The Holy Blood ensign

In 2007 an extremely rare sculpture appeared on the British art market. Made in Bruges in 1529, it was carried in the Procession of the Holy Blood for more than two centuries. With so few Bruges sculptures having come to us, the historic origins of this piece and the beauty of its execution meant that it was a truly unique work and the King Baudouin Foundation did not hesitate to acquire the sculpture when the opportunity arose. A number of patrons in Bruges, close to the Holy Blood Brotherhood, were also generous enough to make a financial contribution in order to keep the sculpture in its home town of Bruges. The acquisition enabled the work to be reunited with the collection of the Museum of the Holy Blood, ensuring its future in Bruges, its place of origin.

Every year, in the month of May, the ensign was carried in the Procession of the Holy Blood, a secular event in which the entire city of Bruges participates. The sculpture was in fact only a part of the ensign, which comprised a wooden pole on which was fixed a little scene sculpted in wood that in turn served as a holder for a large candle. Originally, the whole work was polychromed.

The sculpture represents the Patriarch of Jerusalem who, at the end of the Second Crusade in 1150, entrusted the relic of the Holy Blood to Thierry d’Alsace, Count of Flanders. The scene is surrounded by interlaced branches that evoke the crown of thorns, as well as the coats of arms of Austria, Jerusalem and the County of Flanders. At the patriarch’s feet there was previously a pelican and its offspring. This ancient Christian symbol of self-sacrifice (according to the bestiaries, the female pelican pierced her breast to give them her blood to avoid famine) thus recalls the image of Christ and the Holy Blood.

The origin of the work has been attributed with certainty thanks to the Brotherhood of the Holy Blood’s archives, which contain several illustrations and descriptions of the torchère. Moreover, it is these documents that served to make a copy of the work, which is carried in present day processions.

Website Museum van het Heilig Bloed

Further information about the Heritage Fund (in French)

Type: 
Sculpture
Material / technique: 
Polychromed wood
Dimensions: 
Diameter: c.64 cms
Type of acquisition: 
Heritage Fund Acquisition
Year of acquisition: 
2007
Depository institution: 
Museum van het Heilig Bloed, Bruges