Historical Churches Tour, Brugge

Historical Churches Tour (Self Guided), Brugge

It's not much of a secret that some of the world's most beautiful churches are found in Brugge. Renowned for its medieval architecture and picturesque canals, this Belgian city is home to several historical temples, adding a great deal of charm to its tapestry.

The Begijnhof, also known as the Beguinage Houses, is a tranquil place and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Built in the 13th century, it was originally a sanctuary for the religious women who lived in a community without taking formal vows.

The Church of Our Lady, with its soaring spire, is one of the most iconic landmarks in Brugge. Inside, you can find the famous Madonna and Child sculpture by Michelangelo, making it a must-visit for art enthusiasts and history buffs alike.

Saint Salvator's Cathedral, another prominent church, boasts impressive Gothic architecture, while the Basilica of the Holy Blood is a blend of Romanesque and Neo-Gothic styles. This church is renowned for its venerated relic, a drop of Christ's blood.

Saint Anne's Church, a hidden gem, is a small yet charming church featuring a Baroque interior and beautiful stained glass windows.

The Jerusalem Chapel and Adornes Domain is unique in terms of being a replica of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and a part of the Adornes family's historical estate.

Last but not least, the English Convent, dating back to the 17th century, is an excellent example of Flemish Baroque.

Visiting these historical churches in Brugge not only provides a glimpse into the city's past but also allows you to appreciate the architectural and artistic treasures they hold. Whether you are a history enthusiast or simply looking for a peaceful place to explore, you are bound to get a memorable experience that will enrich your journey through this enchanting city.
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Historical Churches Tour Map

Guide Name: Historical Churches Tour
Guide Location: Belgium » Brugge (See other walking tours in Brugge)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 7
Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.7 Km or 1.7 Miles
Author: HelenF
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Begijnhof (Beguinage Houses)
  • Church of Our Lady
  • St. Salvator's Cathedral
  • Basilica of the Holy Blood
  • St. Anne's Church
  • Jerusalem Chapel & Adornes Domain
  • The English Convent
Begijnhof (Beguinage Houses)

1) Begijnhof (Beguinage Houses) (must see)

The Beguinage dates back to 1245. The Beguinage was a community of women who devoted themselves to poverty, simplicity and preaching. They operated under lay orders and not binding vows. Women working in the Beguinage could leave the community at any time.

Most of the buildings are newer and date to the 19th century. The last beguinage woman left in 1927. Since then, the area has housed a community of Benedictine nuns.

Visitors can enter the Beguinage over a bridge and continue through a 1776 gatehouse. A church has been on this site since 1245. However, the first church burned and was replaced in 1605. The church is dedicated to Saint Elisabeth of Hungary and received a Baroque update in the early 1700s.

The altar is dedicated to Saint Joseph. The chapel's most revered treasure is a gilded Madonna and child that dates to 1240.

A small museum on the ground depicts the living quarters of beguine. The Benedictine Sisters appreciate silence as they go about their work. The expansive lawn features beautiful poplars and is a wonderful place to appreciate the silence and reverent dedication of the sisters.
Church of Our Lady

2) Church of Our Lady (must see)

The Church of Our Lady is a stunning example of Gothic architecture. The church dates back to the 13th century. The tower is 115.6 meters (379 feet) tall and is the tallest structure in Brugge. The impressive tower is the third tallest brickwork tower in the world.

The exterior flying buttresses were built in the 13th century. The interior side aisles and chancel feature ornate Baroque style.

Several notable tombs are located behind the altar. Charles the Bold and his daughter Duchess Mary are interred here. The tombs feature gilded bronze effigies. Charles the Bold wears full armor. Both Charles and Mary are shown wearing crowns. Mary Lovel, the founder of a convent at Antwerp, is also buried here.

Michelangelo created a stunning white marble sculpture of the Madonna and Child around 1504. The sculpture was donated to the Church of Our Lady in 1514. This sculpture is the biggest attraction in the Church of Our Lady and is located in the large chapel known as the Cappella sacra.

The sculpture is notable on two fronts. First, it is the only Michelangelo artwork that left Italy during his lifetime. Second, instead of featuring a Modonna looking lovingly at her child, this interpretation shows Madonna's sorrow at what will happen to her son.

