The Holy Sepulchre of Bruges-la-Morte

Visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Bruges-La-Morte, the Venice of the North, is a strange and morbid experience. Not only because the Holy Grave is to be found here, or a statue of the dead Christ, but also because of another well hidden treasure: a Splinter of the True Cross.

Click thumbnail to view full-size

A link to Rosslyn Chapel?

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Bruges, more commonly known as the Jerusalem Church, is - in many different ways - definitely an odd building. The Church has preserved its original style and still is privately owned by the descendants of the Adornes family, merchants from Genoa who came to Bruges and built the church in the 15th century. It is believed the design of the church, finished by 1470, was copied from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem which some members of the family had visited. The beautiful stained glass windows date from 1482 and 1560.

In his article Bruges: the Jerusalem of the North Philip Coppens explains how the Italian Renaissance in the 15th century brought great benefits to Bruges. Florentine bankers, like the Portinari family, and representatives of the powerful Medici's arrived here. The Adornes family bought wool from Scotland and sold luxury products to the Italian cities and so, even though Bruges saw mostly merchants from Florence, it became known as the Venice of the North (also because of its many canals). Wealth increased, a new Renaissance breeze blew over the medieval city and the Adornes decided to construct a new chapel in front of theire home. A Papal Bull of Martinus V, dating from 1427, detailed the pope's consent.

Anselm was a friend of the Duke of Burgundy and spent much time abroad as a diplomat, especially with the Scottish King James III. Coincidentally, the building in Bruges was constructed while a close aide of James III, William Sinclair, was erecting the infamous Rosslyn Chapel. It was also in Scotland, in 1483, that Adornes was killed in a battle. He was buried in Linlithgow, but his heart was brought back to Bruges and placed next to his wife, inside the central mausoleum.

The Holy Grave

Visiting the church, off the beaten tourist track in the city that was also called "Bruges-la-Morte" (Bruges, the Dead One), indeed is a strange and morbid experience because of the Holy Grave which is to be found here as well as the quite ornate tomb of Anselm Adornes and his wife.

The exterior is dominated by an octagonal tower, topped with a Cross of Jerusalem and the wheel and palm of St Catherine, meant to commemorate the pilgrimage of Anselm and his son to Jerusalem. The two turrets are crowned, one with the sun and the other with the moon.

The interior of the small building with its simple brique façade, is dominated by the Adornes mausoleum and an altar with three enormous crosses and depictions of skulls -representing Golgotha, the "Place of the Skulls" - and ladders, bones, whips, the crown of thorns, nails, hammers,... These are the Instruments of the Passion, or the Arms of Christ (Arma Christi).

Behind the altar and under the choir is the crypt, with its very low entrance into what is an imitation of the Holy Grave, which is quite unique in Flanders. Here is a copy to be seen of a statue, dating from 1702, that now resides in the Chapel of the Holy Blood and is carried during the annual Procession of the Holy Blood through the streets of Bruges. In this Procession the arrival of the relic in the city is replayed. Its role in the Procession also is the reason why the statue of the dead Christ is worked into a wooden open casket which can be carried. On top of the open coffin are sitting three pelicans, symbolising the suffering of Christ.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Kathleen McGowan & Patrick Bernauw, visiting the Church of the Holy SepulchreGolgotha, Place of SkullsSplinter of the True Cross
Kathleen McGowan & Patrick Bernauw, visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Kathleen McGowan & Patrick Bernauw, visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Golgotha, Place of Skulls
Golgotha, Place of Skulls
Splinter of the True Cross
Splinter of the True Cross

The Holy Bloodline

Inside the Jerusalem Church is one image very present: a coat of arms, not of the Adornes family, but of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre. You can find it in the crypt's floor and twice on an altar - one in the nave and the other in the crypt. According to Philip Coppens, this coat of arms underlines a strong link between the Adornes family and an order far more interesting, but far less famous than the Knights Templar. He is talking about the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, a Catholic chivalric order knights with roots going back to Godfrey of Bouillon, the leader of the First Crusade and the liberator of the Holy City of Jerusalem in 1099.

