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Sunday, 17 September 2017

Livin' in Leuven

The Institute of Philosophy at KU Leuven.*

I arrived in Leuven on Wednesday the 13th. I have begun to settle in to my living arrangement, and get used to the town itself. Leuven is a beautiful town, with several Gothic and Romanesque churches, many markets and shops, a few old monasteries (I'm living in one of them), lots of bikes, lots of pubs and breweries, and many other interesting things. Not least among the jewels of the quaint town is, of course, the university, KU Leuven, home to the Thomistic revival initiated by Cardinal Mercier in the 20th century, as well as the educational origin of many great names like Theodor Schwann, Otto von Hapsburg, and Charles DeKoninck.

Though historically a Catholic town and a Catholic university, it is, unsurprisingly, not especially easy to see Catholicism thriving in a very lively way here. Many of the churches are regularly kept locked; some of them are museums, or partially museums. As far as I can tell so far, the liturgy is not anything special anywhere here - apart from the fact that the monks at the Abbey of Keizersberg, where I am residing, sing parts of the mass and office in Latin, though otherwise the liturgy is less than ideal. It's a shame really. In my mind, the liturgy and the intellectual life have a very close connection, the former being something like the apex and culmination of the latter. The trajectory of the intellectual life is towards contemplation, and thus towards worship; so it seems natural that those who have a care for their intellects should also have a care for the manner in which they worship God. (I will write a lot more about this later... it is one of those profound thoughts which is simultaneously the most influential and the most mysterious to me.)

Sint Pieterskerk, in the town square and the center of Leuven

The Abbey Keizersberg, where I am residing, is an impressive, almost fortress-like building with parts of it from the 19th century - other parts of it were destroyed during World War II, but have been restored in accordance with the venerable and semi-ancient feel of the place. The abbey was founded by Blessed Columba Marmion, a great writer on Benedictine spirituality, who was its first abbot. The grounds of the abbey are open as a public park for visitors, and are extraordinarily peaceful and beautiful. I have already found it one of the best places to sit outside, smoke a pipe, do some reading, or take a walk and pray my rosary. The abbey sits on the top of a hill which is probably the highest point in Leuven, from which one can get an almost panoramic view of the city below. On the hill, there is an enormous and beautiful statue of the Blessed Mother holding the infant Christ, which one can see from certain spots in town.

Keizersberg Abbey

Courtyard within the cloister,
as seen from my bedroom window.

The giant statue on the hill.

I will be studying for an advanced research Master's degree at the Institute of Philosophy, at KU Leuven. The Institute consists of a small number of lovely buildings relatively close to the town center, less than a minute's walk away from the famous main library. The library at the Institute itself is also quite impressive, with a considerable collection of philosophical works from all the periods of history, stacked in four stories. I have only made one brief visit there so far, but I immediately fell in love, especially when I found the sections devoted to St. Thomas and to the Neoplatonists. I foresee many hours devoted to research and writing spent in this library, and probably a bit of blogging too. Here's hoping that the upcoming months will be highly productive, and that my time here will be well-spent in an undying devotion to and pursuit of wisdom and the good life.






*All photos taken by me.

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