French revolutionaries looted the sculpture in 1794 as did the German Nazis in 1944. It was successfully recovered both times. Near the sculpture, there are other tombs of important Brugeans. In addition, the Last Supper and Adoration of the Shepards by Pieter Poubus and the Transfigeration by Gerard David are outstanding.

Why You Should Visit:
To admire the huge brick tower, multiple altars, multiple organs, and some great artwork! The combination of this church and the Bonifacius bridge, plus the gardens and the canals is absolutely fabulous.
St. Salvator's Cathedral

3) St. Salvator's Cathedral

Saint Salvator's Cathedral is Brugge's main church. This impressive church was built in the 10th century as a parish church. At that time, Saint Donatian's Cathedral was Brugge's central religious building. Unfortunately, Saint Donatian's was destroyed in 1799, and Saint Salvator's became Brugge's cathedral.

Saint Salvator's Cathedral has gone through several changes and renovations during its history. The latest renovation occurred in the 1800s after a fire damaged the cathedral. During this renovation, architect Robert Chantrell added a Romanesque tower. This imposing tower is 99 meters (324 feet) tall.

Most of the cathedral is designed in the Gothic style of the 14th century. The Gothic choir stalls from 1430 are impressive and noteworthy. Visitors can also admire the many beautiful stained glass artworks.

Saint Salvator is home to many other works of art, including artworks that were originally stored in Saint Donatian's. Visitors can admire an extensive collection from renowned 14th-18th century Flemish artists like Hugo van der Goes and Dieric Bouts.

The unique wall carpets were manufactured by Jasper van der Borcht in 1731. The cathedral also displays the paintings that were used as inspiration for the wall carpets' designs.

Jacobus Van Eynde built the fabulous organ in 1719. Visitors can hear it played during services or concerts.
Basilica of the Holy Blood

4) Basilica of the Holy Blood (must see)

The Basilica of the Holy Blood is a significant Roman Catholic basilica located in Bruges. This historical structure, built between 1134 and 1157, was originally established as the private chapel for the Count of Flanders and elevated to a minor basilica in 1923. It is renowned for housing a venerated relic of the Holy Blood, which tradition holds was collected by Joseph of Arimathea and brought from the Holy Land to Bruges by Thierry of Alsace, the Count of Flanders, particularly upon his return from the Second Crusade on April 7, 1150.

The basilica is composed of two distinct chapels situated on Burg Square. The lower chapel, dedicated to Saint Basil the Great, showcases dark, unchanged Romanesque architecture. It is one of the best-preserved Romanesque churches in West Flanders, and it houses several significant artifacts including a relic of Saint Basil brought back from Caesarea Mazaca in Cappadocia. Notable features include a 12th-century tympanum depicting the baptism of Saint Basil and several revered statues, such as the early 14th-century polychrome wooden sculpture of the seated Madonna and Child.

The upper chapel, initially built in Romanesque style, was transformed into Gothic style at the end of the 15th century and underwent a Gothic Revival renovation in the 19th century. This chapel is the repository of the Holy Blood relic and was once connected to the Counts of Flanders' original residence, now the town hall. Its aesthetic elements include the De Steegheere monumental staircase, rebuilt in the 19th century after being damaged during the French Revolution, and adorned with statues of historical figures such as Isabelle of Burgundy and Thierry of Alsace.

The upper chapel's stained-glass windows, dating back to 1845, depict the sovereigns of Flanders from Philip the Bold to Maria Theresa of Austria. The renovations in the 19th century provided the chapel with its current Gothic Revival appearance, featuring detailed mural decorations that add to its historic and religious significance.

If you visit, the museum is the first thing you'll come to (and there is a small charge); however, the relic is not in there – it is, in fact, on show in the main church, which is free to view. It is also worth checking the official website for special events related to the Holy Blood - the page is well-constructed with 5 languages (English, French, Dutch, Spanish, and German).
St. Anne's Church

5) St. Anne's Church

Saint Anne's Church in Bruges is a striking example of architectural and artistic contrasts. This Gothic hall church, initially simple and unassuming from the outside, reveals a lavish Baroque interior, a testament to the generosity of wealthy Bruges citizens throughout its history. The church we see today was consecrated in 1624, replacing an earlier Gothic structure that had stood outside the city's second wall. Its austere exterior, marked by late Gothic lancet windows, belies the rich interior adorned with dark and white marble floors, intricate filigree carvings, and oak panels featuring integrated confessionals.

