On Whit Tuesday each year, the ancient abbey town of Echternach hosts the hopping procession, which is called the 'Sprangpressessioun' in Luxembourgish. This local tradition attracts thousands of pilgrims every year from across the Grand Duchy and neighbouring countries to celebrate the cult of Saint Willibrord.
A pilgrimage with its own special tune
Early in the morning, the first pilgrims gather in the shadow of the main courtyard of the former abbey of Echternach. They meet to take part in a truly unique event. Both, participants and spectators, come to pay homage to Saint Willibrord, an Anglo-Saxon Benedictine monk, revered as the founder of Echternach Abbey and honoured for his gift of curing illness.
Those who take part in the hopping procession skip through the streets of the city and use the whole body to enter into prayer. The pilgrims celebrate the cult of St. Willibrord by walking but mainly by hopping to the rhythm of musical bands.
Before the start of the 'Sprangpressessioun', a mass is celebrated in the basilica. At the end of mass, the Archbishop of Luxembourg issues a greeting to those in attendance and then the dancers, lined up in rows of five to six people, take their positions. Dressed in white and black or blue, they all hold a white handkerchief in their hand. They advance through the town, while making small hopping movements to the rhythm of a 'Sprangpressessioun' melody: one step to the left, one step to the right.
With these simple steps, the pilgrims, accompanied by municipal ensembles and brass bands which play the same melody, hop through the streets of the abbey town. At the end of the procession, which in general lasts about an hour, the dancers and spectators gather together at the basilica. According to the tradition, they parade one by one past the tomb of Saint Willibrord. A thanksgiving service brings the event to a close.
An event with international appeal
Each year, this famous procession attracts about 10,000 pilgrims and spectators from Luxembourg and neighbouring countries such as France, Belgium, Germany and even the Netherlands to celebrate this religious festival which has become a cultural phenomenon over the years. Since the end of the 15th century, this completely unique event has made Echternach world-famous and since 2010 the 'Sprangpressessioun' has been included in UNESCO's Intangible Heritage of Humanity.