Friday, September 11, 2020

Wedding of Leopold & Lilian

Today marks the anniversary of the religious marriage of Leopold III, King of the Belgians and Miss Mary-Lilian Baels. Early in the morning of September 11, 1941, the couple exchanged wedding vows in the chapel of Laeken Castle. Six years after the tragic loss of his first wife, Queen Astrid, Leopold's days of solitude were finally over. The ceremony was secret, witnessed only by Cardinal van Roey, Archbishop of Malines and Primate of Belgium, Queen Mother Elisabeth, Lilian's father, Henri Baels, and one of the King's old friends, the Abbé de Schuytenaere (several were smuggled in through a hidden door). Lilian was privileged to wear Queen Elisabeth's own bridal veil.

After the marriage, the witnesses celebrated with a quiet breakfast. The same day, Leopold and Lilian planted a weeping willow at Laeken. The tree was eventually transplanted to Argenteuil, where, tall and strong, it would continue to symbolize the permanence and endurance of a great love. Queen Elisabeth also gave the newlyweds her log cabin at Laeken. (It had originally been a Canadian gift to King Albert I). Leopold and Lilian would find refuge there throughout the dark years of the war.

At first, however, Lilian obviously could not spend all her time at Laeken, if the marriage was to be kept secret. In fact, a letter, dated October 6, 1941, exists from Elisabeth to Lilian, quoted by Michel Verwilghen in Le mythe d'Argenteuil. The Queen (oddly enough, in broken English) pleads with her son's bride to pay a visit...
My dearest little Lilly,

I telephoned to L. he is still here...Don't leave him alone too long. I am sure you' be both start with renewed love clearer and stronger. I kiss you dear, with all my heart.
The King's second marriage would only become public knowledge in December, 1941, following the civil wedding of Leopold and Lilian. By this time, Lilian was expecting her first child, Alexandre, and, infamously, opponents of Leopold would later claim that the whole story of the September wedding was a lie concocted by the royal family and Cardinal van Roey to cover up the bride's pregnancy. Alternately, the King was blamed for reversing the normal order, prescribed by Belgian law, of the civil and religious ceremonies. For Leopold and Lilian, however, as for countless other Belgian Catholic couples, all that really mattered was the religious wedding...


Cleeremans, Jean. Léopold III, sa famille, son peuple sous l'occupation.
Désiré, Claude and Marcel Jullian. Un couple dans la tempête. 
Esmeralda, Princess of Belgium. Léopold III, mon père. 
Keyes, Roger. Echec au Roi. Léopold III, 1940-1951.
Verwilghen, Michel. Le mythe d'Argenteuil: demeure d'un couple royal.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Koningin Astrid van België (1935)

In commemoration of the 85th anniversary of the death of Queen Astrid, wife of King Leopold III, mother of King Baudouin, King Albert II, and grandmother of King Philippe, here is a short Dutch film featuring a few of the high points in her brief time as Queen consort. We see the accession of King Leopold III on February 23, 1934, the christening of Prince Albert, Queen Astrid performing charitable works as part of a Relief Committee, King Leopold and Queen Astrid at the baptism of the daughter of the Count of Paris, and a royal visit to Liege. 

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Another Albert and Elisabeth of Belgium

The Infanta Isabel Clara Eugenia

Here are some articles on the life of Isabel Clara Eugenia, the daughter of Philip II of Spain who became the ruler of the Spanish Netherlands.  With her husband, Archduke Albert of Austria, she consolidated the victory of the Counter-Reformation in the future Kingdom of Belgium.  Hundreds of years later, Isabel became an inspiration to her namesake, Elisabeth of Bavaria, Queen of the Belgians, the consort of King Albert I. 

In March of 1588, the ministers of Henry III of France, his contemporary, announced that King Philip was "mad": "The grand chancellor assured his awed dinner guests in Paris that while Philip's councillors debated state affairs, his eldest daughter, Isabel, was signing documents and in control of government." 

This "scandalous" announcement derived from reports made by Philip's ambassador in Paris, who had told the French king's mother, Catherine de' Medici, about the significance of Isabel's role in her father's government. Rumors were also spreading in Spain that, if Philip were "incapacitated," it would be Isabel who would "take control of the government" of her father's kingdom, and not her half-brother Philip III.

Her potential to function for her father as a "regent" had been noted as early as 1574, when an eight-year-old Isabel was suggested as regent of the Netherlands. She obviously would have been a figurehead then, but from an early age she had been extremely close to her father, who had played a "direct role" in raising her and her sister Catherine Michelle. 

Isabel, in particular, had emulated her father, and he had allowed her "to take part in his office work." By 1586, she was able to be a significant help and adviser to her father; she "read him the letters and despatches he had to deal with, adding her suggestions on how they should be answered." He "even gave her access to the most important papers of state."(Read more)

Here is an article on Isabel, the Counter-Reformation, and Rubens' series of tapestries on the Triumph of the Eucharist.

