Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Brussels: the final leg

From Luxembourg it's not that far up through the Ardennes to Brussels, where we arrived at midday. An unmemorable journey, apart from the train being remarkably empty: the day was misty so we couldn't see much. Oh yes, Namur's Citadel looked impressive, perched above the River Meuse.

We were kindly invited to Brussels to stay with Thibaud and Ulli de Saint-Quentin, recently-moved there from across our road in Cheltenham. Thibaud, with an insider's knowledge of the chocolate industry, was well-placed to guide us round the mouth-watering shops in Place du Grand Sablon: the window of Maison Marcolini looked more like a jeweller's than a chocolatier's.

Left to ourselves, we enjoyed the Royal Museums, both ancient and modern: the modern (besides its impressive collection) has a lift as large as a dentist's waiting-room. We also had an excellent lunch in the Museum Brasserie: recommended. Earlier, we explored the Marolles quarter, and the market in Place du Jeu de Balle: I bargained for some pretty plates there a couple of years ago, carrying them back unwrapped in my hand on Eurostar.

I had visited the beautiful late Gothic Notre Dame du Sablon a couple of times, but apart from another look at that lovely church we also went into the nearby Notre Dame de la Chapelle, an enormous Romanesque/Gothic church, burial place of the elder Brueghel, and the Chapelle Sainte-Marie-Madeleine. This last is tiny by comparison, a restored jewel, clearly much used and loved. One of the Sisters of the Assumption keeps a small shop.

Reflecting on our nearly four weeks away, it's the Christian thread to our journeys that stands out: great cathedrals; monastic buildings, churches and chapels, and religious painting and sculpture - all relics of a common culture flourishing over a period of many centuries. The same stories again and again, but told each in its unique way, and with the utmost reverence, formed a persistent theme for meditation. Even if churches lack repair and may be poorly attended, with few priests available - as in France particularly - nevertheless in that kindness to strangers we experienced everywhere we went, I felt and was grateful for more than a merely humanist tradition: it is Christianity's enduring legacy.

1 comment:

Martin Davis said...

Since writing this, I came across the report of a recent lecture to the Royal Fine Art Commission Trust by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor. Speaking of Piero della Francesca's Baptism of Christ, he urged that it be transferred from the National Gallery to Westminster Cathedral. "It is a mistake," he said, "to treat it as a work of art. It is a work of faith and piety, an expression of the Church's life and a way into prayer."

I can't see how it can be a mistake to describe a great religious painting as a work of art, but otherwise yes, that's just what I meant when I talked about "Christianity's enduring legacy."