Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Chapel of the Blind, Bruges.

Drawing near the end of our extended look around Bruges, we find a little back street called the Kreupelenstraat (street of the crippled) . In the Middle Ages there were groups of houses for the poor in almost every street in Bruges, called ‘Godshuizen’ (‘Houses of God’), a typical one is here, the Godshuis ‘Blindekens’ which shows a keystone with the symbol of a dagger which stood for the limits of Bruges jurisdiction. This meant that whoever passed this gate couldn’t be pursued by the police. Even though I was conspicuously carrying a large carved wood statue plinth which I had picked up at a flea market just before and was concerned that every time I came out of a Church on the way back to the hotel to deposit it, people were wondering if I had just stolen it, I felt that taking refuge in the blind almshouse was pushing it a bit. Every year since the 15th of August 1304 and because of a vow been made at the battle of Pevelenberg against the French, a procession takes place,the ‘Blindekensprocessie’ starting from here towards the Potterierei. A candle is carried and lit in memory of the battle, wherein the Dutch were saved by forces arriving by boat, hence the large boat hanging in the Church.

You can make out the boat and the famous box pulpit to the left of the altar. This small, backstreet Church was once the Chapel for the blind almshouses to the side of it.

Here is the beautifully polychromed statue of Our Lady of the Blind. It is lovely to walk into a Church well off the tourist route and see racks of votive candles burning. This altar table with its two gradines and small inset tabernacle is very much my favourite sort of eastward facing altar, even if they bear a little resemblance to a Victorian overseers desk.

Here, once again, is the boat which commemorates the victory in battle. I know it is probably not very politically correct to say so, but it struck me as a shame that one of the most visually interesting Churches in Bruges should have been built and furnished for the blind, but equally it seemed right that the house of God should not be denied fine decoration because of the lack of sight of its worshippers. This Church is still in use and also hosts a series of candlelit concerts in the Autumn, often using medieval instruments, sackbutts, cornets, harpsichords and the like.

A marble angel carries a phial containing what looked very much like a dried eye. The instructions on the plinth did not enlighten me as to who may have owned the eye previously, but I put my euro in the box and venerated it anyway, feeling slightly foolish that I should be in a backstreet chapel in Belgium with a model boat hanging above me voluntarily paying to kiss an eye in a glass tube.

These very steep stairs lead into a brown bar (a bar selling much beer and little food) which was cavernous and expensively tiled in marble. I gathered that it opened as a restaurant but did bad business (probably because you almost have to throw yourself into it) and is now a bar with an excellent range of Belgian Abbey beers.

This bar however was my favourite place of the holiday, happily found due to the friendliness of the same Belgian lady who offered me unending samples of the local Jenever (gin) in front of a roaring log fire at the end of a busy day sightseeing and poking around Franciscan Chapels.

I have not been on the ball with replying to messages recently, sorry. This is indeed the tower that featured on the film 'In Bruges', it looked shorter in the film and it is unlikely that the actor would, in real life, have survived even for a few seconds had he fallen down.