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Brugge Hall and Belfry by Night

The ageless charm of this unique place is preserved in time by buildings from the 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. Thousands of visitors are annually attracted to this city of medieval masterpieces, which miraculously escaped the devastation of the war. No trip to western Europe would be complete without a tour of this antique town.

The Hall dominates the square. The oldest surviving part of it dates from the 12th century and it forms the base of the great tower.

Beautiful Bruge
photos by
G. Wilson

A picturesque Bridge over the Canal

photo by
G. Wilson

Miles of lovely canals meander leisurely throughout the city and have deservedly earned it the nickname, Venice of the North.

In ancient times, a 12-mile long canal brought the North Sea to Brugge along with hundreds of foreign merchants, all seeking the famous Flemish cloth, which made the town a flourishing trade centre. Unfortunately, around 1480, wind and sand combined to silt up the channel and when efforts to clear it failed, sea-going vessels by-passed Brugge for Antwerp.

Today these same waterways are filled with colourful boats, their cargo crowds of tourists.

photo by

The cobblestone streets resounded with chatter and the clatter of horse-drawn carriages bearing gawking visitors. Whether by water or road-way, sightseers come to bask in the beauty and soak up the sights and the atmosphere of the middle ages. Others crowd the shops that line the narrow walkway and welcome lovers of lace, tapestries and very, very tasty chocolate.

Stadsbeiaardier Aime Lamaert

Market square, at the centre of the city, is dominated by the Belfry, an octagonal tower tha contains a 47-bell carillon that mechanically sounds chimes of popular tunes. In the evenings, well-attended performances are chimed by the carillonneur, Aime Lombaert, whose programme included such favourites as, Row, Row, Row Your Boat, Danny Boy, Clementine and Land of Hope and Glory. Aime greeted onlookers and listeners after each show. When he learned we were from Niagara Falls, he enthusiastically recalled his visit to see the "Great Falls,", during which time he said he had had the privilege of playing the excellent carillon that overlooks that Wonder of the World.

Church of Our Lady

The Church of Our Lady in Bruges, Belgium, dates mainly from the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries. Its tower, at 122,3 meters in height, remains the tallest structure in the city and the second tallest brickwork tower in the world. The tallest is the St. Martin's Church in Landshut, Germany.

Madonna with Jesus
Michelangelo (1501)[*]

The altarpiece of the large chapel in the southern aisle of the Church of Our Lady enshrines its most celebrated art treasure - a white marble sculpture of the Madonna and Child created by Michelangelo around 1504. It is one of the very few of his statues outside Italy. It was purchased in Italy by two Brugean merchants, the brothers Jan and Alexander Mouscron and in 1514, donated to its present home. The sculpture recovered after being looted by foreign occupiers of the country. It was a prized theft of Hitler's hordes, the goose-stepping ghouls who headed back to Germany with every last piece of precious loot they could steal. Goering's Nazi henchmen savaged and ravaged the continent, gathering its precious works of art to hoard and hide in salt mines and caves. Fortunately, the country successfully sought its return.

In the choir space behind the high altar of the Church of Our Lady in Brugge, are the very impressive tombs of Charles the Bold, the last Valois Duke of Burgundy and his daughter, the Duchess Mary. The gilded bronze effigies of both father and daughter repose at full length on polished slabs of black stone. Each is crowned and Charles is represented in full armor and wearing the decoration of the Order of the Golden Fleece.

Effigies of Mary of Burgundy and Charles the Bold

Charles the Bold
Duke of Burgundy

Known as Charles the Terrible to his enemies, the last Valois Duke of Burgundy's early death was a pivotal, if relatively unknown, moment in European history. Charles, it seems, never ran out of reasons for fighting. After a successful siege at Liege. Charles plundered the town, drowning anyone who could not pay his heavy ransom. Later he was manoeuvred into war with Switzerland and his forces succumbed to its superior fighters, the most valiant of the age. The defeat left Charles grieved and so distraught that his highly emotional behaviour bordered on insanity. He managed to recover his wits and assembled another army. They arrived in the depths of winter before the sturdy walls of Nancy. Deciding the weather was too cold and the walls too strong, many of his men drifted off, leaving Charles with only a few thousand men. They faced the joint forces of Lorraine and Swiitzerland that had rushed to the relief of the town. The Battle of Nancy (5 January 1477) was lost by Charles' makeshift military force.

Unaware of the nasty events at Nancy and her father's death, Mary arrived at the palace in Ghent. She dismounted in the court-yard and ran lightly up the wide steps and into the apartment of her amiable step-mother, Margaret Duchess of York. "Bless you my sweet child," she said, hugging her step-daughter. Both were concerned about Charles and the fight he now found himself in. Letters to Margaret had been received from him earlier and Mary now eagerly read them. She noticed right away that all was not well. Tears welled up in her eyes as she pointed out blots and erasures with sentences begun and left unfinished. "My father is obviously quite ill," she said. "I will set off to see him tomorrow." She was dissuaded from this drastic plan. As they sat sorrowfully pondering the results of Charles' latest military adventure, old Lord of Neufchatel limped into the room. Despite having been wounded himself, he had raced back from Nancy to relay the terrible news. Margaret and Mary waited impatiently for his report. "Speak, Sir, speak, My father?" "All is lost in the field and I know not for sure about Charles." "My father, oh my father," she cried and burst into a passionate flood of tears. "Nay, nay, my sweet child, don't give way to despair," said the duchess.

