Stories of Bruges

Stories of Bruges

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There are so many stories to tell about Bruges (and Belgium) so this is where you'll find them.

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St Salvators Cathedral

Places & buildingsPosted by Your Bruges Tue, February 27, 2018 18:05:03

This is the cathedral of the city. As you know, there’s only one in Bruges. This may be known, but the difference between a church and a cathedral is only one little detail. This detail can’t be seen from the outside, but you need to go inside to find it.
Inside there’s the “cathedra” or the seat of the Bishop. When a Bishop is seated (and sometimes does services) in a church, this is considered as a cathedral.
So size had nothing to do with it!

No, this cathedral is about 80 meter high, while the close-by Church of Our Lady is about 120 meter!

Saint Eligius

According to legend the founder of this church was Saint Eligius… He is born in Frnace around 588 and died on December 1st 660. He’s the patron of goldsmiths, metalworkers, mechanical engineers and coin collectors. Most of his life he lived in France, but started out as a goldsmith. When he made a throne of gold, decorated with jewels kind Clotaire II paid a royal salary to Eligius who… donated the money to the man who learned him the profession of goldsmith. Eligius became mint master and later most influential advisor of the French kings Clotaire II and Dagobert

In 632 Eligius had a monastery built and lived a devoted life. When Dagobert died Eligius was ordained, in 640 he became Bishop. When we go inside, I’ll show you a sculpture of Eligius with his miter (of being Bishop), but also you’ll find another attribute of a bishop: a crosier (kromstaf).
One nice legend about the life of Eligius is the one of “the removable horse-leg”. Yes, I know!

At young age Eligius already knew how to work as a metalworker. He worked for a blacksmith boss who was really full of himself. This man had a sign that said “Master of masters” at his workshop. One day, a resistive horse was brought in the workshop, but even the master of masters couldn’t handle this feisty animal. Eligius however walked up to the horse, took off the leg of the animal, brought the leg to the anvil and put on a new horseshoe. Then returned to the animal with his leg, attached it back where it should be and the animal quietly walked out the workshop.

The blacksmith boss didn’t want to be lesser than his apprentice so when a next difficult animal came in, he tried this little trick himself… The poor animal started bleeding severely and the master didn’t know what to do and turned to Eligius. He said that the boss really should remove the sign… When this was done, the bleeding stopped, Eligius returned the leg at its place and the horse could leave the workshop unharmed. The blacksmith was learned a lesson and didn’t consider himself a master of masters any more.

But, why Eligius? Well, I told you the legend says he was the founder of this church… But the first church that stood here was erected around 850. That’s about, oh… 190 years after he died. So he couldn’t have been the founder. But you do find some of his images in the cathedral, still today.

St Salvators church in 1802

Something else is strange, two churches this close to one another… Some brochures will tell that the canal was the border between the two dioceses, but then the Church of our Lady is on the wrong side!

There were several fires in this building. The first was in 1116 and a new building is erected after this. You can still see some of the first stones on the lower levels at the front gate.

Unfortunately in 1183 a second fire hits the church, so they restore the church and build a first tower that is about 45 meter high.

In 1358 a third fire strikes and the tower is heavily damaged. Parts of this tower were covered in the renovations then.

Throughout the ages the church expands, a choir is built, later an ambulatory is needed. In 1580 the Iconoclastic Fury comes to our regions and several works of art are destroyed.
When they restore the church afterwards, the brilliant plan of painting the interior of the church in white! So the paintings and polychrome are lost.

The end of the 17th century the rood screen (doksaal) is built, but where it should be, between the choir and transept.

With the French period the church is sold publicly, parishioners buy the building and use a nice trick… They ask to postpone the payment over and over again. Until there is the treaty of Amiens, ending the war between French and English. So the church was never paid for!

In 1834 the church gets the title of cathedral. When the French sold the St Donatiuscathedral on the Burg square, this couldn’t be saved so the diocese (bisdom) of Bruges ceased to exist then. But in 1834 it was refounded and we needed a new cathedral.
There’s always been a competition between St Salvators and the Church of Our Lady. St Salvators won because it’s the oldest… It won with only 25 years!

But, the new cathedral didn’t have the grandeur it should have.
The fire in 1839

Can we speak of a divine intervention? It’s a strange one maybe, because in 1839 a fourth fire breaks out and destroys the larger part of the building. Roofs came down, a part of the tower came down, several works of art lost… But, we could build a “new” cathedral.

End of the 19th century there are neo-gothic wall decorations painted, and in 1935-36 the rood screen is moved to its current location.

In 1989 renovations begin on the outside, finished in 2009. In that same year the renovations inside are started. They were supposed to be ready in 2012… but just so you know, inside it took them 5 years longer than planned.

If you want, we can go inside. I can show you the mural paintings of angels (1480), Peter (1500) and the neo-gothic decorations from the 19th century.

Also the rood screen from 1679 in marble is really impressive. You see a God that has motion in it.

The rood screen

The pulpit (preekstoel) is a nice piece as well, where you see St Eligius as bishop with his tools. This work is from 1777.
The pulpit

Today, the renovations –that took over 5 years- inside are almost finished. A cathedral well worth a visit.

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