Today, on what is traditionaly know as Whit Tuesday, would under normal circumstances, see the town of Echternach, Luxembourg, hosting many thousands of people as they take part in the annual @UNESCO World Heritage Status ‘hopping procession’ (D’Iechternacher Sprangprëssessioun). The procession is held annually in honour of St Willibrord, Patron Saint of Luxembourg and the First Apostle of the Netherlands and the founder of Echternach Abbey.
Sadly, this year’s full scale-event was cancelled once again, although local officials held a small ceremony to commomorate the day.
In 690 AD, St Willibrord lead a very successful mission from Rath Melsigi, Co. #Carlow, where he spend twelve years being trained at Ireland’s most important 7th and 8th centuries Anglo-Saxon ecclesiastical settlement. To this day his impact can still be seen in the Netherlands, in particular the city of Utrecht, where he was appointed their first Archbishop, Luxembourg where he is the only saint buried in their country, and in the neighbouring countries of Belgium and Germany.
His monastery at Echternach had one of Europe’s great scriptoriums and when founded it would have had Irish and English monks who had been trained here in Co. Carlow. There are many examples of these wonderful books in the libraries and museums around Europe. The Calendar of Willibrord survives and is housed in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France in Paris, and he brought this book with him on his mission from Co Carlow. It contains his signature, which is the oldest datable signature of an English person. He died in 739AD and is buried in Echternach.
The manuscript contains several other items alongside the calendar. Principally, these are a copy of the Hieronymian Martyrology and the oldest surviving Dionysian Easter table with its distinctive AD-dating. Surrounding the Easter table are a variety of notes about calendars and related matters, including Willibrord’s horologium.
In 2017, a Relic of St Willibrord was presented to the Cathedral of the Assumption, Carlow Town, by the people of Echternach to say ‘Thank You’ to Carlow for training and ordaining Willibrord. It is on permanent display in the Cathedral.
The exact origins of the procession are lost in time but may well have been a pre-christian event. The procession begins with mass in the Basilica of St Willibrord at 8am and them the Relic of St Willibrord is carried through the streets of the town by the members of the fire brigade. They in turn are followed by up to 10,000 people hopping in his honour. People are organised into large groups, five people per row each separated by a white hankie and the vast majority wearing white & black clothes and they are all led by marching bands playing the same tune.
In 2017 the first known Irish group partook in the procession when nearly sixty people travelled from Carlow. The Basilica of St Willibrord has a large stained glass window referred to as the Irish /Carlow window and depicts Willibrord at Rath Melsigi.
The next hopping procession of Echternach will take place on 7th June 2022, when a delagation from Carlow hopes to travel again to Echternach ‘hop again’ for St Willibrord.
Unless otherwise stated, all images are © copyright of Carlow County Museum