The Canals of Bruges

The canals of Bruges
The canals of Bruges

What struck me most was the way the sunlight danced across the water. It had been raining in Paris, and the rain had followed me as the train sped past windmills and back-roads lined with poplars decked in autumn finery. Old stone farmhouses sat in tilled fields of soft green.

Yet when I reached Bruges, in Belgium, the sun broke through the grey clouds. The whole city had emerged into the sunshine to promenade through this medieval city, or else pass by in horse and carriage.

To meander along the canals of Bruges is to step back into the Middle Ages. Willow branches tickle the water as swans drift grandly by. Stepped rooves zigzag against the sky in classic Flemish style. The canals, dressed by the fallen leaves of autumn, sparkle in the morning sun. Having a hotel room with a window opening onto a canal is delight. Continue Reading →

Sint-Janshospitaal: A Medieval Hospital in Bruges

The canals of Bruges (c) A. Harrison
The canals of Bruges (c) A. Harrison

“We were highly delighted by our visit to the Hospital of St. John’s. It is a Gothic edifice of ancient structure. The sick lie in a large apartment, which is supported by Norman arches and pillars. The Sisters of Charity attend upon the invalids; and everything appears in that state of order and excessive neatness, so admirably conspicuous in this town.”

Charles A. Stothar, English antiquarian, in a letter to his mother 20th Sept 1890

I first saw Sint-Janshospitaal while cruising along the canals of Bruges. The wall running along the The Groenerei (or Green Canal) is in classic Flemish style: ivy-covered stones, a roof stepping against the skyline. Tall gothic windows looked over the water. In medieval times this wing doubled as both a chapel and a ward (for since spiritual healing was considered more important than healing of the flesh, a chapel stood inside the open ward). The wash from our barge lapped against the weathered stones and landing stage, where a door opened onto the water.

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