Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Brussels – Erasmus House and Garden

The Tour de France is over for 2011. Cadel Evans of Australia is the winner. Mark Cavendish of the UK (Isle of Man) won the Green Jersey, Samuel Sanchez of Spain won the Polka-Dot Jersey and Pierre Rolland of France the White Jersey (see my last post to understand the meaning of the jerseys.) It was moving to watch Cadel Evans on the podium on the Champs-Elysées in Paris at the conclusion of the Tour.

The TV announcers said that 50% of the viewers are not cyclist fans but watch the Tour de France to see the landscape and sights along the way. Below are some of the sights from this Tour (photos courtesy Gibson Photo, NBC, VeloNews and AFP.)

Now after all the Tour emotions I am returning to reporting on our short stay in Brussels. After visiting the Beguinage in Anderlecht (see post here) we visited Erasmus House and Gardens.

Click on collage to enlarge, then on individual photo to embiggen

Growing up around old buildings in France, I took antique houses as a matter of fact. After decades in the US I now am more impressed when standing in a house built several centuries ago. Erasmus house was built in 1515 and has been restored to the way it looked in 1521. It is one of the oldest Gothic houses in Brussels. This Burgundian style house was transformed into a museum in 1932.

It was almost lunch time, the sun was shining brightly – time to take some pictures while the courtyard was deserted.

A guide accompanied us through the house. No pictures were allowed and she stood close to me to make sure I would not take any. Coincidentally postcards were available for purchase and I bought several. We saw a Renaissance hall, a Rhetorical chamber, the study and a room with frescoes. Many works of arts, including drawings, prints by Albrecht Dürer and oils by Holbein are shown in them. In the Rhetorical chamber you feel you jumped back to the 16th century. Some portraits of Erasmus are in the study. The one below was painted by Hans Holbein the Younger (German 1497-1543.)

Another room had the walls covered with Cordova leather in turquoise and gold. The room with frescoes had gothic furniture and a rare collection of volumes of Erasmus.

The library has many prints of Erasmus and I understand that there is a reading room, containing one the world’s largest collection of 16th century volumes, which is reserved for scholars researching ancient works. Erasmus lived in this house in 1521.

Erasmus by Albrecht Dürer, German 1471-1528

I knew the name Erasmus but, frankly, was not sure about what he had accomplished. I read up on it and have enough notes to write a 10 pages report – no,I won’t transcribe them here… I’ll try to sum it up. Desiderius Erasmus was born in the Netherlands, in Rotterdam, in either 1467 or 69 and died in Basel in 1536. Rotterdam has a statue of him.

1622 Statue of Erasmus in Rotterdam (courtesy Wikipedia)

Below is a 100 Dutch Guilders bill showing Erasmus. The Guilder was the currency of the Netherlands until it was replaced in 2002 with the Euro. Actually I still have some old Guilders in a purse.

Erasmus was a classical scholar, theologian and the most renowned humanist ever. He was the inspiration of Martin Luther but argued with him about sin and free will. He was called “the Prince of Humanists” as he advocated religious education toward a simple faith which would be accessible to all. His intellectual knowledge was such that Kings and others rulers of the time invited him to be their guest. He was always traveling and had a great influence on the scholars of his time. He called himself a citizen of the world not restricted to any one region and said that he belong to the “Republic of Letters.” “When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes” Erasmus. I second that!

Bust of Erasmus in Gouda, Holland where he lived around 1487 (Wikipedia)

Erasmus wrote some popular books including Encomium Moriae (In Praise of Folly) (1509) which poked satirical fun at church and society. He was against the powers of ignorance and superstition and loathed clerical fanaticism. He was disgusted by the ignorant hostility to learning that reigned at the time. In 1516 he published a pioneer translation of the Greek New Testament with parallel Latin text. It exposed the many errors of the text the Catholic Church was then using. Of course the Catholic Church did not like that and it censured many of his writings. He was for a time placed, on the order of Pope Pius IV, on the Roman Index librorum prohibitorum, the List of Prohibited Books.

