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Heiligdomsvaart Maastricht: A 7th Year Tradition

This article was originally published on Maastricht Region: to Live.

Last weekend (Thursday to be precise) marked the beginning Heiligdomsvaart, an eleven day religious celebration of the relics of Saint Servaas. Occurring only once every 7 years, the city has dressed up in banners to prepare this celebration of it’s first bishop. We wandered down on Sunday for the chance to witness the rare ceremony of processing the relics.

The highlight of Heiligdomsvaart, from the curious bystander perspective anyway, is the procession of the relics held by the local cathedrals, so that’s the part Dan & I went out to view on Sunday. Saint Servaas naturally took center stage, but St. Labertus and others were also represented with reliquaries and bust. Many bands and choirs provided music throughout the 2 hour parade. A nice little pamphlet was handed out so I was able to follow along with many sections.

I had expected the procession to be a bit like the Easter Monday one that takes place every year, but it actually felt a bit more like Carnival. Lots of fancy dress, although granted much more sober (both in tone and drink). The first portion of the procession seemed to focus around the life of St. Servaas as he became the first bishop of Maastricht and his death. In this section everyone was dressed up in Roman-esque and Medieval style outfits. There were even people riding on horses and floats representing different stages in his life.

After the story-telling part of the procession, the relics themselves were carried out; each accompanied by attendants from their respective churches. The pomp and circumstance surrounding the relics and the processions was pretty interesting, but my fellow parade goers seemed to be taking it all pretty casually. It was a very slow procession too, with many stops and starts as it wound its way around the old parts of Maastricht in a rough circle.

If you’re interested in catching this procession, they are holding again at the end of the Heiligdomsvaart celebration on 10 July at 2pm. In addition to the processions, many cultural events will be taking place, including music, an exhibit of art in the Treasury of the Basilica of Saint Servaas, and theatre shows. If you’d like to learn more, you can visit the Heiligdomsvaart website (Dutch mostly).


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