The crusades were organised to give Christians the opportunity to visit the Holy City and the sites of Christ's Passion. But as described in The Holy Blood of Bruges, a New Jerusalem, the Knights Templar and the Counts of Flanders wanted to turn Bruges into a New Jerusalem of the West, the one and only religious, mystical and political centre of the United States of Europe. If Jerusalem one day or another fell definitively into Muslim hands, the pilgrims of future generations could come to Bruges, where a Priest-King from the Holy Bloodline would have his court.

Anselm Adornes was a member of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre. On his 1470 pilgrimage to Jerusalem, he was knighted there. Anselm also was one of the chief supporters of Charles the Bold who tried to organise a new crusade. A few years after Anselm's death, Pope Innocent VIII suppressed the Order and ruled it was to be merged with the Knights Hospitaller, also known as the Sovereign Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes and of Malta. But a few years later again, Pope Alexander VI restored the Order of the Holy Sepulchre to its independent status.

The Jerusalem Church in Bruges reminds us of lost - or well hidden - treasures. For Philip Coppens one special "treasure" of the Jerusalem Church is above all a real unexplained mystery. It's a silver cross, containing a piece of the wood of the True Cross. How could the Adornes family have gotten such a precious relic in its possession? Why this is so little-known? And why this Splinter of the True Cross is hardly worshipped at all? There is, in fact, given so little attention to this relic that one might almost conclude it is perhaps the real thing? And indeed, maybe some organisations have strongly believed it was, so that only very few initiates were privileged to own such a precious relic. It would also explain why the Adornes family constructed a chapel with the Holy Sepulchre as theme, and with an interior dominated by three enormous crosses...

Furthermore, it's interesting to note that another splinter of the True Cross was brought to the nearby town of Furnes. While the relic of the Holy Blood was - and is - venerated in the Grail City of Bruges, with this other relic started in the city of Furnes another devotion and another yearly religious pageant: the Procession of Penitents...

The Holy Grail of Bruges

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Into the Holy Sepulchre of BrugesThe Holy GraveThe Holy Sepulchre in the Holy Blood ProcessionThe Holy Blood carried by Count of Flanders Thierry of Alsace to Bruges in the Holy Blood ProcessionThe Holy Grave, open - the Resurrection Scene in the Holy Blood Procession The Holy Blood in Bruges since 1150...
Into the Holy Sepulchre of Bruges
Into the Holy Sepulchre of Bruges
The Holy Grave
The Holy Grave
The Holy Sepulchre in the Holy Blood Procession
The Holy Sepulchre in the Holy Blood Procession
The Holy Blood carried by Count of Flanders Thierry of Alsace to Bruges in the Holy Blood Procession
The Holy Blood carried by Count of Flanders Thierry of Alsace to Bruges in the Holy Blood Procession
The Holy Grave, open - the Resurrection Scene in the Holy Blood Procession
The Holy Grave, open - the Resurrection Scene in the Holy Blood Procession
The Holy Blood in Bruges since 1150...
The Holy Blood in Bruges since 1150...

More by this Author


Comments 3 comments

C. Jordan 7 years ago

Fascinating article. Very informative


Ande Moore profile image

Ande Moore 7 years ago from Austin, Texas

Good job again. Have you the website and email for Rennes? Let me know if you need it. They are quite informative and helpful. Working on a hub about the Cathers, might do that one tomorrow. Been studying up on their religions and the region for a little bit now. Have been truly enjoying the whole "Cather" experience I've been following. Keep up the good work.


adorababy profile image

adorababy 6 years ago from Syracuse, NY

I think the reason why many people find the these attractions interesting is because of their affinity to Jesus and the holy sanctity attached to it. The church of the Holy Sepulcher in Bruges was believed to have been copied from the church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.


    Click to Rate This Article
    working