Man's mind is so formed that it is far more susceptible to falsehood than to truth.” Erasmus

Postcard showing original Erasmus censured writings

Erasmus was an innovator, a reformer and an eternal student. His message was spread through his books and thousands of letters. He favored church renewal and tolerance. Here was a man in the 1500s who believed that one should not judge others’ ideas, that mankind should have free will and independent beliefs (as when he visited Moslems.) He would have liked to see the power of the clergy broken; he had the ear of the educated class. Alas Luther spoke to the people and the ignorant and out of his revolt arose evangelism, another type of fanaticism.

Portrait of Erasmus, Quent Massys, Belgian 1465-1530

Erasmus was a pacifist and attempted to persuade the rulers by his books and letters to end wars and bring peace to their lands. Erasmus’ Adagia (explanation here ) first published in Paris in 1500 contains the following writing: "The people build cities, princes pull them down; the industry of the citizens creates wealth for rapacious lords to plunder; plebeian magistrates pass good laws for kings to violate; the people love peace, and their rulers stir up war."

Peter van den Dungen, a Lecturer in Peace Studies at the University of Bradford in England says that : “ If any single individual in the modern world can be credited with 'the invention of peace,' the honour belongs to Erasmus rather than Immanuel Kant whose essay on perpetual peace was published nearly three centuries later." I think we need another Erasmus right now.

He who allows oppression shares the crime. The most disadvantageous peace is better than the most just war.” Erasmus

Portrait of Erasmus in his later years, Hans Holbein the Younger

After the visit of the museum we walked toward the garden. Erasmus introduced the concept of a philosophical garden -‘Nature is not silent but speaks to us everywhere and teaches the observant man many things if she finds him attentive and receptive.’ (Convivium religiosum.) The garden was redesigned in 1932 and again in 1987 on medieval and Renaissance ideas.

Erasmus wished to have a garden filled with medicinal plants but also to be an invitation to sit down and enjoy the time as it slips by or to exchange reflections with friends for, as Erasmus said, "‘Where your friends are, there is your wealth.’” ( Là où sont mes amis, là est la richesse.) Below is the Medicinal and Herb Gardens.

Each curative plant has a tag with its name and a little figure of Erasmus showing where it helps the body.

We left the enclosed garden and entered another garden which was not so formal but in a more natural setting.

Beautiful roses were climbing on the red brick walls.

Little reflecting pools of water have Latin phrases placed there to make you think or philosophize.

Chairs and benches are placed in various parts of the little garden to incite you to sit and meditate. Some light wood benches had a beautiful design and I sat for a few seconds to silently contemplate the wild flowers nearby – but my husband was coming and we could not stay long.

There was no more time to observe the sun rays and shadows playing on the leaves. It was time to leave this magical garden – so peaceful in the middle of the vibrant cosmopolitan city of Brussels.

So we walked back to the planted garden to rejoin our friends.

And here is my favorite quotation:

"I am a citizen of the world, my homeland is everywhere, I'm a foreigner everywhere" - from a letter Erasmus wrote to the reformer Ulrich Zwingli.

Painting of Desiderius Erasmus statue in Rotterdam market (by unknown artist.)


Ann said...

such a wonderful post!
I was aware,but not familiar with him. Some info I knew,but was delighted to learn more from you. the photos are beautiful.
thank you for sharing your knowledge and photos! I so very much enjoyed my visit!!!

Kay L. Davies said...

I think I had forgotten everything I ever knew about Erasmus except "I am a citizen of the world" until I read this post. Thank you!
I know someone who named her son Erasmus, and now I think I know why.

—Kay, Alberta, Canada

Wanda..... said...

Lovely post, enjoyed the tour of the centuries old house and gardens, plus learning of such an admirable man as Erasmus. Blogging and viewing such posts, make me feel like a citizen of the world.

Cloudia said...

well shown!

Aloha from Waikiki;

Comfort Spiral


> < } } ( ° >

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DJan said...

