Sunday, June 23, 2013

Beguinage in Bruges

After the first crusades, many women were left single or widowed when the knights and warriors did not return. These women (beguines in the local lingo) would live in a community where they could support themselves spiritually and physically. The communities were known as beguinages. The women did not take vows, however, and were free to leave and they could remarry if they wanted to. This community in Bruges ran from 1245 to 1928. The community is now run by the Benedictines, so Benedictine sisters live there. Other beguinages in the Low Countries are used as social housing.

The entrances in Bruges are open to all visitors and they overlook one of the many canals.

The way we went into the Bruges Beguinage

The way we left

Since it is still an active religious community, the signs are clear about the respect they demand of visitors.

Duly warned

This sign appears all over the place, in case you forget!

The center of the community is of course the church. The church is simply constructed, following the beguinage tradition. The church has no transept, so the interior is not cross-shaped. The interior has been rebuilt a few times, with the Baroque period remaining dominant.

The simple church entrance

The nave is simple with few adornments. The high altar features a painting of St. Elizabeth (patron of beguinages) by Jacob Van Oost the Elder (1601-1671).


Unfortunately, the nave was blocked off for cleaning and we couldn't get a closer look. We were able to walk around the sides and see the pulpit. It was carved in the 1700s by Jan Van Hecke and features an angel at the bottom holding up the pulpit.

Best shot of the pulpit from the side aisle

The right side altar is dedicated to St. Joseph. It is also home to Bruges's oldest statue of the Virgin Mary. Our Lady of Consolation was made in 1240. In 1903 it was restored with some gilding added.

Alas, no close shots available here either!

The right aisle also had candles for the faithful to light. J and L both lit and prayed for their intentions. Right across from the candles was a nice confessional.

J carefully lights a candle

Church confessional

The organ in the back dates from 1754 but had additions in 1910. Our pamphlet said visitors could see a carving of St. Cecilia playing the organ, but we couldn't find it.


On our way out of the beguinage, we discovered a large and thorough religious store. The museum, which presents the way of life of women here throughout the ages and gives a sample of what the houses are like, was not open.


We enjoyed our visit to the beguinage. More on our Belgium trip in upcoming posts!

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