Bruges, treasure above and below ground


The historic centre of the Hanseatic city of Bruges has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site for two decades, mainly thanks to its medieval urban fabric, its Gothic brick architecture and its status as the birthplace of the Flemish Primitives. But a look below ground level is also very rewarding. Among the treasures found there is a beautifully painted 14th-century tomb that was recently unearthed.

Nothing exceptional in itself, one might think. If you dig a hole in the ground in Bruges, there is a good chance that you will unearth something from the past. But archaeologists have uncovered two graves about half a metre under the pavement on Mariastraat, in the cemetery of Onze-Lieve-Vrouw church in the heart of the city. During sanitation work, they discovered these graves as well as skeletons, coffin nails and the remains of coffin wood. One coffin gave them shivers of excitement. It was richly decorated with well-preserved frescoes. One of the long sides shows an angel holding a censer, standing between flower and cross motifs. On one of the short sides, a Calvary scene is depicted, namely Jesus on the cross, flanked by Mary and the apostle John. On the opposite side, we can see a Seat of Wisdom, Mary with Child sitting on a throne. The paintings suggest that the tomb dates from the late 14th century. It seems to be an intact tomb, judging by the remains of human bones still positioned in their original configuration.


The tombs of Mary of Burgundy and Charles the Bold in the nearby Church of Our Lady are also worth a visit.