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Your Bruges is becoming a hot item in the city ! With walks almost every day of the weekends it's a hit !
Even in the "low season" it's so busy. And the summer bookings are coming in on a fast tempo.

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dinsdag 13 februari 2018

Georges Rodenback and Bruges La Morte

Georges Rodenbach was born in Doornik in 1855, son of a family with German origins. Patriarch Ferdinand (1714-1786) was a chirgan with the Austrian army, who settled in Ypres after the marriage with Catharina Vanden Bossche. 
The name Rodenbach may sound familiar to the beer lovers amongst you, and you are right. One of the grandsons of Ferdinand was the founder of the known beer Rodenbach.

Georges lived in Ghent, went there to school and university. He graduated in law in 1878, but before passing the bar in Ghent he first went to Paris to improve his legal competences. In Paris he mostly spent his free time in literary salons to make friends with numerous poets and writers. It was no secret that Georges was a writer of poems and novels himself. In that year in Paris he wrote 21 “Lettres Parisiennes” (Letters from Paris) for the catholic Brussels weekly “La Paix”.
Feeling homesick he returned to Ghent and started working as a lawyer. Disappointed in his work, his love for the literary arts prevails. He keeps close contacts with the Brussels literary circle “L’Union Littéraire”, where he becomes friends with Caroline Popp, writer and publisher of “Journal de Bruges”. This friendship is so strong he spends the entire summer of 1884 with her in Bruges, getting the important impressions of the city of Bruges.
Georges is so disappointed in his work as lawyer in Ghent, that he moved to Brussels to work there as a lawyer. But again is love and passion for the literary arts wins and in 1888 he leaves Belgium and moves to Paris to become a fulltime writer and poet. He moved in different artistic circles where he made friends with some prominent people; Mallarmé, Daudet, Rodin…
He also started working for the liberal newspaper “Le Figaro” where he wrote several serials on cities as Ghent, Middelburg and… Bruges.

It is in the format of a serial that Rodenbachs most known work is published for the first time. Bruges La Morte tells the story of widower Hugues Viane, looking for the shadow of his deceased wife and is attracted to Bruges. One of the rooms of his house on the Rozenhoedkaai is devoted to his wife; with several portraits and in a glass shrine a lock of hair of her. To pass the time he made long walk through the city. During one of these walks he meets a woman whom is the spitting image of his wife. He becomes friends with her. Turns out she’s an actress and her name is Jane Scott.  During their dates Hugues seeks the traits of his deceased wife. Somehow he has her moving in to one of his houses just outside the centre of the city. However, soon Jane gets bored in this bizarre relationship and goes out in search for more enjoyable company. In Bruges gossip about this widower and actress starts. With months passing by, Hugues discovers more and more differences between Jane and his wife. When Jane discovers the room with portraits and lock of hair, she confronts him with this and everything goes wrong. He strangles her with the lock of hair.

What made this work special? The main character in this book isn’t Hugues Viane, but the city. The bells of the Belfry, the Beguinage, the atmosphere of the city… It all plays an important part in the setting.
But the people of Bruges didn’t appreciate the book! It was published on February 4th – 14th 1892. This was the moment Bruges took on the plans to (re)connect with the sea and expanding its harbour (Zeebrugge). Just then this writer from Paris wrote a book with “dead” in the title! Also the colourless setting isn’t something the people of Bruges liked.
Also there was the language in which it was written; French. The more Flemish-fanatics accused the writer of immoral, obscene and anti-religious thoughts, having the descriptions of the relationship between Hugues and Jane in mind. Maybe difficult to understand today, don’t forget that people had a totally different view on love and relationships in those times.

While Rodenbach didn’t want to put a 100% accurate realistic image of the city on paper. He only wanted to vent his personal feelings, feelings of melancholy in which Bruges formed a perfect frame for this.
It is however without a doubt that Rodenbach –maybe unwillingly and without realising- boosted tourism in Bruges. It is a paradox but Rodenbach didn’t want to depict Bruges as a dead city. He fought this controversy by adding a foreword in reprints of Bruges La Morte, trying to explain his intentions.

