Visiting Bruges-la-Morte, a medieval ghost city
- The Code of the Holy Blood
In 1890, the French writer Joris-Karl Huysmans wrote to a young Dutch novelist he was searching for
- The Holy Blood of Bruges, a New Jerusalem
The Holy Blood of Christ seems to have turned medieval Bruges (in Flanders, Belgium) into a Holy City. It's what, since the 19th century, made tourism popular in Bruges. But maybe this Holy City is not as holy as it seems...
- 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,...
What the coachman said:
One of those many timeless carriages, which are available to tourists, stopped for me. The coachman looked very, very old... but he offered me kindly a free ride.
'Sir,' I said, 'you who drives day and night over the cobblestone roads of Bruges-la-Morte, you must have seen a lot of strange and terrible things... For instance, the ghosts of Bruges, sir ... Are they real? Or do they exist only in our imagination?'
‘Ah, buddy,' the coachman smiled. "I dwell now for over five hundred years through Bruges-la-Morte, and believe me: I never have seen a ghost here!'
The coachman showed me a map of medieval Bruges, which had little or no differences with a map from this century.
'The city still is a labyrinthic spiral that does not interfere with the laws of time and space,' the coachman said, 'and in which the unsuspecting tourist, not equipped with map or compass, constantly returns on his departure, mislead by medieval architects and the city urbanists who have built the city in their black magick circles.'
Listen to some creepy soundtracks and soundscapes while you're reading and do it here!
A Little Night Music
In this haunted house, you can hear ‘Eine kleine Nachtmusik' (‘A little serenade'), one of Mozart's most popular compositions. Children from all around climb each other's shoulders to catch a glimpse of the grand piano that was left in the house by the last occupants. The lid is always open, a piano stool in place. And every night, the whole street can hear that wonderful subdued music.
At midnight, the house is completely deserted. In each of the rooms, it is pitch black, apart from the room in which the grand piano plays the same wonderful melody, night after night, caught in a web of white light... ‘Eine kleine Nachtmusik' by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
What are you saying? That you can't see the piano player? But that the keys of the instrument are nevertheless touched by invisible fingers? And look... A beautiful young lady dances to the tunes of ‘A little serenade' straight through the front wall of the mystery mansion we're looking for. And she disappears into the night and into the mist. Do you see? Can you hear it? Can you hear the rattling of wheels of a carriage on the shiny cobblestones in the street?
A magnificent carriage appears from around the corner. It is pulled by two pitch black horses. The coachman is a sinister looking man - dark, old and sombre. The man hesitates for a moment, whips the horses and...
May you ever feel the need to follow this carriage and coachman, then you should know that every night again they disappear through the impenetrable black mirror of the Lake of Love...
One says that the beautiful young woman was a Scottish lady. That she once played ‘A little serenade' for her lover in this haunted house. The lover was a descendant of the Menapic druids that lived here. He specialised in the manufacturing of the wax ‘dolls of death'. Witches and warlocks were often asked to bring about one or other ‘manipulation of love'. Because of their intervention, a great love could be conquered or a broken heart avenged. Or a husband who got in the way suddenly suffered great torment and died in agony. The figures received the name of the victim and were stabbed with hot or poisonous needles, before being cursed for ever.
The Scottish lady requested her lover to use a wax doll on her old and rich husband. But he suspected something and replaced his cut off fingernail by a lock of hair from the wicked druid. The husband then went after his Scottish lady, while her druid succumbed under hellish pains.
The Scottish lady hid from her vindictive husband in this haunted house, and it was there that a police officer found her body, on a bed soaked with her blood. How hard the police officer searched, he never found her head...
Some nights her phantom is said to be seen - head under the arm - wondering through Bruges and one can hear her whisper: ‘My dear druid... Where have you gone?'
Not far from there, her sinister husband plunges himself in the Lake of Love, carriage and all, as he has been doing for the last few centuries...
Minna (the old Dutch word for ‘love') lived in a small fisher's cabin by the Reie canal, with her old father. He had sailed the wild waters of the North Sea his whole life. He lived off the few fish in the Reie and dreamt of a young fellow who would once again take his boat onto the water. Minna's father thought of a guy like Hornbeck, son of a fisherman, but Minna was madly in love with the young farmer Stromberg.
