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Sunday, March 18, 2018
A Tour of Catholicism in the Netherlands and Belgium
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Over the past few years I have been privileged to travel to several great Catholic nations and cities.  The Vatican, Rome, Florence, Munich, Madrid, and Vienna are just a few of the European cities I’ve explored in the past two years.  My travels have taken me to forgotten shrines, mountain monasteries, precious relics of incorruptible saints, and some of the most sacred places on earth.

This year I wanted to take a different route. I wanted to travel to those formerly Catholic cities in the Netherlands and Belgium – cities where the Faith was attacked by the Protestants and where the Church’s martyrs grew in vast numbers.  These cities have as of late largely been attacked with the assault of liberalism, modernism, and secularism.  Nowadays, few souls remain attached to any religion and in the Netherlands over half of the population is irreligious.  Catholics make up the next largest share but the total number of citizens who belong to any religion is shocking low at 32%.  Belgium – while on paper seems much larger in number of Catholics – has been infected with liberalism since their constitution in 1831.  The nation is a proponent of euthanasia, abortion, and same-sex “marriage.”  Alas, these two nations have fallen far from their more glorious and faithful past.

So this March I endeavored to travel to these nations and pray for the souls there.  I wanted to see the relics that remained, venerate the Catholic shrines there, and pray along the way for the souls who need prayers.

Amsterdam

My journey started on March 3, 2018, as I arrived in Amsterdam.  The city is home to a few Catholic destinations – the main one being St. Nicholas Basilica which is located just a few minutes’ walk from the Amsterdam Central Train station.  The Basilica has a collection of religious murals and above the high altar is the crown of Maximilian I, the Holy Roman Emperor from 1486 - 1519. In a country of few Catholic places of worship compared with Protestant ones, the Basilica of St. Nicholas is actually the city’s main Catholic Church.  Built in 1887, it was only declared a Minor Basilica recently on its 125th anniversary.

The Basilica is beautiful and well worth a visit. They even offer Latin Vespers each Sunday at 17:00, and while there I had the chance to sit and pray along as they chanted Traditional Gregorian Vespers – a true rarity to find!


The next day in Amsterdam started with a morning Mass at St. Agnes Church, which is run by the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter.  Located just 20 or so minutes via tram from St. Nicholas, the church is staffed by several priests and Confessions can be heard in either Dutch or English, since English is known and spoken by virtually all of Amsterdam’s residents.  The FSSP parish is a true gem of Faith in a country that needs our prayers.

Utrecht


After a few days in Amsterdam, I ventured down to the true religious heart of the Netherlands in the city of Utrecht.  There I visited the beautiful Church of St. Willibrord which offers the Traditional Latin Mass and also paid a visit to the city’s Cathedral, which was taken over by the Protestants after the Protestant Reformation.

The highlight of Utrecht is the city’s towering Dom Tower, a true testimony of the great dedication of the past people for Utrecht and the Kingdom of the Netherlands for the Faith.  The Gothic style Tower is the largest church tower in all of the Netherlands at 112.5 meters high. Join me in praying for the conversion of these people through the intercession of The Martyrs of Gorkum, St. Willibrord, St. Oda, St. Bernold, and the other saints of the Netherlands.

Antwerp

After spending a few days in the Netherlands, I took a train from Amsterdam to Antwerp, Belgium, a city on the border of Belgium and the Netherlands.  And this part of the journey did not disappoint.

I arrived in Antwerp’s central train station and it is one of the most unique central stations of Europe, as it is adorned with over twenty different kinds of stone and features soaring, arched windows.  The station allows in a significant amount of sunlight, which is a welcome sight in a country that has a disproportionate amount of rainfall.
 

My primary destination in Antwerp was the Cathedral of Our Lady, built in 1521.  The belfry of the cathedral is a UNESCO World Heritage site and the place contained more triptychs than I have ever seen combined – several famous paintings by Rubens including his legendary works: Elevation of the Cross and his Descent from the Cross are there in triptychs.  I was delighted to also see his impressive painting of the Lord’s Resurrection here in a small side chapel as well.  While most of the Cathedrals I have visited in Europe are free to enter, this one charged a nominal admission fee but it was well worth the price.

The Cathedral itself is a metaphor of the eventual return of the Faith to this part of the world.  Back in 1794, the French revolutionaries - the same ones who murdered nuns and destroyed cathedrals, plundered Our Lady's Cathedral in Antwerp and left it in serious damage.  In fact, the French government sought to completely demolish the building in 1798 but the Cathedral persisted.  At last, in 1816, many priceless works of art were finally restored from Paris as the French liberal government disbanded and the Bourbon Kings were restored to the Throne of France.  During this time, the three Rubens masterpieces were returned and restored to their rightful place in the Cathedral.