Mary had every reason to despair for indeed, all had been lost. Charles' few forces were killed or scattered to the winds and he himself had met an icy fate. His naked and disfigured body was discovered some days afterward, frozen into the nearby river. His head had been cleft in two by a halberd, multiple lances were lodged in his stomach and loins and his face had been so badly mutilated by wild animals that only his physician was able to identify him by old battle scars on his body and by his long fingernails for which he was well known.

All though his supporters loved and admired Charles, his impetuous and lion-hearted nature often led him into impossilbe enterprises. "Why the devil did he set down before Nancy in the middle of winter?" cried one. "He might have known no one would stay with him when faced with a solid fortress and fierce wintry conditions."

Charles Body Discovered

Charles left his unmarried, nineteen year-old daughter, Mary of Burgundy, as his heir. Clearly her marriage would have enormous implications for the political balance of power in Europe. Louis XI, her uncle, sought to seize the duchy, claiming under Slavic law, women could not inherit property. Mary appealled for support to her Netherland connections. They agreed to help and to accept her as their constitutional sovereign, but the price was a stiff one. Mary had to promise not to enter into any marriage, levy no taxes, declare no war without their consent. She agreed to this but subsequenly managed to outwit her uncle and regain her independence by marrying Maximilian of Austria who became Holy Roman Emperor. By marrying the greatest heiress in Europe, Maximilian maintained the domain for her and himself.

Mary of Burgundy (13 Feb. 1457- 27 March 1482)

Mary of Burgundy

Mary of Burgundy

Object:Panel Place of origin:Bruges (made) Date:ca. 1500 (made) Artist/Maker:Unknown Materials and Techniques:Clear and coloured glass panel with painted details and yellow (silver) stain

Falconer Mary of Burgundy

Max and Mary

Columbus sailed the ocean blue in fourteen hundred ninety-two. About fifteen years earlier (1477) in Austria, it is recorded that Archduke Maximilian popped the question to Mary of Burgundy with the very first engagement ring. History tells us that they were walking down the aisle in less than 24 hours. This painting by Jacob Jordaens of the Wedding of Mary of Burgundy and Maximilian of Austria was donated to the town of Sainte-Savine in 1954.

Marriage of Mary and Maximilian

Maximilian and Mary

Max and Mary with their three children: Philip the Handsome born in Bruges; he succeeded to his mother's Burgundian possessions under the guardianship of his father. (1478-1506) Margaret (1480-1530) and Franz b. died 1481. The big boy in the background must be a servant.

This specific image shows Mary in her own private chamber attending to her private devotion. In her lap appears a book whose opening letter "O" clearly identifies it as a Book of Hours since two of the most popular prayers to the Virgin begin with the letter "O": Obsecro te and O intemerata. The gold edges and cloth used to protect the book from direct hand contact suggests the preciousness of the book as an object.

It is a miniature of a type of prayer book known as a Book of Hours. Each Book of Hours is unique with components added to reflect the specific needs of the original or subsequent owners of the book. This individuality of content and the emphasis on private devotion reflects an important religious and ideological shift that occurs during this period towards a greater emphasis on individuality. This particular Book of Hours has long believed to have been made for Mary of Burgundy (1457-1482; r. 1477) the daughter and only child of Charles the Bold, the Duke of Burgundy (1433-1477, r.1467-1477 She was born into a family, the Valois, that traced its ancestry back to the French monarchs of the later fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries. Mary's marriage to Maximilian of Austria marked an important consolidation of power integrating the rich domains of Burgundy in the Netherlands and central France with the Hapsburg-Spanish line of Austria and Spain. More recently scholars have suggested that the book was made for Margaret of York, the third wife of Charles the Bold and Mary's stepmother.

Wijnendale Castle in West Flanders Belgium, .

Part of he castle's north wing dates from 15th century. Mary and her son Philip the Handsome stayed here for a period.

Mary met her death near here on 27 March 1482 at the age of 25, while falconing with her husband, Maximilian. She loved riding, but on this occasion her horse tripped, threw her and landed on top of her breaking her back. She died shortly thereafter and is buried in Bruges. Her remains were exhumed in the 1990s and scientifically studied. X-rays indicated that one of her wrists had been broken and her pelvis crushed. This accident changed the history of the Low Countries under her authoritarian husband, Maximilian I and a period of more than 300 years of Habsburg rule began.

Effigy of Charles the Bold in Full Armour

Effigy of Mary of Burgundy

Maximilian I - Holy Roman Emperor, Archduke of Austria and Duke of Burgundy holding his personal emblem - the pomegranate.

