Sunday, June 30, 2013

Saint Magdalene Church, Bruges

Saint Magdalene's Church in Bruges was built in the mid-1800s during the Gothic revival. The church building was completed in 1853. The furnishings were not completed until 1910. The church was a great example of the neo-Gothic revival. But things were not to remain untouched. In the 1960s, the interior was completely painted white and many stained glass windows and furnishings were lost. In the 1980s a restoration project began, though the results have been a mixed bag. A group called YOT have been involved in keeping the space sacred though they have put some of their own stamp on the interior.

St. Magdalene's Church, Bruges

Upon entering, one is struck by the immense contrast between the neo-Gothic tradition and the YOT contribution to the interior decoration.

View down the nave

View from the altar

The neon lights spell out, "YES HERE NOW" which according to the description posted in the church is "A spiritual adage that forms the core of many traditions: 'the Kingdom of God' in the Judeo-Christian, the 'nirvana' in the East, 'the void' in Zen, etc. If man is fully present in the here and now the boundaries of time and space disappear and a dimension of 'eternity' occurs." The neon lights did not communicate that idea to me since they are so vague as to allow any personal interpretation anyone wants.

There was no explanation provided for the small pool of water.

At least many of the other furnishings have been well cared for and provide some authentic and grounded spiritual nourishment to visitors. The main altar still provides a worship space not lit by neon.

Main altar

One side altar to St. Joseph is quite beautiful.

Altar to St. Joseph

Detail from St. Joseph altar (Holy Family at Home)

Detail from St. Joseph altar (Flight into Egypt)

Many fine sculptures, including an ornate pulpit, are still found throughout the church.

Cross over the transept

St. Catherine

Detail from the pulpit

Recent addition

The Stations of the Cross are beautiful and well preserved.

Jesus falls the first time

This church left me with mixed emotions. While the preservation work was inspiring and some of the sacred art truly well-done, the modern works that attempt to universalize the religious space leave me cold. Trying to find a "core message" in various religions winds up generalizing concepts and beliefs to the point where they no longer have a concrete grounding in any coherent system of thought or religion. Unifying religions through vague generalities only makes them relevant to people who know little or nothing about those religions. Which, sadly, is the state of many people today.

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