Yesterday (Wednesday), I was visiting the university town of Leuven to grab some books from Peeter’s bookshop. I also took the opportunity to have a wander round the historic place and see some of the sights. It was, in many respects, not unlike many of the other historic towns or cities in Belgium and has the Grote Markt as its focal point. There was the usual Stadhuis and loads of cafes and bars.
Beyond the main market square though, it was obvious that this was a university town. Just about every sizeable building had a university sign on it and bars and restaurants all had student offer prices in the window. The university library is probably one of the most stunning I’ve seen.
To be fair, it’s fairly new in a sense. The historic building was badly damaged in WWI and WWII and its restoration was only completed in 2003. Maybe if the New College library installed a 63-bell carillon it could give it a run for its money.
The only thing I wasn’t so sure about was the fairly disgusting statue that sits in the square at the front of the library building. And yes, that is a giant fly skewered to a giant needle. Not entirely sure what it’s in aid of, but it is pretty gross and not something I’d want in my garden.
The town’s view of students is most amusing too. This is a statue to be found just off the Grote Markt and depicts a student pouring water from the fountain of knowledge into their empty head. I did wonder if the water beaker ought to have been a beer can, but maybe I’m just too cynical.
The one other especially noteworthy sight in the university was the Groot Begijnhof. This Beguine community (a mystic movement for women only who wanted to wanted to serve the church and community, but not go so far as taking formal vows) was established around 1230. The group of women served the community by doing laundry apparently.
The community’s buildings (the current ones date from the 17th century) were bought by the university in the 60s then renovated and turned into accommodation for students and visiting lecturers. It’s a lovely setting and would, I think, make a really nice little student community.
During my stay in Belgium, I’ve visited a fair few of the very grand churches. All have been impressive in their own way, but none has made any particular impression. However, I did visit St. Michielskerk in Leuven and I was struck by the ambience in the place. It’s not so grand, not so ‘pretty’ and not so imposing as any others I’ve visited, but it had a beautiful atmosphere. In many ways it felt like a ‘working church’, one where people came to worship and meet with God. I was speaking to the person who was keeping an eye on the place that day and he was explaining that it was known as the “Vredeskerk” – the Peace Church. It was badly damaged during WWII and was also recently restored. Near the entrance is an incomplete statue – a work in progress. Like many of the church statues here in Belgium it shows St. Michael standing over a slain dragon. The dragon symbolises opposition to God. The striking thing about this statue is that Michael is holding a broken sword and the idea is that, despite slaying the dragon, he is overcome by the violence used and the broken sword is symbolic of setting aside violent means to achieving an end, however ‘good’ the cause. It’s a very powerful image and very appropriate for the church.
And to cap off an interesting day I had a most excellent curry. Oh, and I did actually buy some books as well, but I’m not admitting to them because that would just show how geeky and sad I am.