‘A farmer is not a suitable party for a fisherman's daughter', said her father. So Minna met her lover in secret on the banks of the Reie, where they hid in the reeds.
Then war broke out. The fishermen stayed at home, but the farmers went into battle. Minna's father seized the opportunity. ‘Within three days, you marry Hornbeck', he spoke.
Minna cried for two days and nights, and on the third day she fled into the dunes. From morning till evening she ran through heather and woods until she fell down by the banks of the Reie, completely exhausted.
When Stromberg returned home after a week of lost battle, he heard his girl had vanished without a trace. He went out to look for her, and found her in their secret hiding place.
Minna died that night in the arms of her beloved Stromberg. The sun rose and Stromberg created a dam in the Reie. Now the fishermen downstream only found fish in the mud that were desperately gasping for air.
In the dry bedding Stromberg dug a grave for Minna. He covered her body with a blanket of water lilies. He stayed with her a full night and after that, he let the water stream again.
Soon the grave of his dead beloved Minna reflected the heavenly blue sky. Then Stromberg rolled a heavy black stone onto the riverbank in which he hacked the letters:
M i n n a w a t e r
Florence Marryat & William Eglinton: The Story of the Monk
The house has been named ‘Den Noodt Godts' since the early Middle Ages. It was extensively rebuilt in 1616 and it was demolished in 1970. Only the façades and the gate have been saved. Once, this sleepless old house was within walking distance from the docks and the housing areas of the rich merchants: Spaniards, Orientals, Florentines. When the Zwin got silted up, most palaces stayed in foreign hands, because the Bruges ship-owners and merchants still traded with the Spanish empire, England and the East and the West Indies.
In 1873 the Lord and Lady Unlacke rented ‘Den Noodt Godts' from a Bruges merchant. It was dark and cold there. There were rooms where the sun never shone and the house had the unpleasant smell of sulphur and pitch. Maybe it was the long and dark history of Den Noodt Godts that made the house smell so much. Anyway, in the autumn of 1878, Lady Unlacke saw a snow white figure float across the courtyard. She first thought of the Scottish lady, but it seemed to be a nun, dressed in a habit that hadn't been worn for centuries. At the shoulder, the dress was torn and her fair skin smudged with blood. Shortly after, Lord Unlacke saw the silhouette of a monk with a grim face. Just like the appearance of the beautiful young nun he didn't seem held back by walls or closed doors. The monk murmured something that Lord Unlacke could not understand.
The sister of Lady Unlacke happened to be Florence Marryat, a famous writer and spiritualist. In the summer of 1879, Lady Unlacke invited her sister Florence and her fiancé to Den Noodt Godts, to start an investigation into the ghostlike phenomena. They brought the clairvoyant William Eglinton with them, an experienced medium and mediator between this world and the other side. He succeeded in contacting the spirits:
I have now made contact with the spirit of Lord Eglinton, my colleague from the 19th century... He... I descend the stairs to the drawing room of Den Noodt Godts... A long time ago, this house was a nunnery and it would have been possible to reach the Augustinian monastery, via an underground tunnel, to the other side of the water. I am in the drawing room and suddenly... Eglinton ... I jump up... and... ‘Bring me to the room upstairs!'
On the stairs, Eglinton ... I freeze... An incomprehensible cry...
(Starts to struggle with an invisible person and cries out): ‘Hortense o Florence! Stay with me! Stay with me!
The face of Lord Eglinton... my face... A grimace of hate and evil appears on his face, my face, he grunts whilst fighting a phantom... not of a nun, but of a monk in habit, hood pulled back, head shaven bald and the eyes in this terrifying skinny face... the eyes... Till... the apparition speaks!
‘I live... like an animal that was nearly killed and left for dead, but is yet still alive...'
‘Who are you? Can you hear me?' I ask... Lord Eglinton asks.
And the voice of the monk... It seems to come out of the walls, out of the medieval walls from an ancient cursed house... 1498... On both sides of the Augustinian canal there is a cloister: a monastery, a nunnery. The friars visit the nuns to celebrate Mass, to hear their confessions, to relieve their lusts. Almost no-one knew that both cloisters are connected by a subterranean tunnel under the Augustinian canal... But this one Italian monk knows. And this one beautiful young nun knows. And secretly the monk sneaks through the corridor to visit his lover... ‘Come with me', he whispers into her ear. ‘Leave the convent and follow me...'
