Standing on the rooftop of De Halve Maan Brewery in Bruges, Belgium, you have a complete 360 degree view of town. It was on this rooftop husband and I noticed a church steeple in the distance. After two days in Bruges we thought we had seen every church. However, the spire we spied was in a neighborhood not yet explored. Tour over, beer sampled, we walked toward the steeple we had seen in the distance.
After walking through several quiet neighborhoods, St. Salvator’s Cathedral appeared in a busy shopping district before us. Upon entering, the interior reconstruction and repairs were very evident, but it didn’t take away from the beauty of the cathedral. As with most churches in Belgium, art was hanging in every free space. That had been one of the surprises of Belgium. Many churches we visited on our trip had been converted to art museums or were no longer in use and just historical buildings draped in artwork. But St. Salvator’s was still a congregation.
We took a few minutes to let our eyes adjust to the low light, circled under the organ and around the side to the far wing of the nave. Some children were praying in front of candles, and I sat close by to take in the scene and the magnificent stained glass window on the opposite wall. That’s when I saw them out of the corner of my eye. NUNS. A group of five women, they were in full uniform, cloaked head to toe in robes and habits. Rosary beads jangling, they walked past me toward the alcoves of saints on the east wall. I had to smile because they were not parishioners as I originally thought, but tourists. The camera backpacks strapped to their shoulders gave them away.
I followed the traveling sisters around the church and watched what they were interested in. The nuns stopped at each piece of religious artwork and the gold chests that held bone remnants of various saints. I wish I could have understood their whispers because on occasion, they would speak to each other and giggle. They were definitely women with a sense of humor.
When the sisters stalled to linger in one particular area, I swept past them to finish my tour of the cathedral. I walked by an area that was sectioned off and peeked over the barrier. A smaller chapel was in the midst of repair and the section had been barricaded to avoid injury to visitors.
While I was looking at the chapel, I felt someone staring at me. Turning slowly to my left, not to be discovered, I realized a statue of Jesus was in the corner above another set of prayer candles. There was debris at his feet and I was curious if the construction nearby had spilled over onto the statue. I pushed past some chairs to get a better look at what the debris was. Pictures.
At the feet of Jesus were photographs. Dozens and dozens of photographs. Some people had obviously come to the corner with purpose – to light a candle and leave a picture of the person they were praying for. Other photographs looked like a spiritual moment – tiny wallet sized photos left when the statue had been discovered by people just like me. I instantly wished I had a photograph of someone to leave behind as well. There was an incredible sense of peace and healing in that place, standing at the feet of Jesus.
I went back to the nave to view the remaining stained glass I had not seen, and to wait for husband. I took in all of the unexpected pleasures I had experienced inside St. Salvator’s. For me, one of the joys of travel is watching how others appreciate the same experience.
Tip: The only Tourist Information office in Bruges is located at the train/bus station. Make sure you stop there for a map before heading into town.