Tomorrow we will leave Belgium and enter the Netherlands. Our last day in Bruges would be spent, primarily, visiting two museums, the Groeninge Museum (pronounced HROON-ih-guh) and the Sint-Janshospitaal Museum. We timed the 3/4 mile walk to the first museum to coincide with its opening at 9:30 a.m. The Groeninge has perhaps the world’s best collection of art produced in the city and its surrounding area. In the 1400s, Bruges was Europe’s most wealthy and cultured city. International known artists set up business in Bruges to produce portraits and altarpieces for merchants across Europe. We were blessed to gaze upon and study magnificent works by Jan Van Eyck, Roger van der Weyden, Hans Memling, and several other Flemish artists.
Before visiting the next museum, we wandered a half-mile further to the Begijnhof (pronounced gutturally, buh-HINE-hof), a small secluded community constructed for women of the lay order called, Beguines. These ladies didn’t take the order of a nun, but spent their days in prayer, spinning, making lace, teaching, and caring for the poor. There are no more Beguines, but the houses are inhabited by single religious women with a Benedictine nunnery inhabiting a portion of the compound. At noon, we were treated to observe the nuns entering the church and chant their noon-time prayers.
Then, we visited the Sint-Janshospitaal Museum (St. John’s Hospital) which houses various artifacts associated with the 500 year-old hospital, including medical instruments, documents and several visual aids. The hospital has moved to a new location and the old building is now this museum, which, at the end, contains several of Hans Memling’s masterpieces. In medieval times, Bruges was a major pilgrim destination as people from all over Europe traveled to the city to view the Holy Blood of Christ (see yesterday’s post). This included many who were sick and frail and ended up in this hospital. The walk through the medical part was enjoying, but the real treat was standing before the St. John Altarpiece (aka, The Mystical Marriage of St. Catherine) painted in 1474.
After returning to our hotel for a little afternoon respite, we had dinner at a nearby restaurant, Tom’s Diner, a cozy little candlelit bistro in a quiet cobbled residential area. We both ordered Tom’s signature dish, his Flemish meatloaf with rhubarb compote. It did not disappoint! Mmmmm. After hunting down a Belgian waffle for dessert, we returned to our room to spend our last night in Bruges.