journeys at home and abroad
Financial support from the state for registered faith communities? Belgium, Germany, Romania, Sweden and maybe other countries give money to pay the salaries and pensions of some ministers of religion. It seems a bizarre arrangement – surely whoever pays the piper calls the tune. There are wrangles about which churches, synagogues, mosques are acknowledged – and indeed which world faiths are eligible at all. Humanism is on the list in Belgium.
We visited the main mosque in Brussels today which has a beautiful Andalusian mihrab – but only by accident: the stonemasons who were employed to carve it came from the Maghreb. The congregation nowadays hails mainly from Turkey and Morocco, with Belgian members as well, one of whom was our guide.
I’ve been reminded just how ignorant I am about European countries behind the Iron Curtain. Hungarians and Romanians had to mind what they said, did, read – it’s a continuous state of alertness and fear I find hard to imagine.
The Christmas tree has gone up in the Grand Place in Brussels – the Christmas Fair will follow soon. There is a statue of a little boy peeing into a water butt, originally a rare source of safe drinking water for townspeople. A tradition of dressing up the statue in something different each week (think fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square until recently) means that this week the boy has a oversize white ribbon around his neck to call attention to violence against women. Information & contacts available nearby – great idea.
How many British people live in Brussels? I keep hearing their voices on the street. You can even buy the Radio Times in corner shops here.