In Spring we had a chance to visit some long time friends in Belgium. We were going to be there a few days and I had done the research on pilgrimage sites prior to visiting Belgium. As I travel I search out Catholic sites that I might make a pilgrimage too. I take with me all the prayers of my family, friends, and my own prayers as I go to make the journey. For me the journey is a journey of prayer and it often brings me closer to Christ. I touched on the making a pilgrimage in my blog post “What is meaningful travel” As I make my pilgrimage I go as others have before me searching for healing, faith, and hope. I make a point to light a candle in all of my pilgrimage places for my daughter whom I lost to suicide. The pilgrimage is always a journey as much for her as it is for me. So this time it was the Ghent in Belgium to see “The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb Altarpiece.”
Ghent is located in the Flemish region of Belgium. It is the capital and the largest city in the East Flanders province. Started as a city at the confluence of rivers in the late middle ages. It’s a beautiful city where you can enjoy a cup of caffe or perhaps a pint while sitting on the banks of the river.
We made a day trip to Ghent to see the sights and sounds of the lovely city. Not too big and not too small it’s filled with the medieval castles, and interesting little bars it is definitely and interesting place to travel.
My main goal was to enjoy time with long time friends and enjoy a visit to the masterpiece known as “The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb” located in St. Bavo’s Cathedral. Built in 1895 to replace St Josephs that was too small. St Bavo’s stands on the site of a 10th century church and a 12th century Romanesque style church in the heart of Ghent.
The altarpiece has quite a unique history in that part of it’s notoriety is it’s one of the most stolen piece of artwork of all time. It’s known to have been stolen by Napoleon, it was nearly burned by Calvinist, desperately sought by the Nazis, and a part of it has been missing for 80 years, foraged, stolen, dismembered make up the fascinating history of this piece of art work.
Yet, my interest was the actual work itself depicting from the annunciation to the symbolic sacrifice of Christ shown with the “mystic lamb” on the alter surrounded by a heavenly field all in adoration and the lamb bleeding into the holy grail. Unfortunately most of my pictures were blurry. So this is really the only one I have but you can see the light reflection on it.
I was not to be dissapointed as when I reached the Alter Piece it was indeed incredible. It’s was a little amusing to view very few actually taking a moment of time to see the piece. I am sure many were there just to visit the church and as they were making there own stop in Ghent. As I was standing at that painting I was aware of just how large my faith is. The faith of centuries depicted throughout history in various works of art and I was in Ghent standing in front of one.
The Alter Piece itself is almost a story of Christianity as it contains Adam and Eve as well as the “Mystical Lamb” in the center. Proudly displaying the lamb which signifies Christ sacrifice being poured out for the many. The chalice displayed in what I can only imagine for Catholics to represent indeed the one cup available to all. The significance is powerful. As I look around I am not sure many saw that are were aware of the historical significance of the painting at all.
As I travel throughout these pilgrimage sites I wonder if in a hurry to check things off we are actually missing these beautiful moments. Times we can step back in time and just awe at the majesty of God depicted in art. The great art of our faith it seems is almost lost in the time we live in not unlike the pilgrimage.
It has not been lost on me and I continue to travel throughout he world to view the beauty of the church as displayed in various cultures. I hope to be able to continue to find awe in a 1500 century painting or special place the pilgrims felt the touch of God. I pray that I never lose the wonder that is God. That I am able to always feel so small in these amazing places.
Perhaps my encounters come from my overwhelming acceptance in understanding that even with the loss of my child I can still bloom. Because of my trust in God and my faith I can even through loss find such beauty in the world. It’s it the classic Catholic thought to accept suffering is a gift of God and in suffering we have come so close to Christ on the Cross that we can feel the breath of a kiss. Who would not find joy in the kiss of Christ?
“Pain and suffering have come into your life, but remember pain, sorrow, suffering are but the kiss of Jesus – a sign that you have come so close to Him that He can kiss you.”
― Mother Teresa
My time in Ghent was just a day as I returned to spend the rest of my visit with a friend I had not seen in 20 plus years. Sometimes in your life you are lucky enough to meet people who will be woven into a tapestry of your life. These people you are blessed to find and you may not see them for years but when you renew the old friendship you discover the same love that existed from your youth. That joy of discovering a lost treasure is renewed as you share a meal and drink.
In Belgium I found good friends, beautiful art reflecting my faith, and the good laughter that comes from relaxing and enjoying a beer sharing the stories that make us who we are.
I hope to go back if only to again enjoy a pint and share a moment of time with the gift known as friends.
If you haven’t been to Belgium and need help planning your trip to visit the Alter piece of the Mystical Lamb do not hesitate to call me and I would love to help you.
Blessings in Christ Friends