The 'Oktav', celebrated in honour of the Virgin Mary, is one of the main religious events of the year. Over the period of a fortnight, in April and May, parishioners from all over the country, as well as from the Eifel region in Germany, the Belgian Province of Luxembourg, and France's Lorraine region, embark on a pilgrimage to Luxembourg's capital. Once there, they go to see the statue of the Virgin Mary in the Cathedral of Our Lady of Luxembourg, and then find something to eat at the 'Mäertchen',(literally 'small market'), held on the Place Guillaume II.
A long-standing tradition
The pilgrimage dates back to 1666. Because of the plague which was decimating villages and whole regions of the Duchy of Luxembourg, the provincial council decided to choose the Virgin Mary as the country's patron saint and protector and Consoler of the Afflicted ('consolatrix afflictorum'). The inhabitants of the Duchy, which included areas that nowadays are part of Germany, Belgium and France, then began undertaking pilgrimages to the chapel on the Glacis, in front of the gates of Luxembourg's fortress, to pray for the healing of the sick.
Later, the statue was moved to the Cathedral of Our Lady of Luxembourg, where it can be seen today, standing on its golden votive altar. The statue is dressed in festive garb for the occasion, and the cathedral is richly decorated.
Today, most parishes organise pilgrimages covering at least part of the distance to Luxembourg City. The pilgrims arrive at the outskirts of the city, where they form processions that make their way to the Cathedral while praying. Over the fortnight, mass is celebrated several times a day.
The end of the Oktav is marked by a final solemn procession during which the statue of the Virgin Mary is carried through the streets of the capital. Believers forming the processions are joined by representatives of the Grand-Ducal family, the Government, the Chamber of Deputies, the courts of justice, and other public institutions.
Another part of the pilgrimage, the Oktavsmäertchen held on the Knuedler (Place Guillaume II) is a small market closely connected to the religious tradition. After the visit to the Cathedral, pilgrims can head to the market to enjoy a drink or some food and to buy a souvenir among the various ornaments and articles on offer.