Our host at Maison Le Dragon was very obliging and served breakfast a half hour early to accommodate our touring schedule. Boris is off to see battle sites from WWI. I was scheduled to do my very first balloon tour, but it was cancelled due to weather. Actually, after our minibus and canal tours yesterday I noted so many places I wanted to go in Bruges that I am glad I have the day free to tour the city. It is raining and my foot is in a boot due to surgery, but I will not be deterred.
I started by walking back to Market Square and then down one of the main shopping streets to see the large Saturday Market our host had told us about. I got to the end of the street and ran into building and road construction. Fortunately, the tourist information center was also right there so I popped in and found out the market was just on the other side of all the construction.
The market had everything you might need from meats and vegetables to wallpaper. I didn’t stay too long. I wandered back down different streets, passing some of the white houses we had heard about on the tour. These homes have been around for centuries. Originally, private donors sponsored this housing for the poor. Each cluster has a prayer room and chapel and the only requirement to live there was daily attendance of services. They are now operated by the government; there are still about 50 of these homes in Bruges.
My next stop was St. John’s Hospital. Sint-Janshospitaal was established in the 12th century as one of Europe’s oldest hostels. It was designed for both the sick and as a refuge for travelers. It continued to serve as a hospital until 1978. St. John’s sits opposite the Church of Our Lady. The hospital’s wards from the 13th and 14th centuries now house the works of art. I entered through the side courtyard and noted the various buildings obviously added over time.
In the museum, you buy tickets to the Hospital Museum and the Church of Our Lady. A small portion of the church is open to the public while a large portion of the church is under construction. The sections of the church containing the tombs and altar are open as a museum and require a ticket for entry.
The art in the hospital museum was beyond beautiful. There were several lovely altar screens, the most impressive of which was the Mythical Marriage of St. Catherine by Hans Memling which is on display in the hospital chapel. However, my favorite display was the one of the most beautiful pieces of painted art I have ever seen, the Shrine of St. Ursula. The shrine features the city of Cologne, Germany as it appeared in the 15th century.
Another area you can tour is the hospital apothecary; it is open shorter hours so check before your visit. The Apothecary has remained unchanged since the 17th century.
My next visit was to the Church of Our Lady just across the street. The most noteworthy piece of art in the church museum is the sculpture of Mother with Child by Michelangelo Buonarroti. I particularly liked the church’s stained glass and the ancient tombs.
The nobles who lived in the adjacent residence had their own access to the church. The Lords of Gruuthuse attended religious services from the private chapel.
The choir of the Church of Our Lady features the tombs of Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy and his daughter, Maria of Burgundy. Maria’s tomb is older and in the Gothic style featuring pious angels. Charles’ tomb is in the Renaissance style and features courtesans. Although Charles died first, his remains were not released until half a century after his daughter’s death.