The whole reason for this trip to Belgium and France was to trace the route my hero, Rohan de Brancion, would have followed in 1146 when he left his home in the hillside village of Brancion in central Burgundy and headed north for Ghent. After facing initial opposition, he (or rather others more persuasive than he) convinced his robber baron father, Lord Bernard de Brancion, to allow him, an illegitimate son, to undergo training to become a knight at the court of Lord Bernard’s powerful brother-in-law, Thierry, Count of Flanders. This in itself was unusual given Rohan’s base birth, but it was not unheard of – there were many famous early medieval bastards who rose to high positions – Duke William of Normandy, better known as William the Conqueror, was a bastard. Rules about these matters became more rigid in the 14th century, but still this was a pretty big deal for Rohan and would have put considerable pressure on him to prove himself worthy. Continue reading Travels through Champagne & Burgundy – September 30 to October 5 2013
Most travelers (and movie goers) seem more familiar with Bruges than Ghent. For those of you who didn’t see the recent quirky movie with Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson and Ralph Fiennes, In Bruges, it gives you a pretty good idea of the place, although I offer this recommendation with a “violence and explicit language” warning (can’t remember if there was much explicit sex). Anyway since Bruges does not feature in the novel (at least so far), I will make this brief.
Bruges is beautiful and you can see why movie makers, especially makers of movies set in medieval times, love to use it as a backdrop. Most recently I believe the Starz miniseries The White Queen Continue reading Bruges & The Church of the Holy Blood – Sunday September 29 2013
Looking for a good medieval battle site amidst 21st century suburbs is no easy matter I discovered – well, looking for anything medieval in this context. A general rule of thumb, in Europe at least, is to start by identifying the oldest church in the neighborhood, especially if the name of that church corresponds to the oldest known name of the village or district. Even if the church itself is relatively new, chances are, it sits on a medieval foundation and at one point in time was the center of life in a medieval village.
My site also had to be within half a day’s riding distance (at most) from the center of 12th century Ghent Continue reading The ‘Burbs of Ghent – September 27 2013
St. Peter’s Abbey stands on one of the highest points of the city in what used to be the village of Saint Peters (in the 12th century). Today, it lies in the heart of the student district of Ghent about a 15-minute walk from the center of town. Not much remains of the original Abbey founded in the 7th century by Amandus, a missionary sent from Aquitaine to Christianize the region, but it is still an impressive building consisting now mostly of an 18th century architectural superstructure with much earlier foundations and even earlier ruins – all well worth the visit (as always do not miss the crypt which is where you get the real sense of what an abbey, ancient church or cathedral was originally like). Continue reading St. Peter’s Abbey – September 26 2013
Amazing – from my hotel window I can see five ancient churches and the famous Belfry tower of Ghent (Belfort) built in the 14th century to house a host of massive cast iron bells that would ring out a warning to the citizens of an impending attack or a fire blazing away in one of the districts (actually a far more frequent occurrence in the Middle Ages than attacks from enemies!). These bells continue to ring out across the city today every hour – charming when one is awake: not so much at midnight. Last night for example, Continue reading Ghent – September 26 2013 Part 2
I must be still thinking of Canterbury and those intrepid Pilgrims because I can’t think of Ghent without recalling the Wife of Bath who, in addition to having outlived five husband, was also a smart business woman who, when it came to cloth-making “Had switch an haunt she passed hem of Ypres and of Gaunt”. “Gaunt” was the way the English pronounced Ghent in the Middle Ages – hence John of Gaunt, third son of King Edward 111, so-called not because he was emaciated but rather Continue reading Ghent – September 26 2013