Friday, 23 January 2009

Final Letter from Bruges.

If you progress in a stately fashion out of the city centre of Bruges, past the Capuchin Franciscan Priory shown on these pages earlier and towards one of the outlying canals, you will pass the Benedictine Abbey of Saint Godelieve, a brick built building dating from 1623. Saint Godelieve was Flemish nobility. Daughter of Hemfried, Lord of Wierre-Effray. She was married to Bertulf of Ghistelles, a Flemish nobleman, who abandoned her before the wedding feast was over. Abused by her in-laws, especially her mother-in-law; she was variously locked in a cell, starved, and subjected to assorted physical and mental abuse. Her father threatened to turn the husband and in-laws over to state and Church authorities; Bertulf appeared to repent, Godelieve returned to him, and was soon after murdered. Always a friend of the poor and sick, post-mortem miracles ascribed to her include restoration of sight to her step-daughter which is why you can venerate her (rather dried up) eye in this phial in her Abbey.

She was murdered by being drowned after being strangled into unconsciousness by her Mother in Law's servants in 1070. Her image is often represented with a rope or, as in the one above, a handkerchief, tied around her neck. She is the patron saint of difficult marriages and verbally abused spouses.

In the picture above you can see the Chapel in the enclosure, with the baroque embellishments we have come to expect on this 'Cook's Tour' of Bruges. The mensa at the High Altar has been ripped out, as you can see, and a smaller altar put in the round for the community to gather around. It is beyond me why, if the point of reordering is to simplify and make the liturgy more direct, why they did not go the whole hog and rip out the pulpit as well, for they are certainly not used, simply leaving them as very ornate stairs going nowhere. I imagine that one can tolerate a certain amount of destruction but no more. But maybe I am being uncharitable.

Grilles bring out mixed emotions in people, who generally do not pause to consider that women choose to enter into this type of conventual life, there is plenty of other options available and gone are the days of joining out of financial necessity or coercion. God calls us all to very different ways of living and witnessing to the Christian truth and I am not going to dictate what those ways should be.

This community thrives, under their Mother Abbess, in the outskirts of Bruges. I found it liberating to see areas where I cannot go. My acquaintance Sister Petra Clare, who lives a semi eremetical life in the Highlands of Scotland reminds me that in her house I can only go into two rooms, the others are the womens enclosure. The Nuns here make their charism one of prayer and contemplation, without having an enclosure I cannot imagine how such a charism would be lived fully while still being an active witness of presence in the midst of a city.

This is a Benedictine Abbey, so the Abbess is a Benedictine Abbess who is entitled to use the crozier within her Abbey. The crozier is also allowed the use of the sudarium, or veil, over the top of the crozier. This originates from the medieval days when Abbots were not allowed the use of pontificial gloves, so used the veil to protect their hands from the gem encrusted, cold, crozier. It later became a symbol of Benedictine Abbots. Goodness me, its getting like the NLM in here.

One final, wonky picture of the chapter house/retro choir in the Abbey. This brings our occasional series on Bruges to an end, I was hoping to go to Amsterdam in a few weeks, but cannot afford it, so foreign photos will have to wait some time.