Next stop: Grimbergen

Brussels has been on edge this week. Police cars have been speeding up and down the streets, and helicopters have been hovering overhead.

The city is hosting the European Union (EU) summit, and leaders from 27 nations are here to participate. Those in charge of protecting the city are on high alert.

But we headed for a more tranquil setting today – Grimbergen, a quiet town of 30,000 about a 45-minute drive from the city. (Actually, today was perhaps less quiet than usual: It was the last day of classes for the town’s Catholic schools, and students and teachers were celebrating.)

Our destination was Grimbergen Abbey, situated on a hill above the town. Founded in 1128, it is the oldest working abbey founded by the Norbertines. (Slightly older than Tongerlo Abbey, which we visited yesterday, and far older than our tour guide (see photo), one of 15 Norbertines who call the abbey home.)

The highlight of our tour was the abbey’s church. A modest-looking structure from the outside, its Baroque interior is jaw-dropping. Built from 1660-1701, it features a magnificent vaulted ceiling, soaring pillars and intricately carved statues. It’s humbling to think how much skill and talent were required to create such a masterpiece in an age that lacked so many of the tools we use today.

Masterpieces of another kind are also on display in the church: Old Masters paintings grace its walls, many depicting the life of St. Norbert.

A tour of the rest of the abbey’s buildings and grounds followed, and then we were treated to a lunch hosted by Grimbergen’s abbot, Erik DeSutter, O.Praem.

Norbertine abbeys are scattered throughout the world, but they are by no means isolated from one another. In fact, every six years, delegates from all the Norbertine abbeys, priories and houses gather for a General Chapter meeting, where they converse, consider proposals and assess their common life. (This year, the General Chapter is being held at the abbey in De Pere for just the second time.)

In that light, it is unsurprising – but still delightful – to see Norbertines who have accompanied us on our trip reunite with their fellows in these far-flung places – as abbot emeritus Thomas DeWane, O.Praem., of St. Norbert Abbey was able to do today with old friend Peter Wagenaar, O.Praem., abbot emeritus of Grimbergen Abbey. (see photo)

We returned to Brussels in the afternoon. Tonight will be our last here; after a visit to Averbode Abbey tomorrow, we will embark for the city of Dinant, south of Brussels in the Walloon Region of Belgium.