Thursday, February 18, 2010

Belgium Part One

As like last year, I and a few priest friends took advantage of the post-exams break to see a bit of the European continent, this time, the country of Belgium.

We flew out of Ciampino airport, the smaller airport of Rome, on RyanAir, the no-frills economic airline. We saved a goodly amount of Euros by flying with RyanAir and it was fine for a two-hour flight. Unfortunately, the airline policy is to keep the cabin lights on full during the entire flight. That way they can constantly walk up the aisle selling food, drinks, duty-free items, lottery tickets, all the while announcing over the speakers what various wares were for sell. Needless to say it got old fast. Oh well. We landed safely as did our luggage into Charleroi airport, about 30 miles south of Brussels, Belgium.

Our taxi took us North then East to the university town of Leuven where is located the American College of the Immaculate Conception. For a few years now the college has been home to undergraduate seminarians of the Congregation of Holy Cross during their overseas experience. Two such men currently reside and study in Leuven this semester and were gracious to meet us and orient us to the place.

Our first full day included a tour of the city of Leuven. We walked just down the street to the main square where is located the Town Hall and St. Peter's Church. And so some photos.

The Town Hall is situated just opposite the church and enjoys an amazing facade of statuary, spires, and flag/banner poles. Here as with the other town halls of the cities we visited, a statue of Our Lady with the Child Jesus in her arms is prominently displayed above the main entrance. In fact, statuary and shrines of Our Lady can be found throughout the cities especially in niches on the corners of buildings.

St. Peter's Church, dating from the 15th century, has in my estimation seen better days. There was present some scaffolding which is usually a sign of restoration but overall the church seemed dirty and "empty". The entire section behind the sanctuary was blocked by a modern glass entrance which for a price tourists/pilgrims can enter and look around. The sanctuary, now located at the mid-section where the nave and transepts meet, was marked by a stunning crucifix the beauty of which came through against the stark white background.

The pulpit, located as expected just off to the side half-way down the nave, was quite ornate. The beautiful wood was carved with care and rich detail. This photo shows just the base and depicts St. Paul who has fallen (here from a horse) by a blinding light (here depicted as a lightening bolt) and thus the manifest beginning of his conversion from persecutor of the Church to great promoter for the Church.

The baptistry was quite unique and elaborate. I'm thankful to Fr. Fasano for pointing out to me that the heavy lid is attached to a mechanism that swings to the side. Now if only the Paschal Candle and the "banner" could meet with the same level of elaboration and dignity!

A hope of mine was to visit the Benedictine monastery of Mont-Cesar where lived and is now buried the liturgical scholar Don Lambert Beauduin. The monastery is located on a high hill where originally sat a castle. We climbed the hill in a heavy snow and noticed the large statue of Our Lady which overlooks the town below. We climbed and climbed only to find that the monastery was emptied except for the kind clerk at the bookstore. Alas, we had arrived on the feast of St. Scholastica when it is traditional for the monks to travel to a nearby Benedictine convent for Mass and a meal. So the one day out of the entire year when the monks are gone we arrive. And thus, we were unable to visit the tomb of Beauduin. My luck. But it was nice to say "I was there".

So, our first full day involved some of the main sites of Leuven and getting our bearings with regards to the train station and some recommended restaurants! For both lunch and supper we were not disappointed and were able to take advantage of our first round of beers - one of the hallmarks of Belgium life and surely one of its greatest gifts to humanity. More on other cities in forthcoming posts.

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