I didn't actually know who Erasmus was, but now he is my hero! To think he is the person who was first a "citizen of the world" and a foreigner everywhere. What a great post, as usual! I always enjoy these trips, but this one, especially. Peace to you...

wenn said...

too bad we just had a day in Brussels.

Pondside said...

What a rich post - I loved it. Erasmus was so much ahead of his time - or we have sunk backwards in many ways.

Sally Wessely said...

This was an amazing, informative post. I was surprised to read how many quotes that I have long read or heard are credited to Erasmus. The quote about books and food is one long quoted in my family. Little did I know to whom I should have given credit for this quote.

Pierre BOYER said...

Un très grand personnage...
Merci !


Jojo said...

What an interesting post and I love his thoughts on friends.

Diane said...

Cadel Evans was fantastic but I was so proud of Mark Cavendish, he is like a flying machine in a sprint even if he cannot climb the hills!
Great post with masses of info. Thanks for sharing. Diane

Frances said...

There is so much inspiration contained in this post!

You begin with celebrating magnificent athletic achievement, and then show us architectural and artistic beauty, and then...give us a wonderful introduction to the exceptional man Erasamus.

Thank you so much for presenting us with this gift! xo

Genie -- Paris and Beyond said...

Wonderful detail in your photos and information. I am truly a reader but admit to loving the images that accompany the rich background you have given. I absorb like a sponge when I read your posts... merci, mon amie!


Arti said...

This is a rich, detailed, and beautiful post. I must come back and read again. I'm totally amazed at your eye for art and aesthetics, and your zeal for intellectual pursuits. Love all the photos here. As I mentioned in my reply to your comment on my post, I visited France last August. I love Europe, have been there several times but not to Brussels though. Thanks to your post, now it's must see for my next trip.

This is Belgium said...

I will put a reference to your post, Vagabonde, on "This is Belgium".. you did such a wonderful job.
The Erasmus house is located very very close to the market where I took the beguinage picture in Anderlecht. In fact it is considered a "lesser" -in the broad sense of the term- part of Brussels but your post elevates it to the rank it deserves;
I have been to the garden with my photography class but have never been inside the house. The Anderlecht Academy is also right there on the square, right in front of the church.
On the point of being a government-less country... all eyes, also the European ones, are set on what the US government comes up to handle the budget crises;.. hopefully something will happen in the next few days. All keep fingers crossed.
Our Belgian politicians have left for a short holiday break and there is a lot of hope for a serious breakthrough and a new government in the making when they return
Thanks for you comments on my blog. I appreciate your thoughts.

My name is Riet said...

What a wonderful post. We, as Tour followers as we call ourselves over here in Holland,of course have seen a lot of the Tour, only not as much as other years as we were in England in the first two weeks and we didn't see much of it on English TV. Usually we follow the Tour most afternoons on TV here . They broadcast every single etappe .
And then you told us all about Erasmus and showed beautiful places to visit.We live a mile away from Rotterdam,Erasmus town, and see the new Erasmusbridge and Erasmus University and buildings from our window. So you have been in Holland as you still have guilders in a purse? How lovely , and that 100 gulden note we used in my time.
I am glad I found your blog and I am a follower now.
Riet, The Netherlands

marciamayo said...

Another feast for the eyes, brain, and heart.

Jeanie said...

This is a fascinating post! I had heard of Erasmus, of course, and seen portraits, but I had no idea of his contributions, their magnitude. Citizen of the world -- probably the one who coined that phrase. Thank you! (You didn't even need 10 pages -- it's perfect the way it is!)

Pat said...

Thank you for that. Hitherto Erasmus was just a name to me. He sounds a man of distinction.

snowwhite said...

Oh, this is the fabulous tribute to Erasmus!! I have heard his name, but scarcely knew about him. Your detailed and narrative information lead me to his world. I understand he was a great and brave man following his thoughts and faith..
I love old traditional houses which always have splendid dignity brought by the times. His house is awesome!
Vagabonde, thanks a lot for posting such a beautiful one.

