Monday, the 17th of July, was a great day in Bruges. We had a light breakfast at our hotel before making our way to the Church of Our Lady, the residence of one of Michelangelo’s greatest sculptures, Madonna and Child (aka, the Bruges Madonna). It is the only one of Michelangelo’s sculptures to leave Rome. In 1504, while taking a break from his David, he carved this gorgeous work (which was featured prominently in the movie, The Monuments Men). After spending time with the Madonna, we walked through the Gothic church whose stained glass, like so many other great churches in the region, was destroyed by the Protestant iconoclasts.
We then retraced our steps to visit the Basilica of the Holy Blood, a double-decker church built in ~ 1150 by a brave crusader by the name of Derrick of Alsace. The Legend states that in return for his bravery in defending Jerusalem from the Muslims, the Patriarch of Jerusalem gave him several drops of Christ’s blood which had been washed from his lifeless body by Joseph of Arimathea. When he returned home, he donated it to the city of Bruges and the Holy Blood is still located in this church built for its safe-keeping. We were able to stay for an 11:30 a.m. service for the Veneration of the Holy Blood. The Holy Blood was removed from it’s silver tabernacle and placed on a canopied throne so that those in the service could pass by and lay their hands above it while saying a short prayer. Actually, it was a very moving service.
From the Basilica of the Holy Blood we walked back past the Church of our Lady to the De Halve Mann Brewery, where we had lunch in the courtyard (okay, it wasn’t exactly lunch, it was Belgian Waffles with whipped cream. Close enough!). After devouring that scrumptious treat we joined with several others for a 45-minute tour of the brewery, led by a rather funny gentleman who served as our guide. At the end of the tour, of course we were offered a free brew. They produce two main brands of beer, Brugse Zot and Straffe Hendrik. Cindy and I are not big beer drinkers, but we enjoyed the experience. On the way back to the hotel, we piled into a crowded boat for a canal cruise, which despite the number of people aboard, was still relaxing.
In the evening, we made our way to the quaint Bistro in den Wittenkop, a very small Flemish place which served excellent food. Afterwards we made our way to the Bell Tower, which has stood over the Markt since 1300. We sat in the courtyard for a wonderful hour-long carillon concert by musician, Frank Deleu. My favorite was the poignant Liebestod, the closing aria from Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde. Who knew one could be so moved by carillon music? Finally, around 10 p.m., we wandered along more cobblestoned streets back to our hotel. It was a wonderful day.