Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Bruges, Belgium: The Procession of the Holy Blood

                                                  A reenactor of Jesus blessing the people...

      On the day of The Procession of the Holy Blood in Bruges, Belgium, you can see a colorful parade of Bible characters and people dressed up like they were in the Middle Ages. It is always held on Ascension Day--beginning in 1303. It started when Thierry of Alsace, Count of Flanders, brought back the holy blood that was said to be collected by Joseph of Arimathea in Jesus' tomb. In 1578 when the Bruge was under the Calvinist rule, the celebrations and procession were halted. The dried blood is held in a crystal and rock tube that has been protected in the Basilica--except during Calvinist times. The relic was hidden for several generations until it was safe to bring it out again. This year, the UNESCO-event was canceled and will be held next year on Ascension Day. It is a rich feast of religious storytelling in costume, music, and history. 

Last year on May 30, 2019, we happened to be in Bruges, Belgium before heading south to Normandy, France for the 75th anniversary of D-Day. All that seems long ago now with the COVID-19-virus... We happened to be on a long bike ride around the countryside in Bruge, and then some people began telling us about a festival or celebration that would be held the next day. We were not exactly certain what they were talking about but decided their excitement merited staying in Bruge another day. With some strangers' persuasion, we changed our schedule. We were so glad we did. Along with people dressed up in Middle Ages costumes and masks, there were brass bands, choir singers, dancers, and flag twirlers. Several thousand people participate every year --sometimes being the same character year after year. It was a fun, solemn, and historical afternoon all bound together. 

On Ascension Day we headed for the center of the charming, medieval town of Bruges that resembles a backdrop for a fairy tale book. About 50,000 people briskly walked alongside us, and suddenly we began to see sheep, camels, and donkeys in the street. (In 2016, some sheep got loose and started frequenting the shops. But this year the shepherds were reigning them in). 😃  About 2,000 people were dressed to match this Middle Ages UNESCO town. It was like a medieval play, along with Old and New Testament reenactors. More than anything, I would say it is a strolling passion play that reenacts the last week of Jesus Christ's life. 

The procession is told in three parts: the first part is the Biblical characters strolling by, and then second, the reenactment of Thierry of Alsace when he brought the holy relic back to Bruges in 1303, and the third part is the procession of the Holy Blood Brotherhood who have guarded it since 1400. At the end, there are prayers given in various languages. In between the three segments are strolling musicians, acrobats, live animals, and amazing costumes to see.

To see a local festival was amazing--especially when we were not really planning on it. There was a tangible pride and coming together of Flemish history. People were sitting on windows for the best views, you could buy some seats in front of restaurants and shops or just stand for free. And if you love chocolate, Bruges is proud to say they have 100 chocolate shops in this beautiful fairy tale town. 

Personally, it was a wonderful afternoon that I can only dream about now attending. Although I am not of the Catholic faith, there was a palpable reverence and respectfulness in the air. I will never forget following Jesus in the crowd that day. I bustled and ran down the street to see him. It made me think of one of my favorite New Testament characters who ran to touch the hem of His robe. For just a moment in Bruges, I felt like a glimpse of how it must have been to maneuver your way through a crowd to see Him. 


                                                              Celebrating their town of Bruges

                                                            This was Cain who killed Abel. 

                                             It was fun to meet Joseph of Egypt on the streets of Bruges.

                                                                  Reenactors for Abraham and Sarah

A reenactor of Moses walking the streets in Bruges

Slaves from Egypt ready to cross the Red Sea...

King David playing his harp

Reenactors of Mary and Joseph with the Baby Jesus

A Bethlehem shepherd

A young girl with the Three Wisemen camels

A shepherdess in Bethleham

Finding a donkey in the street

Young Jesus walking with the priests

Jesus as a child with the priests at the temple.

A reenactor of John the Baptist preaching on the streets.

Salome dancing in front of Herod Antipas 

A Roman soldier carrying the head of John the Baptist

Blessing the children.

These people who waved palm branches posed for me. 

Apostles at the Last Supper

Roman guards

Roman guards in front of the tomb sleeping

A reenactor of Jesus carrying the cross 

People from the area portraying the people of the Middle Ages

       Biblical and Middle Ages reenactors on the streets    

At the end of the procession, you could meet some of the reenactors. You notice one Middle Ages actor is 
talking on his cellphone. 

Some Biblical characters smile for the crowd. I think this was Isaiah. 

No comments:

Post a Comment