Karen said...

What a beautiful and informative post. I now must add Brussels to my bucket list.
Erasmus is my kind of guy. We sure could use him here in the US right now. A reasonable man is getting so hard to find these days.

Lonicera said...

Beautiful place, enjoyed the post and the pictures.

Sam Hoffer / My Carolina Kitchen said...

I seem to remember the citizen of the world quote, but almost nothing about the man. Just think how small the world was then compared to now. Very informative with beautiful photos as always.

Friko said...

There is nothing left to say about Erasmus here; you have said it all. What remains is to study him and his works.

Victoria said...

Oh my, I've just poured over this entry and read it twice, every word of it! Maybe that will help some of it stick in my brain..the way you weave the images and words together to tell about both Erasmus and the lovely home/gardens that are now a museum is wonderful.

I was familiar with some of the quotes you included but not the one about a philosophical garden -‘Nature is not silent but speaks to us everywhere and teaches the observant man many things if she finds him attentive and receptive.' I particularly like that quote as I strive strive to be attentive and receptive in my explorations of nature.

Thanks for stopping by my blog... I'll look into coding my images so that clicking them enlarges them. Last time I did any serious HTML was using v3 of the code. But maybe this old dog can learn some new tricks.

OldLady Of The Hills said...

GREAT Post, my dear! I knew the name "Erasmus" but had no idea how important and fantastic he was till this post of yours...There is a school in NYC named, 'Erasmus Hall', (or is it in Brooklyn?) and I've always heard the name---but never connected it up to this extraordinary and special man.....!
And you are so right--We could use men and women like Erasmus right now---Like, could they all be in Congress, right now---PLEASE?
Thank you, my dear....This was wonderful---The Text and the BEAUTIFUL Pictures!

Vicki Lane said...

Fascinating tour! what a beautiful interior. And how I agree with Oldold Lady that we could use a bit of wisdom in Congress just now!

Anonymous said...

I knew about Erasmus because of his work but never saw so much information about him on a blog before this. Nice post.

Ginnie said...

"I think we need another Erasmus right now." Truer words could not be spoken, dear Vagabonde. I had no idea there was so much of Erasmus around Holland, but now I will pay attention. The Eramus Bridge in Rotterdam is what I'm most familiar with, lovingly called The Swan by the locals:

Ruth said...

Such a beautiful post. He was extraordinary, we are fortunate he lived, and wrote and thought. Sometimes I wonder how such people manage to populate the earth when they are so rare. His home is beautiful. I love old things, old houses, and the brick really speaks to me. You've done another gorgeous job relaying much information and visual beauty. Thank you for all your considerable efforts so we can enjoy and learn.

Vagabonde said...

Ann, Kay L. Davies, Wanda, Cloudia, DJan, wenn, Pondside, Retired English Teacher, Jojo, Food Fun and Life in the Charente, Frances, Genie – Paris and Beyond, Arti, This is Belgium, Marciamayo, Jeanie, Pat, snowwhite, Karen, Lonicera, Sam@My Carolina Kitchen, Friko, Old Lady of the Hills, Vicki Lane, Honest Abe, Ginnie and Ruth – I am pleased you all liked my Erasmus post – he was an unusual man, highly intelligent and worth knowing. Thanks for coming over and reading it.

Pierre Boyer – Merci pour la visite et pour avoir lu mon petit texte sur Erasmus.

Riet and Victoria- Welcome to my blog. I am pleased you came and enjoyed the post. I hope you will come again when you have some time.

Kay said...

I also have heard of Erasmus, but couldn't remember who he was. Thank you for this informative post. We were in Gouda and Brussels several years ago.

Unknown said...

Great post. Thanks for sharing a bit about the Tour de France. I once used to ride bike 40-50 miles a day four or five days a week all the time and sometimes even more.

Your post on Erasmus is wonderful, too. One of my college friends wrote his Master's thesis on Erasmus. I wasn't aware of his pacifist convictions before though. Great man!

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