it is at the Shrine in Walsingham.