The young nun has feelings for her Italian admirer, but she feels more for her heavenly groom. Her refusal to accept his proposal, her threats to inform her superior drive the Italian monk crazy with anger. One night, he ambushes her by the chapel. When she leaves the chapel, he jumps up and demands her insistently, for the last time: ‘Run away with me, far away from this convent! Come and follow me to Italy!'
The nun tries to run into her convent, but he catches up with her and kills her, by stabbing her several times with a freshly sharpened butcher's knife... And he drags her lifeless body into the tunnel and digs a shallow pit in which he hides the corpse of the woman he loves. He wipes off all traces of blood and returns to his cell...
I see... Lord Eglinton collapsed in heavy convulsions, he seems to go into a coma... There is a faint breeze and... ‘Hortense Dupont... Pray for her... She was murdered by an Italian monk. Pray for him. His name she will never say... He was 31, she was 23. He loved her, she loved him and... Pray for us.'
I see... Hortense Dupont!... In white... Her glance... pointed at the floor! She weeps... And she calls me!... And I follow her, deeper and deeper into the subterranean tunnels of Den Noodt Godts... Do you smell that deadly odour? That stench of death of the dead water? Look... A set of stone stairs! It must be the subterranean corridor that runs underneath the canal...
Oh! A door! A heavy oak door. Excited because we might have found something most mysterious - maybe it is the hidden treasure the old legends tells us about - we open this door. Before us there is a new underground crypt... The candlelight flickers in the rotten air... On the walls... fungi... but also beautiful carpets, embroidered with gold thread, half eaten away and... Templars' crosses!
In the middle of the basement... a crude wooden table with thirteen chairs. Thirteen. The copper nails have turned green. Green. On a chair, by the table, there is a gentleman who has put his bony arm around the shoulders of a young lady. Mummies. They are mummies with yellowy brown parchment faces and empty eye sockets! For centuries they have resided at this table where their last supper was served!
And I ask you... The Templar knight and his Lady in the cellars of Den Noodt Godts... What tragedy has united them in death? The knight holds a piece of charcoal in between his bony fingers, with which he has written a last message in the wood of the table, with the last of his strength: ‘Our time has come: meagre, bleak and starved to the bone. Forgive us, Lord! That those who find our ashes, our perished bones, may pray for us! But there is no ash and there are no bones... The strange composition of the air in the bone dry cellar has mummified the Templar and his Lady.
There is another door in the basement. This second door falls to pieces when we touch it. Behind this door, we find a new tunnel. The floor is covered with slimy dirt, in which fat toads and lizards nest. In this corridor, that leads to the nunnery across the canal, lies the skeleton of a third person, clutching a rusty butcher's knife.
Now I ask you... What terrible mysteries lie beneath in the subterranean areas of Den Noodt Godts? Was the lady the bride of the man with the butcher's knife? Was she kidnapped by the Templar, a knight's order that was excommunicated because of heresies? Did the man with the butcher's knife lock them up in here to starve them to death? Or was there something completely different going on?
Why for instance were there thirteen chairs around this table, as in a parody of the Last Supper? What strange, blasphemous rituals took place here?
When you go through the gate of Den Noodt Godts, you enter a wide hall and a courtyard. A Belgian bluestone stairway will lead you to a hall that reminds one of a monastery. At the end, you will find the wooden stairs that lead down into the cellars and crypts, which lead in turn to the now bricked up subterranean tunnel to the other side of the Augustinian Canal.
In 1965, Den Noodt Godts was in a terrible state, with cracked walls that leaned over dangerously. The house had no longer foundations and could collapse at any time. It was built on wooden posts that had rotted away in time. Workers who restored the house back then, confirmed they bricked up a tunnel under the canal, that gave access to the building of the Flemish Employment Agency (‘Vlaamse Dienst voor Arbeidsbemiddeling'). Employees of this Agency ensured that the cellars in these corridors had also been bricked up.
