After more than two months of lockdown, the reopening of the musea is a real treat for the hearts and minds of many art lovers. The musea in Bruges have their weekly closing day on Monday, but the Church of our Lady already reopened today, Monday May 18th!
After many years of restoration works, the restoration of the exterior was finished in 2011, while the restoration of the interior was only finished recently, the church can again been seen in all its splendour. During the restoration works several old murals dated 14th and 15th century were discovered underneath several layers of paint. The exuberant and colorful 19th century neo-gothic mural painting of the chapel of the blessed sacrament and the Debaenst chapel at the East side of the church are visible and bright again.
The North and South white painted aisles where an abundance of natural light falls through the high stained glass windows, contrasts beautifully with the red brick rib vault, and grey stone triforium of the central nave. In the outer aisles you feel connected with the world outside, in the inner nave you feel embraced by the warmer darker colors and protected by the many statues of saints looking down on you. Here you can admire the many monumental paintings and the intricate woodwork of confession chairs, the choir and the pulpit.
The church holds some very important works of art that are unique and of very high quality.
In the choir you can admire the burial tombs belonging to the Burgundian nobels, Mary of Burgundy and her father Charles the Bold. Their lying bronze statues on the marble tombs give you a good idea of what they must have looked like in real life. The face of Mary is sculpted using a plaster cast to make a death mask. Underneath the tombs archeologists have unearthed several original 13th to 15th century graves and in the middle one the remains of Mary together with the heart of her son Philip, are kept in a lead box. The graves are decorated with typical 13th century style tomb paintings.
Mary and Charles look up to a monumental painting by Barend Van Orley, commissioned in 1534 by Duchess Margaret of Austria, the daughter of Mary of Burgundy and Maximilian of Austria. The painter died before finishing the painting and it was comleted by Marcus Gerards. It shows the Passion of Christ.
On the side of the choir we find the beautifully decorated prayer chapel of Louis of Gruuthuse that connnects his neighbouring city palace directly to the church. From the chapel he and his family could in all privacy follow mass, from the chapel they looked down on the main altar. On the woodwork we see his motto ‘Plus et en vous’, translated as ‘there is more in you’.
And just before you exit the church you fall upon the pride of the museum: the statue of Madonna and child by Michelangelo Buonarroti placed above the altar and grave of the Mouscron brothers, Bruges’ merchants who bought the statue, brought it to Bruges and donated it to the church. It is the only statue that left Italy during the life of Michelangelo. Its fame attracts many and it was taken from Bruges twice, once by the French in the period of the French revolution and a second time by the Nazi’s at the end of World War II. The altar piece where it can be admired has also been restored to its original glory.
After leaving the church don’t forget to take a walk around the church. It took 200 years to build the church and showcases many different gothic building styles used in Flanders in medieval times. The tower is with its 115 m the second highest brick building in Europe, and maybe even in the world. The spire towers high above the city landscape of Bruges.