and some really good Antwerp architecture.
Walking the tucked-away backstreets and thoroughfares of Antwerp, full of shops from designer to whimsical to antique, from chocolates to art, you can't help but notice that above the delightful places to spend and spend some more, there are elevated niches on many of the corners. In these niches the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus reside, ever serene, watching over those passing by.
There is something very nice in this.
As I understand it, for centuries in Belgium it was tradition for the priests and local people to process through the streets, carrying the bits and bodies of saints in reliquaries behind richly dressed statues of the Mother and Son like the one below.
In nearby Mechelen, since 1272, probably the largest and certainly oldest procession is held every year to thank the Virgin for freeing the city from plague. 739 years and counting. That's gratitude.
The churches we visited in Antwerp (and many had doors open to welcome us) are packed with religious treasures, ornate and elaborate, and very somber. This is a staggering contrast to the simple, clean and bright look and feel of everyday Antwerp.
Sometimes my largely dormant Cultural Anthropology education raises its nosy little head and asks things like "what does this contrast tell us about the citizens of Antwerp?"
(Usually all it wants to do it try out the new foods. Maybe I should have been a Nutritional Anthropologist like that fabulous lady on Alton Brown.)
Much richness is expressed but also a seeming lack of joy. Faith appears to be a lot of work. I mean, look at the carving that went into crafting the dark wood pulpit (above on the right, a closer view below).
and the altar, grand but also imposing.
Even with all that white and the spacious ceiling and flowers and candles you would never have raised your voice above a whisper, never felt it would be springtime there among the incense. The graves beneath our feet might have contributed to the somber impression, the weightiness of religion.
Back outside, the blue skies and bride-to-be party leaping for a photographer
brightened us right back up and I felt Antwerp-y again. Beer, anyone? Chocolate? To be fair, perhaps it wasn't the churches so much as a funny pre-hangover-esque pang of anticipation, that we knew we were only on our very last day of what had been not just a three week vacation for us, but also at the end of two years abroad in a very different and exciting sort of life.
Now it was time to pack up our bags one last time and to say good-bye.
Or as the Dutch would say, Doei.