Thursday, July 05, 2007

The Precious Blood

It has come to my attention through Anne at Under Her Starry Mantle that July is the Month of the Precious Blood. This has stirred memories in me of when I had a close encounter with the Precious Blood (pictured above).

An unspecified number of years ago, my friend Liz and I traveled to Holland and Belgium for a week-long vacation. It was the kind of vacation that was very spontaneous - we had no hotel reservations except for the first night and knew only that we were flying into and out of Brussels. The rest we kind of planned as we went.

One of the cities we ended up in was Bruges (possibly my favorite city in Europe). It turns out that in Bruges there is a church known as the Basilica of the Holy Blood and according to tradition the church houses a relic with some of the Precious Blood of Jesus: a scrap of cloth soaked in blood, embedded in a crystal vial. The vial came to Bruges during the middle ages. The vial has been positively dated to the middle ages, but no one wants to take the scrap of cloth out for fear of it disintegrating when it hits the air.

Every year on Ascension Thursday there is a large procession throughout the city, recreating the blood's arrival during the time of the crusades. This is apparently one of the largest tourist attractions in Bruges. We missed the procession by about a week.

I wasn't sorry we missed the procession because that also meant we missed the crowds that went along with it. But we did learn that the relic was available for veneration that day. So Liz and I went to the basilica and sat through the service.

I'll admit I was a bit skeptical. After all, the middle ages were a time of great superstition, and couldn't someone have just put a bloody cloth in the vial and said whatever they wanted? And would someone really have saved blood when they were dealing with the horrors of a crucified man they were trying to bury? And who kept track of it for the 11 centuries before it arrived in Bruges?

It came time for the veneration of the relic, and people got up and stood in line to go kiss the tube that held the vial that held the relic. Liz and I looked at each other and by unspoken agreement decided to stay right where we were. After all, it just seemed too unreal.

But I watched the people process up the aisle and I thought - what if it really is? They obviously thought it was at the time it came here. There are a lot of relics. Someone may have saved something that had His blood on it. After the resurrection it surely would have been guarded closely. Maybe it really was His blood. And we were sitting here, not venerating it. And when would we ever be back in Bruges again? And they didn't do these venerations every day? This was most likely a once in a life time chance. Was I giving up my chance to venerate what could truly be the blood of Christ?

I looked at Liz. "I'm going up," I whispered. She'd obviously been thinking along the same lines, because she said "I am too," and so we joined the line. And we kissed the vial. And was it really the actual blood of Christ? It doesn't matter. Because if it was we honored it the way it should be honored, and if it wasn't, we honored the possibility of it. And while honoring it we were thinking of the way it had been spilled, and reflecting on what that meant.

I'm glad I went up that day. I never have been back to Bruges.

And Liz, if your recollections of that day differ, please feel free to correct me, but I think I got the essence of it.


Liz B said...

I'll have to find my journals & photos from them. I know I was probably thinking germs. (Yes. I worry about germs. Which is also why I tend to do host only, no wine.)

And then thought of the stories of my grandfather growing up and having the hand of a saint waved about and decided to go for it. Why not?

Belief & tradition are sometimes as important as anything else.

It was a great trip!! And I think Bruges was my favorite part.

Christine M said...

That was a great trip. I'm so glad we did it.