The Basilica of the Holy Blood (Basiliek van het Heilig Bloed) in Bruges houses a venerated relic of Christ: his very blood, collected by Joseph of Arimathea.
History of the Basilica of the Holy Blood
The first historical record to mention the Holy Blood in Bruges dates from 1256. The real story seems to be that it came from Constantinople, which had an extensive collection of relics including one of the Holy Blood.
Constantinople was sacked by the Crusader army of Count of Flanders Baldwin IX in 1204, during the Fourth Crusade. Baldwin IX probably sent the Holy Blood, looted from the Byzantines, to Bruges shortly thereafter. The manner in which the rock-crystal vial is cut also suggests an origin in Constantinople.
Myth and Mystery
Legend has it that after the Crucifixion, Joseph of Arimathea wiped blood from the body of Christ and preserved the cloth. The relic remained in the Holy Land until the Second Crusade, when the King of Jerusalem Baldwin III gave it to his brother-in-law, Count of Flanders Diederik van de Elzas. The count arrived with it in Bruges on April 7, 1150 and placed it in a chapel he had built on Burg Square.
What to See at the Basilica of the Holy Blood
Snugly located in a back corner of Burg Square, the Basilica of the Holy Blood consists of a Romanesque lower chapel and a Gothic upper chapel. The two levels could not be more different: the Romanesque lower level is austere with very little decoration, while the Gothic upper level is alive with color and detail.
The two chapels are connected by a monumental brick staircase, which runs behind the grand facade facing the square. The stairs and facade were built in 1533 in the Renaissance style, but demolished during the French occupation. They were rebuilt in the 19th century.
The gilded statues on the facade represent Archduchess Isabelle, Mary of Burgundy, and Derrick and Philip of Alsace. The medallions depict the Archdukes Albert and Maximilian of Austria, Margaret of York and Sybil of Anjou, wife of Derrick and mother of Philip of Alsace.
The lower chapel, the Chapel of St Basil, is the only Romanesque church in West Flanders, dating from the first half of the 12th century. It was built by Derrick, Count of Alsace (1128-1168) and dedicated to St Basil the Great to house a relic of the Greek theologian (d.379) brought back from Caesarea during the Crusades.
The chapel has a short nave, tiny side aisles, a choir and apse. The doorway connecting the right aisle with the nave has a small sculpted tympanum (12th century) depicting the baptism of St. Basil. The right aisle also contains a polychrome statue (c.1306) of the Madonna and Child, displayed behind glass.
Left of the choir is the Chapel of Saint Yves, added in 1504. It shelters the relics of Saint Basil as well as Charles the Good, the Count of Flanders who was assassinated. The black marble altarpiece is from the 16th century.
The upper chapel was originally Romanesque as well, but is now Gothic with mostly modern decoration. It is lit by stained glass windows and covered with murals, including a brightly painted altar backdrop depicting the Trinity and scenes relating to the Holy Blood relic.
The Holy Blood relic is embedded in a rock-crystal vial, which is placed inside a small glass cylinder capped with a golden crown at each end. The relic is kept in a magnificent silver tabernacle with a sculpture of the Lamb of God in the large side chapel of the upper church. The back wall of the side chapel displays ex-votos of those whose prayers before the Holy Blood have been answered.
More reliquaries can be seen in the Basilica Museum, including one created in 1617 by Bruges goldsmith Jan Crabbe, with a gem-encrusted hexagonal case to hold the relic and a golden statue of the Virgin. Another, from 1612 with a lid from 1716, is silver with a golden flower garland added in 1890.
Festivals and Events
The colorful Procession of the Holy Blood is held on Ascension Day in the spring. The bishop of Bruges carries the relic through the streets, accompanied by costumed residents acting out biblical scenes.
The tradition of the procession is first recorded in 1291. It followed a route around the city walls until 1578, when the religious wars necessitated its relocation to the city center. It is this route that is still followed today.
Quick Facts on the Basilica of the Holy Blood
|Names:||Basilica of the Holy Blood|
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||51.208913° N, 3.227212° E|
|Hours:||Apr-Sep: daily 9:30am-noon and 2-6pm|
Oct-Mar: daily 10am-noon and 2-4pm (closed Wed afternoon)
|Lodging:||View hotels near the Basilica of the Holy Blood|
- Personal visit (November 26, 2007).
- Frommer's Brussels and Bruges.
- Sanguis Christi - Noble Brotherhood of the Holy Blood
- The Chapel of the Holy Blood - Trabel.com
- Basilica of the Holy Blood – TripAdvisor.com - user reviews and articles
- Holy Blood Basilica – Virtual Bruges
- A step back in time: A stay in the beautiful city of Bruges – The Independent Online Edition, April 9, 2005
- Bruges museums and other sights – Brugge.be
- Photos of the Basilica of the Holy Blood - here on Sacred Destinations
Map of the Basilica of the Holy Blood, Bruges
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