We reached peak Vancouver this week. I was in Stanley Park the other day, on the prowl for cherry blossoms to photograph, when the sun drew my eyes to the fresh snow atop the North Shore mountains.
Doesn’t get more Vancouver than that.
Even closer to Sint-Niklaaskerk than Sint-Baafskathedraal is Sint-Michielskerk (Saint Michael’s Church). It is this church, dedicated to the archangel Michael, that is my photo choice for Palm Sunday.
You can’t see the tower from this angle, but there is one — a mere 24 metres high. It was intended to be 134 metres tall, but the wars of religion (there were several) stopped the church’s construction in the sixteenth century. When construction began again a century later, the tower was never completed and it was only in 1828 that a roof was put on.
For the Fifth Sunday of Lent, I’m posting a photo of Sint-Niklaaskerk (Saint Nicholas Church). This is the view from around the back, which is what you see as you exit Sint-Baafskathedraal — that’s how jam-packed the medieval centre of Gent is.
Sint-Niklaaskerk dates back to the early thirteenth century and was built in the Scheldt Gothic style typical to Flanders at the time. Churches built in this style have a single large tower over the crossing, rather than the entrance. In the case of Sint-Niklaaskerk, the town bells were housed in its tower until the belfry next door was completed.
For the Fourth Sunday of Lent, I’m moving on to Gent. This is Sint-Baafskathedraal (Saint Bavo Cathedral). A church has stood on this site since one was consecrated to Saint John the Baptist in 942. The Gothic structure you see here was completed sometime in the mid-sixteenth century.
Around the same time, the diocese of Gent was founded. This church was selected as the diocesan cathedral, and rededicated as Sint-Baafskathedraal. Saint Bavo was a rather rambunctious, wealthy young man, who, after the death of his wife, gave away all his possessions and became a monk.
Displayed in the cathedral under high security is the magnificent Ghent Altarpiece by Hubert and Jan van Eyck. Known formally as The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, it has survived iconoclasm, revolution, dismantlement, fire, theft, and war. I highly recommend stopping by Gent to have a look at it for yourself.
The Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk (Church of Our Lady) in Brugge is chock full of art. For starters, there’s Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child. There’s also an Anthony Van Dyck, one of the many paintings he did of the crucifixion. And then there’s this magnificent triptych by the Flemish painter Bernard van Orley, which is my photo choice for today, the Third Sunday of Lent.
Note the tombs flanking the altar. They belong to Mary of Burgundy and her father, Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy. Upon her father’s 1477 death at the Battle of Nancy, Mary became the Duchess of Burgundy and ruled until her death due to a riding accident at age 25.
During archaeological work done in the 1970s, Mary’s remains were positively identified. The tomb of Charles was found empty, however. Although his great-grandson, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, had the remains of Charles the Bold brought to Brugge, it is believed that they were buried in St. Donatian’s Cathedral of Brugge, which was destroyed after the French Revolution.
For the Second Sunday of Lent, here’s another church from Brugge. This one is called the Heilig-Bloedbasiliek (Basilica of the Holy Blood). Its name comes from a vial of blood kept here, said to have been taken from the body of Christ by Joseph of Arimathea and brought to Brugge during the Crusades.
Located in a corner of the Burg, one of the squares in Brugge’s Old Town, you wouldn’t know it’s a church from its exterior; it blends right in with the Stadhuis next door. The Heilig-Bloedbasiliek is also unique in that it’s on two levels. The lower Romanesque chapel dates back to the twelfth century. I took the photo above in the upper chapel, which was built at the end of the fifteenth century in the Romanesque style and then rebuilt a century later in the Gothic style.
I quite liked the eighteenth-century pulpit. It was built in the shape of a globe to commemorate Mark 16:15, which says, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.”
When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain,
Before high-piled books, in charactery,
Hold like rich garners the full ripened grain;
When I behold, upon the night’s starred face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour,
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
Of unreflecting love; — then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till love and fame to nothingness do sink.
— John Keats
Back when I was a child (no, really — I was still in my teens), I took a course on the English Romantic poets. The first semester was all about William Blake and the Lake Poets (Coleridge and Wordsworth, among others). The poets known as the Late Romantics— Byron, Shelley, and Keats — took up the second semester.
It was a challenging course; in her feedback to a paper I wrote on Keats, my professor gently suggested I was perhaps more inclined towards studying history than literature. (She was right.)
But those young poets never left me, in their way, and so, less than a year later, I found myself wandering through a Roman cemetery looking for John Keats’ headstone. He died of consumption — what we now know as tuberculosis — on February 23, 1821. Like so many ex-pats in Rome, he was buried in the Protestant Cemetery. Unlike most people, he insisted his headstone not bear his name, but rather “Here lies One Whose Name was writ in Water.”
On that same visit to Rome, I also visited the Keats–Shelley Memorial House beside the Spanish Steps. It’s the house on the far right in the next photo. It was sobering to see where Keats died, but also thrilling to see the incarnation of my entire Romantic poetry course in three rooms.
I stopped by the Keats House in Hampstead, in the north part of London, on my next trip overseas. Hampstead Heath, a marvelous open space of almost 800 acres that beckons when you are museumed out, lies just behind the house.
Since I keep bumping into Keats on my travels, I thought it only right that I acknowledge the 200th anniversary of his death.
But back to the Romantic poetry course that started it all for me. One morning, my prof began class by asking who among us had life insurance. Her point was how unusual it was for someone as young as Keats to be so aware of his own mortality.
Unusual, but understandable. Keats lost both parents before he was grown and then watched his younger brother die of tuberculosis. He had also trained as a doctor. By his early twenties, Keats had seen far more death and dying than most of us will see in a lifetime. His sense of how fleeting life is inspired him to write poems like the sonnet I started this post with, which he wrote a month after his brother died.
More death and dying than most of us will see in a lifetime — that, of course, refers to those of us who will live through this pandemic more or less unscathed. And those of us who do, have far more privilege than most.
Once again, we are in the Season of Lent and, once again, I’m taking you on a tour of churches I’ve photographed. This year, it’s Belgium’s turn.
For the First Sunday of Lent, here is a photo of Sint-Salvatorskathedraal (Saint Saviour’s Cathedral) in Brugge. A church has stood on this site since 646, making it the oldest church in Brugge. Parts of the current structure date back to 1275.
My hotel was across the street from this magnificent building. Sadly, I didn’t have the foresight to book a room with a view.
Next time, then.
Remember when I said I was going to stop writing about the weather? And the pandemic?
This was a tough weekend for some folks. Today is Family Day, a statutory holiday celebrated in about half of the country. This year it came right on the heels of Valentine’s Day and the Lunar New Year. Which means those of us who are inclined to get together with loved ones on any of these occasions have been three times tested in our resolve to follow the provincial health orders. Here in BC, we are now into our fourth month of in-person social gatherings being limited to the people we live with.
Also, come mid-February, most Canadians are utterly sick of winter. This is the time when those of us who can start escaping to the sun. But, with current travel restrictions, trips south just are not happening this winter.
So, yeah, that.
I, on the other hand, had so much to celebrate this weekend. Yes, my long-awaited snowfall finally showed up, thanks to the polar vortex. I woke up to a winter wonderland on Saturday morning and spent much of the day in Narnia (aka Stanley Park).
The snow is already gone, alas, washed away by last night’s rainfall. But for this Canadian, who loves snow but lives in a place where it is a novelty, it was a good weekend.
Here, take a look.