The portrait, which is today known only through copies and prints, has neither accompanying drapery, nor architecture, nor even any accessory, except for the rosary that hangs from her simple rope belt, thereby emphasizing her piety and spiritual authority. Rubens enhanced this concept by lightening the area around Isabel’s head as if she were radiating a divine glow. Barbara Welzel has noted that this halolike aura conveys Isabel’s majesty and plays with her second name, Clara, which in Spanish can mean light, thus visualizing a connection between the infanta and her moniker. An engraving after the painting with an inscription by Jan Gaspar Gevartius provides deeper specificity of meaning: (fig. 13)

of the imperial dynasty and daughter of Philip II, is praised as the jewel of Spain and the salvation of Belgium. She is the prudence of just war, the honor of chaste peace, and the love of religion. She was crowned with the oak wreath after capturing Breda, bringing the longed-for peace to Belgium, the peace it had sought in the rays of the shining Isabella.

The text unmistakably credits the infanta for the victory at Breda by calling her the “jewel of Spain and the salvation of Belgium” and the one responsible for capturing the town. That the peace was also sought in her shining rays of light further links the victory to her spirituality and heavenly empowerment. The centrality of this sentiment surfaces in the divine eye of Providence that Rubens illustrated at the top of the portrait print, above the inscription “providentia augusta ut serves vincis” (You conquer because you serve sublime Providence). The symbol of God’s guidance and intervention, the eye presides over two supple putti who crown the infanta with “the oak wreath after capturing Breda,” a wreath, which, in Roman tradition, was awarded to those who had liberated their fellow man from a subjection imposed by the enemy. The wreath, thus, came to symbolically identify the person thus crowned as a savior. This image reinforces the notion that God watches over Isabel, and, through the spiritual authority he invested in her, helped her combat his enemies at Breda to secure the victory and bring “the longed-for peace to Belgium.” (Read more)

Isabel with her husband, Albert
Engagement of the future King Albert I and Queen Elisabeth of the Belgians

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Travels with a Curator: Charterhouse, Bruges

A presentation by Xavier F. Salomon of the Frick Collection of a beautiful painting, “The Virgin and Child with St. Barbara, St. Elizabeth, and Jan Vos,” by Jan van Eyck, commissioned by Jan Vos, the prior of the Charterhouse of Bruges.  

As others have commented, there is a theological error in the explanation of the Catholic doctrine of Purgatory provided in the video; souls in Purgatory can only be destined for Heaven, not Hell. 

Monday, August 10, 2020

Levina Teerlinc

A presentation by Claire Ridgway on a Flemish-born artist of the Tudor court.

More HERE.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Agnus Dei - Samuel Barber LIVE

A haunting performance by the Vlaams Radiokoor of Belgium.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

The Social Reforms of Queen Astrid

Königin Astrid von Belgien, Queen of Belgium
In Astrid:1905-1935, a collection of essays edited by Christian Koninckx, Louise-Marie Libert-Vandenhove gives an interesting description of the young Queen's engagement in social causes (see especially pp. 103-115). Astrid took a special interest in the improvement of conditions for women and children. Although she was no militant suffragette, she contributed to the movement for greater freedom and independence for women in her own discreet, delicate and non-confrontational way. She was a reformer, not a revolutionary.

Libert-Vandenhove describes the difficult conditions for women, particularly those of the poorer classes, at the time Astrid arrived in Belgium. The more traditionally minded strata of society simply expected women to be content with their lot as wives and mothers, legally and politically subordinate to men, forever minors in law, ineligible to vote or run for office in national elections. The universities of Brussels, Ghent and Liège only opened their doors to women in the 1880's. At the dawn of the twentieth century, it was still quite hard for girls to pursue higher education or an interesting profession outside the home. 

Even at the outset of World War I, as Dr. Patrick Loodts has noted on his wonderful website, Médecins de la Grande Guerre, nursing as a career was still in its infancy in Belgium as it was considered scandalous for women to provide physical care to men outside their families. The Catholic University of Louvain only began admitting female students in 1920, just six years before Astrid's marriage to the heir to the Belgian throne. A emerging feminist movement had been gaining strength since the return of peace, but it was still widely frowned upon.