Georges Rodenbach died in Paris on December 25th 1898. And even after his death there was protest coming from Bruges. The Flemish catholics and conservatives remained opposed, depicting him as “French”, who made Flemish people as fools and mocking Bruges. The symbolism used in the book was misinterpreted, taken too literally and considered too bold. Creating an image of a dead could be blocking the expansion of the port of Zeebrugge and this would be ill-fated form the economic growth of Bruges.
Still today, if you go looking for anything on him in Bruges, the only reminder is a plaque on the house ‘De Rode Steen’ at the Jan van Eyck Square.

It is clear that Rodenbach was and still is a misunderstood figure in the history of Bruges. Except for the controversy of those times it is impossible to recognize the major influence the book had on Bruges and its tourism.

With the book being translated in several languages (English, German, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Finnish and Dutch) it attracted many people from all over Europe, and today the world.

woensdag 16 maart 2016

Saint Patrick's Day

Soon enough people all over the world will celebrate the Saint Patrick’s Day on March 17th 2016. The Chicago River will turn green once more; Irish (and other people) will come together to party big time for this popular saint.

Green is the color for this day, you can even get green beer then! You know that the former mayor of New York, Ed Koch, changed his name to “Ed O’Koch” in honor of Saint Patricius?

It’s not only a celebration in the Irish culture, but also a Christian feast that is celebrated by the Catholic Church, the Irish Church and other Anglican Churches.

Saint Patrick (born in 385 or 387, in Dumbarton, Scotland) was captured in his late teens and brought to Ireland as a slave. There he became a shepherd. In his despair he prayed to God in hopes of one day becoming a free man. In the six years as a slave he learned the language of the Irish and also the Druidic and pagan customs. At the end of those six years an angel came to him in a dream/vision and showed him the way to escape. He travelled 320 kilometer (200 miles) from Ballymena to Wexford and escaped to England on a ship. Unfortunately, he was captured again and returned as a slave. Persistent in becoming a free man, two months later he escaped again and travelled to Europe in quest of his fate.

As a pupil of St Germanus he remained 15 years in Auxerre and ordained as priest in 417. In 432 St Germanus ordained Patrick to Bishop and pope Celestius I sent him to Ireland. Patrick was to succeed St Palladius, who was the first Bishop of Ireland.

Patrick arrived in 433 in Slane but soon came in conflict with the local chieftains for lighting the fire in honor of Easter vigil. The druids, who feared the arrival of Patrick, predicted that this fire would burn forever if it wouldn’t be extinguished that night. Miraculously, despite all the efforts the fire kept alight the entire night and Patrick got permission by the king to start spreading his faith in Ireland.

Patrick preached a faith that was more joyful and praising than his Roman predecessor. It wasn’t a theology of sin, but of embracing the good in creation and closer to nature. The conversion of Ireland was the first example of Christianity that thrived in a culture which embraced nature instead of disowning, a culture that considered all of creation as holy.

Patrick was the first to organize the Catholic Church in Ireland, distributed it episcopal seats, set the standard for biblical scholarship and encouraged teaching in Latin.
He travelled the country and preached, taught, built churches, monasteries and schools.

Famous and legendary we can say!

The most known legend is how he expelled all snakes from Ireland (now you know why you won’t find snakes in Ireland…). The iconography for this legend is the victory over pagans.
Some pagans still carry a small snake on their jackets on St Patrick's Day as a form of protest...
The way he used a shamrock as an example of the Holy Trinity is also legendary.
When you find an image of St Patrick, it’s always with a shamrock in his hand.
He was a slave in the beginning of his life, so you can imagine he wasn’t a big fan of it. He was the first important person in the Catholic Church who openly opposed to it. Because he was a slave, it wasn’t hard for him to tell the people of the suffering slaves had to endure.

At the end of his life St Brigid came to him and weaved his shroud. They prayed together and Patrick saw how the whole of Ireland light up with the brightest rays of divine faith. He prayed this light would never be extinguished; an angel descended and told him his prayer would be answered.
Patrick died on March 17th 461 in Saul, Downpatrick, where he had built his first church.

And so a young Englishman, born with the name Patricius, died as an Irish man named Patrick. From that moment, Ireland and Christianity were never the same again.
With his death, the Irish stopped slavery, human sacrificing was unthinkable from then on.
Everyone knows him as the patron of Ireland, but did you know he’s also the patron of Nigeria?

dinsdag 23 februari 2016

Ice Saints

Maybe you’ve never heard about them, but the Ice Saints are in the Roman-Catholic a folkloric tradition since the year 1000. Their feast dates are on the 11th, 12th, 13th and 14th May.

