In the back of some of our pictures from the Christmas market in Brussels, you can see a big old church: St. Catherine’s. It looked open, so we wandered in, not knowing anything about it.
A small nativity set and some lights sparkled near the entrance; some people were milling about—including a news crew. The space was cavernous in that way old churches are. There was an odd feeling, as if some of the furniture were missing, maybe; or as if some repairs were going to be done. It seemed like someone was letting the place go. We wandered around for a few moments, and then Tim called my attention to some homemade signs: St. Catherine’s is to be closed on December 31, 2011, to be turned into a market. There were petitions in several languages to sign, and notes scattered on tables with visitors’ thoughts.
Feelings on the sanctity of churches will vary, but there is a sense of loss to me in a place that has been full of meaning for generations of people—weddings, funerals, gatherings, shelter—being repurposed into a shop. I found myself imagining where the statues would go; wondering if some of them will appear in a pawn shop window in a few years, or linger in some storage locker somewhere.
Tim commented that it is amazing that the Catholic church has held on to so many massive plots of “prime real estate” in the European urban centers for so long; that these things must happen in time; that any building is repurposed and morphs over the years. Still, it felt sad and odd to stand in this partially-emptied church at its pivot-point as the new year turns.