Many children were also suffering, particularly among the financially disadvantaged. A doting mother herself, Astrid was clearly distressed by the poor living conditions and high mortality rates of many infants and children, not only in Belgium but in the Belgian Congo and the Far East. In her memoirs, her friend Anna Sparre describes the heartfelt letters, discussing the topic, that the Queen sent her during her visits to Singapore in 1932 and the Congo in 1933

Although not particularly an intellectual woman, Libert-Vandenhove observes, Astrid was gifted with intelligence, realism and intuition. (Her husband's second wife, Princess Lilian, with her passionate interests in science, history, literature and philosophy, her creation of a kind of cultural salon at Argenteuil, was much more of a real intellectual, I always think). Above all, Astrid was blessed with a kind, gentle, sensitive disposition. These qualities, I believe, enabled her to maintain a delicate balance in promoting social change without trying to tear society apart. Aside from the fact that espousing radical feminism would have been politically disastrous for the Queen, it would simply never have occurred to her to encourage Belgian women to throw off their role as wives and mothers. She herself was first and foremost a loving wife and mother. She sought, however, to render women's lives as wives and mothers fruitful rather than oppressive. 

As Libert-Vandenhove describes in detail, Astrid was always a gracious patroness of causes promoting the good of women along with the good of their children. She was particularly interested in training women formally in childrearing and healthcare, as she herself had been trained as a young princess in Sweden. These programs had the double benefit of improving children's health while offering women better career opportunities. Astrid also tried to further the education of women in other fields. With her love of fashion, for example, she supported the training of young girls as dressmakers. A sincerely religious lady, she tended to favor Catholic charitable institutions, such as the professional school for girls run by the Sisters of St. Vincent de Paul. At the same time, she was open-minded enough to support, in addition, some more liberal organizations, such as the non-sectarian Fédération des Foyers Belges. She gave audiences to advocates of women's rights such as Baroness Boël, President of the National Council of Belgian Women. 

Astrid's concern for the vulnerable was deep and intense. She appeared at so many events in support of so many causes that it might seem that her involvement must have been superficial, merely a matter of protocol. Such a notion would be far from the truth. In fact, the Queen's interest moved her to insist personally on in-depth investigations of matters close to her heart. In May 1935, for instance, she patronized Milk Week, an effort to encourage Belgians to drink this healthful beverage. She took the opportunity to charge Gatien du Parc, one of her courtiers, with the task of preparing a detailed report on milk regulations in foreign countries. The investigation was extremely painstaking. 

Three months later, Astrid's tragic death in a car accident in Switzerland would deprive her family and nation of her maternal care. We can only guess, but can never know, how her gentle, caring but firm approach to social crises might have alleviated Belgian traumas during World War II and the Royal Question. 

Friday, December 6, 2019

The Queen Who Never Was

Today is the anniversary of the civil wedding of Leopold III and Lilian Baels. The ceremony took place on December 6, 1941, less than three months after the couple's secret, religious wedding in the chapel of Laeken. Lilian was already expecting her first child, Prince Alexandre, who would be born in July, 1942. Leopold and Lilian had reversed the normal order, prescribed by the Belgian Constitution, of the civil and religious wedding ceremonies, and the King would later be severely castigated for this violation of the law. Given the bizarre, difficult circumstances, however, the irregularity was understandable. The King was a prisoner of war; the country was occupied by the Nazis, who might not even permit a royal marriage to take place. The government, whose approval was needed for a dynastic union, was in exile in London. The suffering Belgians might resent their King's idyll. By opting, initially, for a simply sacramental marriage, the couple had hoped to conceal their union until the return of peace. The bride's pregnancy, however, made it impossible. 

Yet, amidst war and occupation, in the government's absence, the King did not think it appropriate to impose a new Queen and new royal heirs upon the country. As Cardinal van Roey, Archbishop of Malines, emphasized in his pastoral letter of December 6, 1941, Lilian herself had renounced the title and rank of Queen. In a similar vein, the King drew up a document, declaring his desire that none of the descendants of his second marriage should have the right to succeed to the throne. By contrast, his new bride and their children should have the right to all of his other ancestral titles; Royal Highness, Prince and Princess of Belgium, Duke and Duchess of Saxony, Prince and Princess of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. 

In constitutional terms, however, Leopold and Lilian lacked the authority, on their own, to decide matters of regal status and succession. Accordingly, the King added: "As soon as my liberty as a Sovereign is restored to me, I will ask the Government of the time to realize my intentions legally." Strangely, the King's intentions would not be realized legally for fifty years. During a constitutional revision in 1991, Prime Minister Wilfried Martens would finally clarify the issue, officially stating that the offspring of Leopold and Lilian had no rights to the throne.

After the civil ceremony, the King introduced his three eldest children, Princess Josephine-Charlotte, Prince Baudouin, and Prince Albert to their new step-mother. The children adored the beautiful, clever, vivacious young woman and immediately started calling her maman. By all accounts, it was the beginning of nearly twenty years of a close, tender family life, happily restored after the tragedy of Queen Astrid's death. The Queen Mother, Elisabeth of Bavaria, was also very fond of Lilian.