The name days are:
- 11th May: St Mamertus
- 12th May: St Pancras
- 13th May: St Servatius
- 14th May: St Boniface

Some may know this, but three is the holy number. Yes, many world religions contain triple deities or concepts of trinity, including the Christian Holy Trinity, the Hindu Trimurti, the Three Jewels of Buddhism, the Three Pure Ones of Taoism, …
In Christianity the ministry of Jesus which lasted three years, during the Agony in the Garden Christ asked three times for the chalice to be taken from his lips, Jesus rose from the dead on the third day after his death, the devil tempted Jesus three times, St Peter thrice denied Jesus and thrice affirmed his faith in Jesus…

So in most countries only three of the Ice Saints are celebrated or known. In some countries it’s St Mamertus, in other countries it’s St Boniface who can’t join the party.

The saints get their feast days to the fact that in Middle North Europe most of the time after these days the possibility of frost during the night is low. Night frost can damage the young crop. It can still happen though, but the feast days of the Ice Saints mark the moment of the changing from winter days to more mild temperatures.

About the saints themselves, well… There is one that causes some confusion.

St Mamertus (not celebrated in Southern Germany, Austria, Northern Italy, Czech Republic…) was born in the beginning of the 5th century in Vienne (France). He was a religious man who wanted to become a priest. In 461 he became the bishop of his hometown. For an unknown reason he came in conflict with the pope (Hilarius), it had something to do with an adjacent diocese but no documentation was found.
During the time Mamertus was bishop, the city was plagued by catastrophes. Fires, earthquakes, wars, diseases… In 470 Mamertus organized a Cross Procession, to get Divine intervention.
On May 11th 475, Mamertus died in his city.

St Pancras was born in 290. He moved to Rome after the death of his parents. Christianity was not accepted yet and you were convicted to death. Not impressed, Pancras took care of the prisoners with his faith. For this he was brought before the emperor Diocletianus who promised him wealth if he would denounce Christianity. The 14 year old Pancras remained faithful, Diocletianus sentenced him to the death and Pancras was beheaded on May 12th 304.

St Servatius was one of the first faith preachers in was is now known as the Netherlands. Involved in great ecclesial and political developments he must have been a man of significance. We find his name as bishop of Tongeren in 340. During the synod of Rimini (359) he was one of the defenders of the faith in Jesus, son of God.
Being a opponent of Arianism Servatius was sent to emperor Constanius II to plead for the people of Gaul.
He died in Maastricht on May 13th 384 and is buried in the St Servaas Basilica of Maastricht.

St Boniface is a name for different people who had a lot of influence in the early medieval Catholic Church.

The most know Saxon missionary Bonface, who wanted to turn the Northern Netherlands into a Christian area, and later moved to the area northeast of the Rhine was killed in 754 during a 2nd attempt to Christianize Friesland. This Boniface has his feast day on June 5th.

The Ice Saint Boniface was born somewhere in the 3rd century. Little is known about his life. Born in Rome, not as Christian, but converted during a pilgrimage. Upon return in Rome he witnessed the Christian prosecution and confessed openly he was a Christian too. He was captured and tortured by the soldiers of the emperor. On May 14th 307 he died a martyr’s death after being thrown in burning pitch.

In Bruges was never visited by one of the Ice Saints. However you can find a hotel that is named after St Boniface. And there is the St Boniface bridge, but that little bridge is more known as the “Lovers Bridge”.
Being one of the youngest bridges (1910) of Bruges, it’s still one of the city’s most beautiful spots to be. You can take stunning, romantic pictures there. With the Church Of Our Lady on the background really breathtaking spot in the city.

zaterdag 26 december 2015

The origin of Christmas

It’s the most wonderful time of the year… We know the song, we decorate everything and give presents to our most beloved.
But, where does Christmas come from?
With reading an article from a good friend, and a reference to a really interesting website I found some interesting history about this day.