(22 March 1459- 12 Jan. 1519)

Holy Roman Emperor from 1508 until his death

(painted by Albrecht Durer, 1519)

This is considered to be an honest portrait of Maximilian during his later years. Worn out and disillusioned by what he thought was his failure to achieve his goals, he exclaimed, "Earth possesses no joy for me." Historians believe he exaggerated his failures, for he left Germany and his empire far stronger than he found it.

Maximilian was a keen supporter of the arts and sciences and he surrounded himself with scholars such as Joachim Vadian and Andreas Stoberl (Stiborius), promoting them to important court posts. His reign saw the first flourishing of the Renaissance in Germany. He commissioned a series of three monumental woodblock prints - The Triumphal Arch (1512-18), 192 woodcut panels, 295 cm wide and 357 cm high - approximately 9'8" by 11'8½"), and a Triumphal Procession (1516-18), 137 woodcut panels, 54 m long, which is led by a Large Triumphal Carriage (1522), 8 woodcut panels, 1½' high and 8' long), created by artists including Albrecht Dürer, Albrecht Altdorfer and Hans Burgkmair.

Triumphal Arch

Maximilian had a great passion for armour, not only as equipment for battle or tournaments, but as an art form. The style of armour that became popular during the second half of his reign featured elaborate fluting and metalworking, and became known as Maximilian armour after the Emperor. Maximilian armour emphasized the details in the shaping of the metal itself, rather than the etched or gilded designs popular in the Milanese style.

Maximilian also gave a bizarre jousting helmet as a gift to King Henry VIII - the helmet's visor featured a human face, with eyes, nose and a grinning mouth and was modeled after the appearance of Maximilian himself. It also sported a pair of curled ram's horns, brass spectacles, and even etched beard stubble.

Henry VIII's Jousting (Jesting?) Helmet

Like his wife Mary, Max loved falconing and during one outing, he had an accident on his horse and injured his leg. It plagued him with pain for the rest of his life and historians believe it contributed to his early death. He became morbidly depressed and travelled everywhere with his coffin. He died in 1519.

Maximilian was buried in the Church of St. Peter in Wiener Neustadt (formerly German Neustadt), south of Vienna in the state of Lower Austria

Cenotaph created for Maximilian I in Hofkirche, Innsburck

The Hofkirche (Court Church) Innsbruck, Austria, is a Gothic church built 1553-1563 by Ferdinand I as a memorial to his grandfather Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor (1459-1519), whose cenotaph within boasts a remarkable collection of German Renaissance sculpture.

Buffalo Bridge
photo by

The are 97 bridges in Brugge and one has particular significance for Canada. The gratitude of the city is impressively expressed to two Canadian World War II regiments: The Regina Rifles and the Royal Winnipeg Rifles. The statues of two large bisons adorn each side of this bridge over Leopoldi Lane. A plaque nearby explains their significance.

"This bridge was erected in memory of the Canadian forces who liberated the city of Bruges on September 12, 1944."


Michelangelo was an Italian Renaissance painter and sculptor. He lived from 1475-1564 and is most widely known for his sculptures Pietà and David. In the early 1500s Michelangelo created the masterpiece Madonna of Bruges. The sculpture is made of marble and is 128 cm in dimension. Madonna of Bruges is a depiction of Mary with the baby Jesus. It is noted for being largely unique in comparison to other statues of Mary and Jesus created during the time of Michelangelo. Most depictions show a smiling Mary looking down on a baby Jesus. However, in Madonna of Bruges, Mary doesn’t cling to Jesus or even look at him. She has a steady gaze down and away from the child. It seems that Mary knows the fate of her son.

The sculpture is also notable for being the only Michelangelo work to leave Italy during his lifetime. It was purchased by a family of wealthy cloth merchants from Bruges. Bruges is a city located in the northwest corner of Belgium. The Madonna of Bruges has only been removed from Belgium on two separate incidents in history. The first came in 1794, after French Revolutionaries had conquered the Austrian Netherlands. At that time, Napoleon ordered the people of Bruges to pack up the Madonn and ship it to France. The sculpture was returned after the defeat of Napoleon. The second removal occurred in 1944 when German soldiers were retreating from the area. The soldiers smuggled the Madonna to Germany in a group of mattresses transported by a Red Cross truck. Two years later the sculpture was found by Allied forces and returned to Bruges.

Today the Madonna of Bruges is located at the Church of Our Lady in Bruges, Belgium. It has been kept at the Church of Our Lady since 1514 and this is where the sculpture belongs and will hopefully stay forever. It is a cherished piece of art and is kept behind a piece of bulletproof glass. Visitors are also required to stay 15 feet away from the sculpture. These measures were taken after the 1972 attack on Michelangelo’s Pietà. In 1972, a mentally disturbed geologist named Laszlo Toth attacked the sculpture, which is located at St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. Toth took a geologists hammer and bashed the Pietà while screaming "I am Jesus Christ." It suffered significant damage and many pieces of marble were broken from the statue. To make things worse, people stole these pieces, which included the nose of Mary.


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