Who dares to go down into the cellars and crypts of the house in 'De Spanjaardstraat' (Spaniard Street), number 17? It is said to hide a treasure, but no-one has ever dared to explore these subterranean areas entirely. And the few that have made an attempt to unravel the mysteries of this cursed house, have never returned.
In fact, that isn't so surprising. Because here for instance you see a map of medieval Bruges. It is very similar to a city map of this new century. Do you see?
The town still has the shape of a maze, of the inner work of a watch, of a disorganized spiral that is not bound to laws of time and space. An unsuspecting tourist equipped with neither map or compass will ultimately be lost here. He or she will return to his or her starting point, because he or she is misled by the medieval architects who cast a blackmagical spell onto the town. Because each history in this town is doomed to repeat itself till the end of time... Because the Powers of Good and Evil have battled here for centuries and will continue to do so for all eternity...
only the dead are dancing
through the living
when the evening is falling
and the grey people
are put to rest
in their houses where shallow
shadows of lost centuries
are wandering - stoned
as a statue.
Who listens well, can hear
a voice behind a hatch
whispering about a past
tense not fully
Florence Marryat & William Eglinton
The Holy Blood & The Holy Grail
The Knights Templar were founded in the beginning of the twelfth century and had to ensure the interests of the West in the East. They received their headquarters in the Temple of Solomon, in the Holy City of Jeruzalem. It was from this location the knights took the name of Templar. The knight-monks that entered the Order wore a white mantle with a red cross. They played an important role during the Crusades , not only as soldiers, but also as bankers. In the beginning of the 14th century the Crusades were over, the Templar Knights had built up an unequalled economic and military power. In the whole of Europe, they possessed Templar Houses. Their headquarters were situated in a castle in the heart of Paris. Many kings owed the Order a lot of money. The power and wealth of the Templars made Pope Clemens and the French King Philip very envious. They concocted a plan to break the power of the Templars and to seize their assets. In the whole of Europe, the knight-monks were to be arrested on the same day, on Friday the 13th of October 1307. Since that day, each Friday the 13th is a day of bad luck...
Pope Clemens made up false accusations, in which the Templars were accused of the most monstrous heresies and idol worshipping. Almost all Templars were prosecuted, tortured, excommunicated or burnt at the stake. But some of them could get away and succeeded in bringing their treasure into safety. There was a rumour that this treasure was ... the Holy Blood of Christ himself!
On Christmas Day 1148, some Templars would indeed have found a stone jar in the Holy Grave, near the Temple of Solomon, while they were in the presence of ‘Diederik van den Elzas', Count of Flanders. This jar contained the blood of Christ. They poured the holy fluid respectfully into an octagonal bottle, of which the ends were carefully sealed with two golden roses. Diederik's wife, the fair Lady Sybilla, was by his side. She had been infected with leprosy, like some of the Templars in her presence. When the Holy Blood was poured from one jar into another, she held the precious relic in her hands for just a moment. As a result of her leprosy, she suffered the most horrid attacks of fever. During one of those attacks, she had a vision in which she saw Bruges, that looked like ‘a new Jerusalem in the West'. She then cured miraculously, as did all the other lepers that surrounded her. The Countess made to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the Christian armies the solemn pledge to make Bruges into a new Jerusalem, a Holy City. On the 7th April 1150, the Flemish army reached this town, where the bricklayers had just finished the cathedral of Saint-Basilius. From now on, the Sanguis Christi, or Holy Blood, would be called upon for the most diverse reasons, from personal matters to important political decisions. On Good Friday, it would become fluid again, a miracle that ceased to exist when the Order was disbanded. A brotherhood was given the task of guarding the Royal Blood or the Sang Real. Because of change in spoken language, this Sang Real would become the San Greal, the Saint Graal or the Holy Grail. That's why in Bruges, the Powers of Good and Evil, of Light and Darkness fight each other more fiercely than anywhere else in the world. If this town was once chosen to become a Holy City, then in Bruges it must have been that Satan unleashed the worst of his devils.
Unconfirmed messages claim that the Holy Blood of Bruges or the Grail was hidden in 1578, during the Religious Unrest between Catholics and Protestants. It was said to have been hidden in a house in the Spaniard Street. A false relic was returned to the Holy Blood Chapel, while the real Grail was safely kept in ‘Den Noodt Godts'.