Everyone thinks December 25th is the day when Jesus was born. Sorry, no… There were a lot of pagan gods were born on that day.  From its early Babylonian roots, the celebration of the birth or “rebirth” of the sun god on December 25th came to be celebrated under various names all over the ancient world. It is a fact that the winter solstice occurs a few days before December 25th. The winter solstice is the day of the year when daylight is the shortest. So you could say that with the rebirth of the sun god, the daylight is born as well…

But thousands of years before there was a “Santa Claus” there was another supernatural figure who would supposedly visit a tree and leave gifts every December 25th, his name was Nimrod.
Semiramis (a women who later in history became known as the goddess Astarte/Asherah/Ashtoreth/Isis/Ishtar/Easter in other pagan religions) claimed that after the untimely death of her son/husband (yep, she married her own son) Nimrod, she saw a full-grown evergreen tree spring out of the roots of a dead tree stump, symbolizing the springing forth of new lift for Nimrod. And, on the anniversary of his birth, she said, Nimrod would visit the evergreen tree and leave gift under it. I can’t help but stating the obvious and say that this all sounds so very familiar!
From this original fable peddled by Semiramis (the “Queen of Heaven”) came the tradition for pagans to go out to the holy “groves” and leave gifts for Nimrod (who later came to be worshipped as “Baal”) at an evergreen tree. But, this last doesn’t sound like a Christian holiday…
Later, in Egypt, the son of Isis was born at the same day, at about the time of the winter solstice. The very name by which Christmas is popularly known –Yule day- proves at once its pagan and Babylonian origin. ‘Yule’ is the Chaldee name for an ‘infant’ or ‘little child’, and as the 25th of December was called by our pagan Anglo-Saxon ancestors, ‘Yule day’ or the ‘Child’s day’, and the night that preceded it (Mother night) long before they came in contact with Christianity, that sufficiently proves its real character.

But “Christmas”, where is that coming from then?
The word itself is nowhere to be found in the entire bible. In fact, the word wasn’t even invented until about 1000 years after Jesus died.
Well, for starters, Jesus wasn’t born in December. Way too cold for shepherd to be out with their sheep at night in Israel. Bases on the Scriptures, it appears that it is most likely that Jesus was born in the fall, most likely during the “feast of Tabernacles”, the Feast of Ingathering or Sukkot, celebrated in the month of Tishrei, which varies from late September to late October.
Why December 25th then?
When the Roman Empire legalized Christianity in the 4th century, most of the other religions in the empire were celebrating the birth of their gods on December 25th. One of the biggest festivals was known as Saturnalia. A festival during which the Romans commemorated the dedication of the temple of their god Saturn.
Saturnalia was typically characterized by gift-giving, feasting, singing and lots of debauchery. The priests of Saturn would carry wreaths of evergreen boughs in procession throughout the pagan Roman temples.
In 350 Pope Julius I declared that the birth of Jesus would be celebrated on December 25th from then on. There appears to be little doubt that Pope Julius was trying to make it as painless as possible for pagan Romans to convert to Catholicism.
When the Romans Catholics decided to make December 25th a “Christian holiday” in the 4th century, they simply adopted a long standing pagan holiday and kept most of the same pagan traditions!

In “The Two Babylons”, Hislop describes some of these ancient traditions surrounding the Christmas tree…

The Christmas tree, now so common among us, was equally common in pagan Rome and pagan Egypt. In Egypt that tree was the palm-tree; in Rome it was the fir; the palm-tree denoting the Pagan messiah, as Baal-Tamar, the fir referring to him as Baal-Berith. The mother of Adonis, the sun-god and great mediatorial divinity, was mystically said to have been changed into a tree, and when in that state to have brought forth her divine son. If the mother was a tree, the son must have been recognized as the ‘Man the branch.’ And this entirely accounts for the putting of the Yule Log into the fire on Christmas Eve, and the appearance of the Christmas tree the next morning…”

That sure puts a different spin on Christmas traditions, now doesn’t it?

dinsdag 10 november 2015

November 11th - The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

On November 11th there is “Armistice Day”, the day that we remember the fallen soldiers during the World Wars.
In Belgium the biggest ceremony takes place at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. But how was this Unknown Soldier chosen?  And did you know that Bruges played an important role in this?

