While you are walking in the streets of an ancient city like Bruges, and listening to the stories from a local, it gives a very mysterious feel to the whole scenery. Let your imagination loose and you can even see the people playing their parts in the stories being told. And a few weeks later, when you want to write about it, that imagination is what helps you a bit.
So now, to part 2 of the legends. As you may remember, we had stopped in the last post at the Order of the Golden Fleece.
Moving ahead from there, we reached the St. John’s hospital (Sint Jan) which is a 12th century building and hence, one of the oldest hospital buildings that still exists! It was in use as a hospital up until 1978, which speaks volumes about the structure and efficiency of that hospital.
Then we reached a place called the Beguinage.
I had no idea before being in Bruges that in around 12th century, there was a whole new order where women could live like nuns but without having to take the religious oath. Such women were called the Beguines. They didn’t get married as long as they lived as Beguines and were free to leave if they wished to. They were allowed to have wealth too. The interesting thing was that the Beguinage was completely self-sufficient – it didn’t require any funding! Since they wanted to live by themselves, and not be in contact with the others, they even had their own road, for going to places in the city, which the commoners could not use. What is more interesting is that the rules of the city didn’t apply inside the Beguinage. So it was like a sanctuary. If some convict (rightly/wrongly accused) escaped and managed to get inside the Beguinage – then he was safe from punishment.Looking at the place, it felt so calm and nice there and I could actually see the Beguines in my mind walking around.
Walking further, we reached the place which had lots of swans around.
In Europe, I see swans in most of the places but here in Bruges, there was a story behind the presence of the swans. It has a connection with what happened in a house in the city center. Intrigued? Towards the end of the 15th century, the people of Bruges revolted against the Emperor Maximilian of Austria. They captured Maximilian and imprisoned him in the Craenenburg House on the Market Square, together with his friend/adviser, Pieter Lanckhals.
The adviser was executed and Maximilian was forced to watch the execution from the house where he was imprisoned. The Emperor was released when he agreed to reduce the taxes but he later took his revenge by ordering the city that ‘until the end of time’ the city should be required at its own expense to keep swans on all its lakes and canals. Why swans? Because swans have long necks – and the Dutch for ‘long neck’ is ‘lange hals’ – or ‘lanckhals’! Grim story but interesting end result. The revenge was even more severe than that as the Emperor moved the trade away from Bruges to Antwerp, which led Bruges into a decline that lasted from 16th century up until the later half of the 20th century. So much so that the city missed the renaissance and all the other new things that happened in that time frame and the Gothic architecture remained largely intact there like in a museum of time…