The Cathedral itself has undergone significant renovations and completed a major renovation back in 1993. The Cathedral cannot be over emphasized.  No visit to Northern Europe would be complete with this awe-inspiring and art-rich destination.  In fact, of all the museums and Cathedrals I have visited, only the Louve, religious art museum in Florence, and the Vatican Museum had in my opinion a more impressive art collection.

Antwerp is a fascinating town and well worth a short stop.  After roughly 4 hours in the city, I headed back to the central station and passed through Ghent before arriving in my next Belgian stop: Bruges.

Bruges


Hidden in this small, medieval town which features cobblestone streets and the sense of stepping back in time is the wonderful Basilica of the Holy Blood.   The Basilica was built in the 12th century to house a precious relic of the Holy Blood.  The relic is a cloth with the blood of Jesus Christ, housed in a vial, brought to the city by Thierry of Alsace after the 12th century Second Crusade. The cloth itself was collected by St. Joseph of Arimathea himself.


The Basilica features both an upper and a lower chapel.  My visit was only of the upper chapel which feature a Gothic style interior and murals on the wall depicting Thierry of Alsace bringing the relic of the Holy Blood back from the Holy Land.  In 1310, Pope Clement V issued a papal bull granting an indulgence to pilgrims who visited the chapel to venerate the relic.

The relic itself is kept behind a silver tabernacle on a side altar.  What an awe-inspiring moment to pray before a relic of the Blood of Jesus Christ!  Yet, how many of us fail to recall that we truly consume (not just venerate but even truly consume) His Precious Blood – the same Blood! – in Holy Communion.



Also in Bruges is St. Salvator's Cathedral.  Though it has been under major construction in recent years, it is also worth a stop as it is on the way between the basilica and the main train station.  Inside – like the other churches on my pilgrimage – were several beautiful paintings.

After a few hours exploring the city, I ventured via train from Bruges’ central train station on to Brussels, the capital of the European Union and of Belgium.

Brussels

My first stop after leaving the station and arriving in the heart of Brussels near their famous central square – which is considered by some as the top square in the world in terms of beauty – is the Church of St. Nicholas.



Inside this quaint church rests the holy relics of 19 Martyrs of Gorcum.  These martyrs were killed by a Protestant gang on September 7, 1572.  Among their number are 10 Franciscans, 2 Norbertines, 1 Dominican, 1 Augustinian, 4 members of the clergy, and 1 layman.  Truly they represent the Universal Church.

Previously in the 18th century across the street from the Church of St. Nicholas was a Franciscan convent that has since been destroyed.  The relics of the Gorcum martyrs were carried from that convent to the Church of St. Nicholas and kept in a gilded, copper shrine created by Franz-Xaver Hellner.  The shrine is a true work of art and a beautiful expression of Faith.

The shrine rests on four lions.  On the front panel is Fr. Francois van Rooy, one of the martyrs.  On the opposite panel is the Virgin Mary with St. Boniface and the Franciscans van Outers.  Along the sides are the 9 martyrs in robes.  And on the roof are six scenes which illustrate scenes from their life including their imprisonment and martyrdom, carrying them by boat towards Brielle, the last questioning of Guillaume de la Marck, their hanging, the carrying of their relics to Brussels, and their canonization.

Also in Brussels is the Cathedral of St. Michael.  Built in a similar but more modest style to Notre Dame in Paris, the Cathedral is home to some beautiful art.  Inside is a truly unique Baroque pulpit by Hendrick Frans Verbruggen and a large organ which contains 4300 pipes, 63 stops, four manuals and one pedal. Spend some time there praying for the people of Belgium to return in greater fervor to the Catholic Faith.

And finally, worth mentioning is that Brussels too is home to the Traditional Mass of All Time.  While I visited only for one day during the week and did not have the opportunity to attend one of the Tridentine Masses in the city, they do exist in several locations.

Conclusion

Most Catholics do not think of the Netherlands and Belgium as immediate travel destinations. Home to many protestant and irreligious ideas, the Faith has been under assault for years in these countries.  But as my travels illustrated, the Faith lives on.  Inside the cities in Belgium and the Netherlands are testaments of a Catholic past and a promise of a future which we can help attain through our work of catechesis and prayer.  Join me in praying a Pater and an Ave for the souls in these nations.  Lord have mercy!

I also spent the next 5 days in Paris and I will share in a separate article the highlights of that adventure.  For more of my trip photos, please see my Flickr Page.  Also, photos will be posted on my Instagram channel as well.

Note, all images are copyrighted by me and all rights are reserved.

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