The Belgian Government decided in 1922 to identify an Unknown Soldier. These remains would be buried at the Congress Column in Brussels. This structure was designed by Jozef Poelaert and is a reference to the founding of Belgium and is a tribute for those fallen for the country.
To avoid that the identity of this body would be revealed (or known at all) a special procedure was developed. At five different military cemeteries, at locations where battles took place, one random coffin was exhumed, every time of an unknown Belgian military.
These coffins were then taken to the train station of Bruges, where a blind veteran would tap on one coffin. That would become the Unknown Soldier. This all took place on November 10th 1922.
So on Friday morning, November 10th 1922 the representatives of the military authorities waited at the platform of the train station of Bruges. At that moment, the train station was still located on ‘t Zand. The train they were waiting for brought the 5 coffins, coming from Luik, Namen, Antwerp, the battlefield at the Ijzer and the zone of the Liberation Offensive in Flanders.
The clarion played at 9.15am at the moment the war veterans bring the coffins to the funeral chapel, installed in the waiting area. While several veterans stand guard with the coffins, there is a service in St Salvatorscathedral in honor of the fallen soldiers.

Around 4pm Renold Haesebrouck, the blind veteran is picked up at his house in Assebroek (a borough of Bruges), he arrives at 4.31pm in the train station, welcomed by the minister of Defence. One by one the veteran touches the coffins, then takes place in the middle of the funeral chapel and says: “The fourth coffin from the left contains the remains of the Unknown Soldier”, while pointing to the coffin with his cane.
In the morning of the next day (November 11th) 8 veterans (4 with the left arm lost, 4 with the right arm lost) take the coffin out of the funeral chapel to the train waiting. The national anthem is played when the train slowly moves out of the station.
The coffin is brought to Brussels, placed in the tomb in between the two bronze lions in front of the Congress Column.  At 11.25am every in Brussels stopped moving for one minute. No more clarions playing, traffic stops, everywhere everyone stops working and stands motionless for one minute.

But what happened with the other 4 coffins?
or that we return to Bruges. After a small ceremony in the train station, the four coffins are placed on gun carriages and transported to the military cemetery in Assebroek. Along the way to the cemetery, people line up to bring a salute and show their respect for these soldiers.
At 11am the coffins are placed in the graves. Two canons fire and everywhere people who hear this stop working for one minute.
There is no plan or register of where these graves are. Only after looking really hard the four simple graves are found. Two by two, with a simple cross to mark them. On the crosses you can read the words: “Unknown, military, died in the service of Belgium”. No column, no lions, no eternal flame or Royal salute…

dinsdag 24 maart 2015

Lace – the product of Bruges

When people visit the city of Bruges, they’re often confronted with shops filled with lace. Before I tell you the story/legend of these beautiful artful pieces let me give you a little warning. When you want to buy real, handmade lace you mustn’t go to these shops in the center. I know that the little sign sometimes says “handmade”. But the only thing about all this, the sign that says “handmade” is the only real handmade thing in all this. I’ve even seen lace with a little label that stated “made in China”… So careful with overpaying on the lace!

But, I promised a story about lace!
The story can be found several times in books, but strangely there’s never a year or century that mentoines when this story takes place.
We know that the first spinning wheel was invented somewhere around 1035. It was in… China (pure coincidence, really). Leonardo Da Vinci painted a spinning wheel in 1480, but the wheel as we know today was invented in 1520-30 by a German engineer. So we can assume our story doesn’t take place before the 15th century.

