Can You Be An Atheist In Belgium?

So there we were, a merry band of non-believers, in a country where holy wars raged relentlessly for centuries. We wanted to see everything that was beautiful, and old, and naturally that led us into church after church. Many of the most beautiful forbid the taking of photographs, but many don’t. Here’s some of what we saw, and you’d have to be a total blockhead not to be moved by it, which, I’m glad to say, we weren’t.

Although this is a Michelangelo, I didn’t find it as stunning as lots of the anonymous work we saw.

The strangest experience took place here, in the Basilica of the Holy Blood in Bruges. Its claim to fame is a relic supposedly containing the blood of Jesus, wiped on a cloth and saved, lo these 2011 years.  I’ll let you decide about that.

The place was undeniably powerful, gorgeous, solemn, and before I knew it

there went Eric and Shel, climbing up to touch the relic. Since they did it, and weren’t instantly flamed to a crisp for being infidels, I thought I might as well see for myself what it was all about. I put my hand on the sparkly glass and said a little prayer for Shel, and while I wouldn’t call it a religious experience, I did really feel strongly about that tiny moment in time. Later we all agreed, somewhat sheepishly, that we’d toss a coin in a wishing well for Shel’s health, or have our cards read, and that really, it was the intention that mattered, not the vehicle.

But however you feel about churches, there’s no denying the beauty that has been created in their service. We had a whopping dose of it, and now we’re back to our churchless existence, none the worse for wear. Possibly even a bit better.

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8 Comments on “Can You Be An Atheist In Belgium?”

  1. Eden Says:

    Surely a wish/praryer made in a place that beautiful has to have a little extra power regardless of my infidel opinions in general.

  2. Dick Lunde Says:

    We just got back from a trip to Holland, Belgium, and France, during which we spent three nights (April 18-20) in Bruge, or Brugge, as it is most typically rendered locally. I had noticed the shell (belgium-215.jpg) on a couple of paving stones, and had wondered what it meant. Did you find out?

  3. Abra Bennett Says:

    Normally that’s the symbol of pilgrims, as on the Saint Jacques de Compostelle trail. I assume it’s the same here.


  4. Astute observations. Being a full blown pagan myself, I share your reticence about churches and relics, but I do believe there are places that are innately spiritual. There is a reason why a temple or a church is placed in a particular place. So, if the spirit moved you..then so be it. Looks like you fully embraced the moment.
    The Basilica of the Holy Blood is breath taking. Amazing. Beautiful photos.
    Have you ever been to St. Petersburg? They have their fair share of amazing as well.

  5. Abra Bennett Says:

    I have been to St. Petersburg, and yes, amazing is definitely the word.

  6. Diana Says:

    Hello!
    We were in Bruges last fall, and loved it! We enjoyed the amazing architecture and churches. And the beer!

    I will say that The Basilica of the Holy Blood was not our favorite church. For some reason, we both felt a very dark presence there. Nothing we could explain, but was a very odd, unsettling feeling for us, unlike anything we have ever felt before–in a church or anyplace else. (and I would classify us as “non-believers” also)

    We have discussed this since returning home, and it was definitely our single “oddest” and intriguing experience of our 3 1/2 week trip to France and Belgium.

  7. Jim Says:

    The shells mark the net work of pilgrim routes that wind their way across most of Europe on to Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in northwestern Spain. This route is as popular today as it ever was. On taking photos in churches, the rules certainly do vary country to country. Pity, that, but makes great sport trying to outwit the wandering decons! !

  8. svetlana.raisins Says:

    thank you once again my dear


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