Our Beguinage church has a side aisle. The Mary aisle as the altar there has the oldest Mary statue in Brugge from the 12th century. It is very stylized with Jesus on Mary’s knee in blessing. No Rembrandt chubby cherubs or pudgy babies here, no compassionate and expressive Mary face. When I first came and went to rosary, I found the statue a bit ‘off putting’ not exactly warm and welcoming. This is often said also of icons. You have to sit with them awhile to contemplate and then they see you and you see them and a bond is created. The flickering candles line one side of the aisle and the ancient unused confessional the other. The confessional still stands as a symbol of our rightful place before an all majestic and powerful creator. There are maybe 16 chairs in between for the faithful to light a candle and pray and even the not so faithful in hope that this God so obviously worshiped here will hear them and their prayer. (We have a lot of tourists!) This aisle is where the sisters — sometimes two of us, sometimes 4 — say the rosary every day before the Vespers service. More people than you might think stop and do a few decades of the rosary. The side opposite the confessional flickers with red candles of three sizes and an offering box. Now as I said these candles are carefully tended and flicker all day or days depending on the size and are moved around to be artfully and orderly displayed. Every evening after Compline the candles no longer flicker; they are carefully extinguished by the candle sisters. Every morning before Lauds, these candles are carefully set to flickering again. I see them every morning as I pass to the choir. This Mary aisle is truly a heavenly spot for prayer…no pun intended. Tourists stop to pray, devoted light candles, sisters do the rosary and I am certain we are all accompanied there by the heavenly hosts.
P.S. This sister is headed to her home convent in America tomorrow for a short sojourn, I hope a prayer is said for me in the Mary aisle!