Outside the gates of Laeken, news of the wedding provoked mixed reactions. Some Belgians reproached Leopold for considering his personal happiness at a time of national disaster, others sympathized with his situation, sending flowers and congratulations to the palace. Unfortunately, however, the marriage would prove to be an important tool in the hands of the King's political opponents, particularly after the war.  Princess Lilian of Belgium was viciously vilified, by politicians and journalists bent upon toppling her husband, as the maleficent beauty behind the throne, as a veritable Whore of Babylon! 

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Berthe Petit

Berthe Petit (1870-1943) was a Belgian Franciscan tertiary, mystic, stigmatist and apostle of devotion to the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary. She was born in Enghien, the daughter of pious parents. She was a delicate child, and, throughout her life, suffered many illnesses, causing her to receive the Last Rites seven times. From the age of four, she believed she experienced visions of Christ and the Blessed Mother. These recurred throughout her life, centering on her chief mission- to obtain the consecration of the world to the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary. Berthe was always respected by the ecclesiastical authorities. As far as I know, the Church has never found anything contrary to the Catholic Faith in her revelations.

Berthe was born into a family of comfortable means; her father was a prosperous attorney. Deeply devout, Berthe longed to become a Sister of Charity, but it was not to be. During her youth, her father suffered severe financial reversals and Berthe was obliged to work to help support her family. She offered her disappointment as a sacrifice for the sanctification of a priest of God's choice. This proved to be Father Louis Décorsant, a French priest who became one of her spiritual directors and close collaborators.

Berthe's life was marked by physical and spiritual suffering. At the age of 10, after her First Communion, she told her teacher, a nun: "I must suffer a great deal, I must be like Jesus." The nun asked: "who told you that?" The child replied: "the little Host which is my wonderful Jesus." In addition to painful illnesses and accidents, she experienced fears, doubts, perplexities, and diabolical persecution. At one point, during World War I, while praying, she was hurled down a stone staircase by an unseen force, yet her life, miraculously, was saved. She heard hissing in her ear: "I shall fight you to the end, obsessing minds, hardening hearts, feeding passions."

By all accounts, Berthe was a delightful character, combining spiritual fervor and common sense, humble, cheerful, thoughtful, attentive to others, loving and deeply sincere. She was a splendid cook, yet, from the age of 38, lived only on Holy Communion. At one point, when she was lodging in a convent, a nun who shared her room was instructed by her superiors to observe if Berthe took any food in secret. Despite her initial skepticism, she found, after a year's observation, that Berthe really ate nothing, only drinking, in the morning, a cup of coffee (soon rejected), and, in the afternoon, a small glass of wine.

Berthe's revelations often had a political character, dealing with the spiritual dimensions of national and international events. Msgr. Pieraerts, court chaplain during the reign of King Albert I, was one of her spiritual directors and close friends. Berthe reported that Christ requested Belgium's consecration to the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart, as a remedy for the country's political and moral ills. Shortly after World War I, according to Berthe, Our Lord made this striking statement:
Internal strife is more rampant than ever in your country. It is being fanned by the evil seeds sown by the invader; it is fed by egoism, pride and jealousy, malevolent germs which can only generate moral ruin. I continue to have pity on a country that defended its honor at the cost of the greatest sacrifices, and on a sovereign faithful to his duty. To save this nation, I have wished, and continue to wish, that it should be solemnly consecrated to the Heart of My Mother....

(The Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary: Messages of Our Lord to Berthe Petit, Franciscan Tertiary, 1870-1943, 2004, p. 51)

Friday, January 11, 2019

Lidwina of Schiedam

A Dutch Catholic mystic and saint whose relics were kept in Brussels for over two hundred years.  One of the sisters of Princess Lilian of Belgium, Ludvine Baels, appears to have been named after her.
During the winter of the year of 1395, Lidwina went skating with her friends, one of whom caused her to fall upon some ice with such violence that she broke a rib in her right side. This was the beginning of her martyrdom. No medical skill availed to cure her. Gangrene appeared in the wound caused by the fall and spread over her entire body. For years she lay in pain which seemed to increase constantly. Some looked on her with suspicion, as being under the influence of the evil spirit. Her pastor, Andries, brought her an unconsecrated host, but the saint distinguished it at once. But God rewarded her with a wonderful gift of prayer and also with visions. Numerous miracles took place at her bed-side. The celebrated preacher and seer, Wermbold of Roskoop, visited her after previously beholding her in spirit. The pious Arnold of Schoonhoven treated her as a friend. Hendrik Mande wrote for her consolation a pious tract in Dutch. When Joannes Busch brought this to her, he asked her what she thought of Hendrik Mande's visions, and she answered that they came from God. In a vision she was shown a rose-bush with the words, "When this shall be in bloom, your suffering will be at an end." In the spring of the year 1433, she exclaimed, "I see the rose-bush in full bloom!" (Read more)
Below is an image of the saint protecting a church during the German bombing of Rotterdam on May 14, 1940.