A widow named Barbara had 5 children, and they all had to work hard to survive financially. They were masters with the spinning wheel so the device was in constant usage. Her oldest daughter, Serena realized pretty quickly that all this hard working wasn’t sufficient and despite all their efforts they were still hungry and poor.
Every evening Serena fiercely prayed in honor of Our Lady, making a promise: if by some miracle the family would get a better life, she would resign from any joy and hope her heart cherished.
The following spring Serena gets a day off to rest from all the hard working, so Serena decides to go for a relaxing walk in the woods with her best friend Arnold. When the young people take a resting moment, spiders descend on the lap of Serena and start walking up and down her lap. Serena doesn’t know what’s happening but notices soon there’s a pattern in the work of the little spiders. Shapes of birds, animals and flowers are seen in the work. The spiders finish their work; Serena and Arnold make a little frame with small branches to carefully take the work back home.
This is the miracle Serena prayed for and she starts to copy the work of the spiders. Soon she get tangled in all the different wires, but Arnold makes little bobbins so it’s easier to work.
The inspiration comes quickly and Serena soon starts to make own designs. Rich people notice the beautiful work and pretty soon the lace is one of the most desired items in the city.
With the growing demand and the high pricing of the lace, more prosperous times come to the family.
However, the friendship between Arnold and Serena grew into more romantic feelings. When Arnold takes up his courage and asks Serena’s hand, and although she says she loves him deeply, Serena tells Arnold she can’t marry him. He doesn’t know about the promise Serena made in her prayers and she doesn’t tell him.
A year later Serena decides to remember and celebrate the moment of the miracle. So she goes back to the place where it all began. Arnold follows her without her noticing. Arriving at the spot of the miracle, Serena sits down and starts to pray to Our Lady. Not accepting Arnold’s proposal hurt her and Arnold so she asks for help. Again spiders descend on the lap of Serena and start making another work. This time it has the shape of a bridal bouquet and the text “Serena, I relieve you from your promise”.
Seeing this, Serena starts crying and Arnold (who was hiding in the bushes close to her) comes out to help her. She tells him about her promise and shows him the new work. Now Arnold understands why she couldn’t accept his proposal, goes down on one knee and asks her again. This time she says ‘yes’ and soon the young couple marries.
This story can be seen on some bas-reliefs in the Steenstraat (the shopping street of the city), number 40. I put these reliefs with this text, enjoy !

zondag 14 december 2014

The story of the hosts in the cesspool

In the last story I told you about the Simon Stevin square. Well, next to the fun story about the square and its sculpture there is another rather amusing thing to tell.
I mentioned the best chocolate store in the city being “The Chocolate Line”.
This building has some (hi)story !

In 1700, the building was an inn called “The White Horse”. No, not the “Prancing Pony”, that’s in the Lord of the Rings books and movies.
Nothing special about it, if it weren’t for a young man of 24 who stayed there for one night.
Guillaume Van Lee wasn’t a special man who did anything extraordinary in his life, so when he decided to choose the easy way to get rich he had no idea what the consequences would be.
Close by there is the cathedral of Saint Salvator where there were at that moment several chapels inside. When you look inside a church, you can see separate chapels on the side. Those were donated, installed by rich people or guilds from different professions.
Guillaume broke in the cathedral on the night of June 15th 1700 and took a pyx with him. A pyx is a round container (used in the catholic churches), mostly in silver or gold, to hold the consecrated host (bread). This particular one held 400 hosts, so it was a big one!
Guillaume was feeling pretty confident, because after the theft he stayed for the night at the inn “The White Horse”. On his room he looked at his loot. The pyx was made of silver, that was really useable. The hosts on the other hand were worth nothing.
So he threw all 400 hosts in the toilet. Well, toilet… In those days that was a cesspool with some planks over it.
Guillaume left the city the very next day. He travelled to Sluis, a neighbouring city (today that’s just across the border in the Netherlands). When he tried to sell the pyx to a smith, the man found it strange that this shabby-looking man brought in such an expensive item. The smith alerted the guards and Guillaume was taken prisoner.
After a little bit of “interrogation techniques from the Middle Ages” he confessed he stole the pyx in Bruges. So he was brought back to the city. On June 26th Guillaume was punished for his crime.
I must confess, in the Middle Ages they were pretty nasty. First the hands were cut off, for the stealing. Then he was strangled to a pole, his body was burned and the ashes scattered outside the city walls (no holy ground).
The problem of the cesspool was to be taken care of now.
Imagine yourself being in those times, religion was a really biiiiig thing! Throwing hosts in a toilet, that was sacrilege!
I’m not making this up, but they tried to find all the hosts in the cesspool! Yes, going through all that sh!t. Of course you can imagine that this was impossible. So they just emptied the cesspool and buried the contents on the cemetery of Saint Salvator. Yes, they buried a pile of crap.
The chapel that was built
Because the hosts weren’t found, the ground of the inn was considered sacred so the inn was demolished and a small chapel in honour of the Saint Sacrament was build.
During the French period, this chapel was sold in public and destroyed.

But, remember now, throwing a host in the toilet can have big consequences !