Beauty and art are some of the fruits of a monastery and monastic life. Through the centuries, the gift of creativity has blessed nuns and monks alike. The beauty comes from a heart that wants to honor God, and God returns this love with immense and beautiful gifts of creativity. Fra Angelico, a 15th century Dominican friar, is famous for his spirituality and fresco painting in the Dominican friary of San Marco in Florence. People flock to that monastery in Italy to see his frescoes. Monastics want to honor and thank God with beauty and love through creative arts, be it lace, painting, stained glass, sculpture; the variety is astounding. My home convent has sisters and brothers who do all of these, plus mosaics, weaving and embroidery, and more.
The Beguinage is no different. This convent had creative arts flourishing in the 1930s and 40s. The project was called the Fra Angelico Atelier or Fra Angelico studio which specialized in liturgical arts a specialty of Benedictines. Lace, also, is historically a convent art. Lace is and was central to the church on the altar and on priest vestments. The altar cloths on the two side aisles of the Beguinnage church have deep lace borders. The altar cloths are 500 years old! The main altar has varying cloths with lace borders.
Now I make lace, the impetus for my coming to Bruges; and being a nun, the question often comes, “Do I find that lace making is a spiritual practice?” The answer is a resounding, “Yes!” Lace is rhythmic and contemplative in character and quiets the mind and heart so that it can in recollection hear God. I am an emotional person and lace has corporal/bodily benefits as well; the arms and muscles relax in the rhythms and repetitive movements of the hand and fingers. The rosary and the Jesus prayer are similar in character; one is carried by the sound of the repetition. The peace is well worth the effort to learn the art of lace-making and the resulting work is lovely; a work of art and beauty to honor God.