One of the most beloved and impressive sights in Bruges is re-opening on 16 December after a ten-month closure for extensive refurbishment.
Museum Sint Janshospitaal is back
St John’s Hospital Museum (Museum Sint Janshospitaal) lies at the heart of the historic UNESCO-recognised city complex. The 12th century infirmary and place of refuge for all-comers has been a place of warmth, care and welcome for hundreds of years. Sick pilgrims, travellers and traders would all find solace within its walls. A fragrant courtyard garden with raised beds growing herbal medicines, alongside an on-site apothecary pharmacy that you can still visit, helped with that vocation – one that continued from the Middle Ages until as recently as 1977.
Though it was given a new lease of life as a museum and gallery space, the hospital never forgot its origins. Exhibitions over the years have married with the site’s history with themes of hospitality, goodwill and comfort and explored universal ideas of life, death and faith in an extraordinary, vaulted space that oozes peace and contemplation.
The new incarnation of the museum stays true to that tradition. Visitors will still be able to explore its mediaeval infirmaries and medical instruments, as well as its church, chapel, records and – of course – its stunning art collection, including the world-renowned St Ursula Shrine among seven masterpieces by Flemish primitive Hans Memling.
The flow of the new design will take us on a journey through the hospital’s fascinating history, embracing the Memlings and – thought-provokingly – putting them alongside modern masterpieces.
Don’t miss out on the roof space above the museum either. A short flight of stairs will take you to a vast wood-framed loft with one of the oldest oak trusses in Europe.
2024 Bruges Triennial
The grand re-opening of St John’s Hospital will happen just in time for next year’s Triennial and coincides with its theme too: “Spaces of Possibility”. Just as the museum renovation posed questions and choices about how to make change while preserving history, so the Triennial looks at similar issues – how do you prevent a whole ancient city complex like Bruges from becoming simply a museum piece? When there are so many restrictions on building new structures, how can the city continue to reinvent itself for a modern age?
Luckily, Bruges is expert at keeping itself relevant as other festivals this year have proven, and the Triennial offers the perfect excuse for new interpretations that twelve artists and architects from around the world are giving to un(der)used or little-known locations in the city. Visit Bruges this winter, when of course, it will be aglow with seasonal markets and magical lights, and into next year and get to know its history as well as its secrets.
Eating out and staying over
If you’re planning on eating or staying the night, there really is no shortage of tried and trusted places to restore yourself. I’ve stayed at the Hotel Portinari, a modern hotel with great service, and art-themed rooms on the ‘t Zand main square opposite the city’s gloriously contemporary Concert Hall, which is well worth a tour. On your behalf, I’ve also sampled the pleasures of the Hotel Marcel too, another friendly, boutique-style town house hotel, just a two-minute walk from the Grote Markt. It boasts cleverly designed rooms, tiled floors and a lovely breakfast café with a waffle machine.
While we’re on the topic of food, I can wholeheartedly recommend the Blackbird Café for brunch, the Hof van Rembrandt for lunch and the Gran Kaffee de Passage for an evening meal. Bon appetit, or rather I should say, “eet smakelijk!”