Summer Postcard from Bruges

Left to right: Clare King'oo (University of Connecticut ) Susan Felch (Calvin College) Jamie H. Ferguson (University of Houston), and Susan Wabuda (Fordham)

Left to right: Clare King’oo (University of Connecticut ) Susan Felch (Calvin College) Jamie H. Ferguson (University of Houston), and Susan Wabuda (Fordham)

Below, Professor Susan Wabuda discusses the Sixteenth Century Society Conference held in Bruges this summer, as well as her adventures in the historic Belgian city, in the latest installment of our Summer Postcards series. Read on to learn more about the city’s intellectual and aesthetic delights.

More than a thousand scholars from across the spectrum of academia attended the 2016 meeting of the Sixteenth Century Society Conference, which met 18-20 August in Bruges, Belgium.

I was among the members of Fordham University who attended, and delivered a paper “Evangelism and the `Perfect Woman’ for a session on  Transgressive Women in Religious Thought.” Others associated with Fordham were no fewer than three previous St. Robert Southwell, S.J. Lecturers:  Anne Dillon, Peter Marshall, and Andrew D. Pettegree. Dr. Dillon (Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge), the editor of the journal British Catholic History,  organized a round table discussion, attended by Professor Marshall (University of Warwick), on future trends in the study of early modern Catholicism. Professor Pettegree (University of St. Andrews) presented a paper on the Lucas Cranach (1472-1553), court painter to the Electors of Saxony in Wittenberg, who created the attractive title pages that stimulated the sale of Martin Luther’s books.

One of the participants noted that staging the conference in Bruges was an invitation to play hooky, because most people slipped away from sessions to visit the museums.  The Church of Our Lady displays a Madonna by Michelangelo, the only one of his sculptures that does not reside in Italy. Completed a few years after the Pietà, it elicits a sense of awe.  Across the street is the complex of buildings that belong to the Old St. John’s Hospital (Sint-Janshospitaal), where its past is remembered in portraits and other masterpieces by Hans Memling (c.1430-1494). Memling painted the Shrine of St Ursula, a reliquary in the shape of a miniature chapel that tells the story of the legend of martyrdom of the saint. The reliquary was one of the treasures of the nuns who dedicated their lives at the hospital to caring for the sick and injured.

Bruges was the great center of early Netherlandish painting in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and the Groeningemuseum displays masterpieces by Jan van Eyck (c.1390-1441) and Memling’s student Gerard David (c. 1460-1523) as well as many others.

In addition, Bruges offers its visitors beautiful shops that sell linens and lace, local beers, scented soap and a seemingly limitless array of chocolates. We enjoyed the local specialty, moules-frites (mussels accompanied by fries), delivered to our tables in huge enamel bowls.  Those who did not want mussels could bring home the famous chocolate candies shaped like fruits-de-mer.

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