Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Spanish Netherlands and Scherpenheuvel

Mentioning the Archduke Albert and the Spanish Netherlands in the post about composer Peter Philips the other day reminded me of our visit to Scherpenheuvel (Sharp Hill) in Belgium during the 2000 Jubilee Year. During our second visit to Belgium (work related for my husband; fun related for me), our hosts took us to the Basilica of Our Lady of Scherpenheuvel in the Flemish Brabant region of Belgium. A series of accidents led both Mark and I to the shrine--the wife of the manager of the parts distribution company located near Brussels was taking me to Scherpenheuvel; her car broke down; she called her husband and her cousin. Her husband (and my husband) left work to meet us at her cousin's house/business (he had a tow truck) to drive us on to Scherpenheuvel. On the way to her cousin's house, the brakes failed on the tow truck as we exited the highway! He had to use the handbrake.

We waited at her cousin's house for her husband--everyone spoke Flemish in the household but we did have the universal language of a silly little jack russell puppy who played fetch and tug of war. The cousin's daughter was a flight attendant on the now defunct Belgian airline, Sabena, and when she spoke English she had a perfect Midwest American accent. Mark and his contact arrived, and we went off to Scherpenheuvel. This was in the days before digital cameras when, gasp, we took pictures and then came home, took the film out of the camera and went to a store to have it developed, waited for the store to call us and then went to the store to pick up the pictures!! (I am speaking of 12 years ago, in the Dark Ages of 35 mm and APS film.) That explains why the two pictures I've posted are from the wikipedia commons on Scherpenheuvel:


And the websites for Scherpenheuvel are in Flemish, so here's a link to the wikipedia entry for the Basilica and its role as a Marian pilgrimage shrine in Belgium. The Archduke Albert whom Peter Philips served, and his wife, the Spanish Infanta Isabella (Philip II's daughter) gave funds for the establishment of the shrine, the town, and the basilica. It was a major pilgrimage site and the city that grew up around it provided all the services of lodging, restaurants, and shopping--and protections with its walls. We ate lunch, as I recall, in a big restaurant called The Golden Ram, large enough to accommodate the big pilgrimage groups during the season from May to November.

A couple of years later, I read this book about the Archbishop of Mechelen, Mathias Hovius, by Craig Harline of BYU and Eddy Put: A Bishop's Tale: Mathias Hovius Among His Flock in Seventeenth-Century Flanders (which is now out-of-print at Yale University Press). Charlotte Allen reviewed it for First Things here:
Fortunately for scholars (and for us), Hovius kept a detailed daybook of all his activities—his building projects, his ceaseless and wearying parish visits, and the endless round of petitions and disputes, on issues ranging from pornography and marriage annulments to questions of heresy—that he adjudicated in his busy ecclesiastical court. Most of the journal has been lost, but in 1987, Harline, a history professor at Brigham Young University, and Put, a Belgian archivist, discovered in a seminary library in Mechelin the last volume, covering the period from 1617 to Hovius’ death. This book is the fruit of their reconstruction of Hovius’ life from that diary and other contemporary documents.

Harline, author of the well–received Burdens of Sister Margaret: Inside a Seventeenth–Century Convent, decided to focus on Hovius for his second book as a corrective to the worthy but perhaps exaggerated preoccupation of today’s medievalists with eclectic and colorful “ordinary” Catholicism in contrast to the official kind. Harline and Put
decided that the career of a bishop would offer as good a vantage point as any for looking into the seventeenth–century social world. They thought that since “religious life was a constant negotiation among all parties rather than a simple matter of the hierarchy proclaiming and the flock obeying, then being a bishop was hardly the mundane, absolutist task it has been made out to be.”

Making one’s way as a Catholic prelate in seventeenth–century Flanders required negotiating skills and many other skills besides. To the north lay the staunchly Calvinist Dutch Republic, product of a protracted war of secession that had begun in the 1560s, when Hovius, born in 1542, was a young man. Until the Dutch formally declared their independence in 1581, more or less ending the strife, all of the Low Countries belonged to Philip II of Spain, who had inherited them from his father, the Flanders–born Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.

After the Dutch breakaway, Flanders became known as the Spanish Netherlands, an uncomfortable moniker. Even the Catholics of the Low Countries detested the dour and culturally alien Philip, who tried to reduce their once–auto­ nomous territories to a Spanish province and who introduced the Inquisition to Flanders. At the very end of his life in 1599, Philip turned the Spanish Netherlands over to his daughter Isabella and her husband, Prince Albert of Austria, and made it a quasi–independent archduchy. Isabella and Albert were popular sovereigns, and a measure of peace finally prevailed.

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