The Saint Willibrord Ecumenical Pilgrimage is currently underway in Echternach, Luxembourg, led by Bishops Denis Nulty and Michael Burrows.
St Willibrord was educated in County Carlow.
The Leiglin pilgrimage group flew out on Sunday, 4 June from Dublin Airport.
The group worshipped in Trier Cathedral yesterday. This cathedral, in the Moselle wine region of Germany, was founded by the Romans and houses and houses the Holy Robe relic, believed to have been the robe of Jesus Christ for which the soldiers cast lots (John 19:23-24).
This undivided garment points to Christ as the head of one undivided church.
Appropriately for this group, led by the two Bishops, Michael Burrows and Denis Nulty, the pilgrim prayer of Trier is ‘Jesus Christ, Saviour and Redeemer, have mercy on us and all the world. Be mindful of Thy Church and bring together what is divided. Amen.’
Photo 2: The Carlow flag identifies the Leighlin Ecumenical Pilgrims outside Trier Cathedral.
(Images in dropbox)
When the pilgrims return there will be follow-in special services related to St Willibrord:
SOLEMN VESPERS at Saint Laserian’s Cathedral, Old Leighlin
Reception of the Holy Relic of St Willibrord
Thursday June 8th @ 8.30 p.m.
Daily Noon Prayers and Night Prayer (9 p.m.) in Saint Laserian’s Cathedral
Monday, June 9th – Friday 23rd
EUCHARIST OF THE SAINTS
(Commencing at Molaise’s Well, Old Leighlin and moving to St Laserian’s Cathedral)
Saturday June 24th @ 10 a.m.
ECUMENICAL PILGRIMAGE WALK
Relic of St Willibrord
Bishop Michael Burrows and Bishop Denis Nulty
Killeshin Pipe Band
There is a historical link between that part of Ireland and St Willibrord, the patron saint of Luxembourg and founder of Echternach Abbey. Willibrord was born in 658 AD in Northumberland, in the North-East of England. His father had been converted to Christianity. That part of England, as well as much of southern Scotland, had recently been Christianised by Irish missionaries. During the 6th and 7th Centuries Ireland experienced a period of exceptional missionary zeal. The island had been converted peaceably to Christianity by St Patrick and his followers in the 5th Century.
The absence of martyrs for Christ was a source of shame for many ardent Irish Christians. Some sought to expunge this ignominy through “white martyrdom”, exiling themselves on remote islands in the Atlantic or on near-inaccessible mountains. Others sacrificed themselves by leaving their homeland to serve Christ as missionaries to the non-Christian parts of Europe. These included such notable figures as St Colmcille (521-597 – Iona), St Columbanus (543-615 – Luxeuil and Bobbio), St Gall (551-615 – St Gallen) and St Cillian (640-689 – Würzburg).
The young Willibrord joined a Northumbrian monastery founded by Irish monks while in his teens. Between the ages of 20 and 32 he studied in Ireland in a place called Rathmelsigi. This is generally taken to be the monastery of Rathmelsh, in Co. Carlow (though some claim that it refers to Mellifont in Co. Louth). Having completed his studies and been ordained priest, Willibrord returned to Northumberland. He then spent a short time in Iona before going with 11 Irish and English companions to the land of the Frisians (the Netherlands). In 695 he was consecrated bishop by Pope Sergius I. His mission to the Frisians was largely successful and he was responsible for building the first cathedral in Utrecht.
He moved on to what is now Luxembourg and continued his work of conversion in the country around the rivers Sûre and Moselle. At first he worked with Irmina of Oeren, widow of the local ruler, herself a Christian. It is said that through Willibrord’s help and prayers the religious house that Irmina had established near Trier was protected from a devastating plague. In gratitude, Willibrord was granted land in Echternach on which he founded the abbey and continued his work of conversion. Willibrord died in 739 and is buried in Echternach Abbey.
St Willibrord hopping festival (Wikipedia)
The procession is held every Whit Tuesday around the streets of the city of Echternach. It honours Willibrord, the patron saint of Luxembourg, who established the Abbey of Echternach. Echternach has developed a strong tourism industry centred on the procession, which draws many thousands of tourists and pilgrims from around the world. The procession is inscribed in 2010 as hopping procession of Echternach on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
The event  begins in the morning at the bridge over the River Sauer, with a sermon delivered by the parish priest (formerly by the abbot of the monastery). “Willibrordus-Brauverein” officials put together the procession, forming several dozen alternating groups of musicians and pilgrims. The procession then moves through the town streets towards the basilica, a distance of about 1.5 kilometres (0.93 mi). While the musicians play the “Sprangprozessioùn” tune–a traditional melody, not entirely unlike an Irish jig or reel, that has been handed down through the centuries–the pilgrims, in rows of four or five abreast and holding the ends of white handkerchiefs, “dance” or “jump” from left to right and thus slowly move forward. Because of the numbers of pilgrims attending, it is well after midday before the last of the dancers has reached the church. A large number of priests, nuns, and monks also accompany the procession, and not infrequently there are several bishops as well. On arrival at the church, the dance is continued past the tomb of Saint Willibrord, which stands in the crypt beneath the high altar. Litanies and prayers in the Saint’s honour are recited, and the event concludes with a benediction of the sacrament.
In the past, the dancing procession has adopted other forms. At one stage the pilgrims would take three steps forward and two steps backwards, thus taking five steps in order to advance one; at another stage the pilgrims would repeatedly stop at the sound of the bell donated by Emperor Maximilian, falling to their knees before moving forward a few more steps. Again, pilgrims would crawl under a stone, facing the cross of St. Willibrord. A ‘cattle-bell dance’ used to take place in front of the cross, which was erected on the marketplace; this dance was prohibited in 1664.
Willibrord’s Abbey of Echternach was a major Christian centre in the Middle Ages, and maintained a famous library and scriptorium. However, it owes its modern fame to the quaint dancing procession. This aspect of the cult of the saint may be traced back almost to the date of his death; among the stream of pilgrims to his tomb in the abbey church have been Emperors Charlemagne, Lothair I, Conrad, and later Maximilian (in 1512).
Catholic historians are reluctant to ascribe any pre-Christian antecedents to the dancing procession, and claim only that its origin cannot be stated with certainty. There might be elements of pagan cult, such as the ones that were criticised by Saint Eligius in the 7th century. Documents of the fifteenth century speak of it as a long-established custom at that time, and a similar “dancing” procession, which used to take place in the small town of Prüm, in the Eifel, was documented as early as 1342. Legends are told that relate the dancing procession to an averted plague or offer a fable about a condemned fiddler, but the dancing procession to the saint’s tomb is an annual ceremony done as an act of penance on behalf of afflicted relations and especially in order to avert epilepsy, Saint Vitus Dance, or convulsions.
The procession took place annually without intermission until 1777. There has been an uneasy relationship with the church hierarchy; in 1777, the music and dancing of the ‘dancing saints’ were forbidden by Archbishop Wenceslas, who declared that there should only be a pilgrim’s procession, and, in 1786, Emperor Joseph II abolished the procession altogether. Attempts were made to revive it ten years later, and, although the French Revolution effectually prevented it, it was recommenced in 1802, and has continued ever since. In 1826, the government tried to change the day to a Sunday, but, since 1830, it has always taken place on Whit Tuesday, a traditional day that, significantly, bears no direct relation to St. Willibrord himself.