Historian of Sexuality in Gent, Belgium

Architects, historians, religious people can find three full days of activities in Ghent. The St-Baafskathedraal – St. Bravo’s Cathedral is a Gothic beauty with some amazing stain glass windows. The organ is enormous and the crypts are fun to explore.

The painting Adoration of Mystic Lamb by Van Eyck is in a separate section. They will soon be doing restoration work so we felt lucky to see it.

While the Belfry tower has been updated several times, I still enjoyed seeing the collection of ancient bells. The Harbor has many restored buildings in it which the boat tours openly discuss.

Many parts of the city were restored before the World’s Fair of 1913.  Still the Patershol neighborhood has much of its working class character. Many ethnic groups live there now and we ate at a good Indian/Pakistan restaurant.

The Grote Meat market is a humongous building that places you back to the Medieval Ages.

The biggest debate for our group involved the Castle of the Counts. While one person saw it as a vision of the Middle Ages by late 19th century people, another enjoyed the tour and the movie interpretation that they supplied. I thought the castle had amazing materials, such as torture devices, and while it had some elements of artifice, it still contained architectural elements that made you understand how people lived and used the building over its many centuries.

Most impressive to me is the Beguine women who lived in the city from the mid 1300s until the late 1960s. This group of women had three large housing complexes in the city and we visited two of them. Here’s the most intact one.

The buildings, which at that time still lay outside the city boundaries, were endowed for pious Catholic girls (begijnen) who wanted to live in a religious community but not in the seclusion of a convent. They devoted themselves to the care of the poor and sick. In a “Begijnhof” they were not called upon to abandon their personal freedom and could leave whenever they wished. They had their own accommodation and were not required to renounce personal possessions. When Amsterdam went over to Protestantism the “begijnen” had to make their church over to the English Presbyterian community and hold their services in secret in a small chapel opposite the church. The Begijnhof was turned into almshouses but the “begijnen” retained the right to be buried in their “old” church.

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