The interior's centerpiece is the columned high altar, sculpted in 1664 by Cornelius Gailaert, a notable Bruges artist. The church also houses a group of 17th-century figures depicting Saint Anne and the infant Jesus, dressed in robes reminiscent of the Spanish rule over Belgium. This collection further enriches the historical and cultural tapestry of the church.

Artistically, Saint Anne's is renowned for housing Bruges' largest painting, "The Last Judgement" by Hendrik Herregouts, spanning an impressive one hundred square meters. Additionally, the church contains an altarpiece from 1769 by rococo painter Jan Garemijn, illustrating Mary being educated by her mother, Saint Anne.

Saint Anne's Church also holds historical significance for being the baptism and ordination site of Guido Gezelle, a revered Bruges poet born in 1830. The church's baptistery features a chalice-shaped baptismal font crafted in 1630 by J.J. Cock, topped with a gilded cover made by coppersmith Hans Heyndericx.
Jerusalem Chapel & Adornes Domain

6) Jerusalem Chapel & Adornes Domain

Built by a rich merchant to the design of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, this chapel remains a privately owned place of worship maintained by his descendants.

The Jerusalem Chapel was constructed in 1428 by Anselmus Adornes and his spouse, Margaretha vander Banck. Anselmus Adornes belonged to the wealthy Adorni family of merchants who came from Genoa and settled in Brugge. The ornate mausoleums of the founders created by Cornelis Thieleman are located in the middle of the church. The original structure of the church has remained intact from the 15th century unlike many other churches in Europe.

The chapel has a simple façade with a pointed arch above the entrance. The unique part of the structure is the octagonal tower flanked by four polygonal turrets above the choir. A wooden globe is placed on top of the tower symbolizing the world. There is an upper choir above a small nave. Under this choir is a crypt where an imitation of the grave of Christ is located. Sculptures relating to the holy grave symbolized by skulls and ladders are also found in the altar and the nave. The stained glass windows light up the interiors with a beautifully colored glow.

Why You Should Visit:
The site is unique, very quiet, surprising and intimate, but the chapel itself is well worth the price of admission – enchanting and a little creepy at the same time.
There's also an attached self-service small cafe and book/gift shop, plus a small garden and a lounge area, a bit old fashioned, but clean restrooms are available.

While you're in the area, make time to stop by the Kantcentrum, where you get to watch bobbin lace-making demonstrations – truly magnificent.
The English Convent

7) The English Convent

The English Convent in Brugge offers a rich tapestry of history, architecture, and spiritual heritage, dating back to its foundation in 1629. Initially established in the former cloister of Nazareth, this convent became a sanctuary for English nuns exiled during the 17th century. It served as a boarding school from its inception until 1972, initially exclusively for English girls, before opening its doors to students of various nationalities including Flemish, German, and French. The students were predominantly from affluent English families.

The convent's architecture is noteworthy, featuring an interior adorned with lavish decorations such as stained glass windows, a marble altar, and intricately decorated ceilings. It is also distinguished by its unique domed church, the only one in Brugge's medieval section, which also serves as the place where the renowned poet-priest Guido Gezelle passed away.

Currently, the English Convent is part of the "Sacred Books | Secret Libraries" initiative, which provides insights into monastic life and spiritual heritage. This initiative includes a guided tour that emphasizes silence and reflection, focusing on the monasteries' extensive libraries. The tour also covers the Carmelites Convent, known for its impressive refectory.

The convent grounds are a historical continuum, having been in use for almost 400 years, initially by the canons of Windesheim. Today, the fully walled complex includes a sprawling 19th-century landscaped garden and continues to be a vibrant community for a sisterhood dedicated to spiritual and educational pursuits.

Keep in mind, this is a convent and not necessarily a tourist destination. While they do accept visitors, access and times are very limited. If open for visiting, ring the bell and go inside. Be quiet and respectful, please. As always when visiting a church as a tourist, leave a donation in the box on your way out – especially if you are taking photos.

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