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An historian's view on life, love and leisure

Category: Religious culture

Religious mysteries (and a hint of surrealism) in Belgium: the relics of the Blessed Idesbald

Engraving of the Blessed Idesbald

Good Blessed Idesbald, patron saint of fishermen, sailors and the Flemish coast

Consternation in the newspapers and a mayor speaking on national radio about the relics of a long dead saint: no, this is not the plot of a new Dan Brown mystery novel. This is something actually happening in Belgium right now.

So, what is this about? In the Onze-Lieve-Vrouw-ter-Potterie church in Bruges the lead coffin of the locally venerated Blessed Idesbald was opened and scientifically examined. It was more or less expected to find the relics of this 12th century abbot of the Cistercian abbey of Onze-Lieve-Vrouw-ter-Duinen in Koksijde inside it. The thing is, research has now shown that these remains actually belong to somebody who died roughly between 1470 and 1623. Conclusion? These are not the relics of the Blessed Idesbald!

The scandal! The mockery as well, as a gloating mayor of Koksijde proudly announced on the radio that in Bruges, they had been worshipping the ‘wrong’ relics for centuries. Did I spot some old rivalry between the cities of Koksijde and Bruges? Could it be that it had long been a frustration of the good people of Koksijde that ‘their’ saint (actually Idesbald was only beatified, not canonized) was buried amid these arrogant folks from Bruges?

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Travel Tip: Processions in Belgium

Hanswijk procession in Mechlin

The procession in honour of Our-Lady-of-Hanswijk in Mechlin

 

Going to see processions might be an unlikely travel tip. However, if you want to get to know the ‘real’ culture of Belgium, it’s not enough to eat chocolate and drink beer. No matter how secularised Belgian society might seem today, religion still plays an important, albeit somewhat hidden, role. Alright, I’ll be completely honest, at the ‘kermesse’ following these processions we do drink a lot of beer, and eat fries, and drink some more, and eat some chocolate…

A few weeks ago on 10 May I went to see the Hanswijk procession in the city of Mechlin (Mechelen in Dutch or Malines in French). The Hanswijk procession, or Procession in the honour of Our-Lady-of-Hanswijk, is reported to be the eldest procession in Belgium, dating from the 13th century.

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